REVIEW The word chiaroscuro is an Italian art term referring to the use of light and shadow to create a three-dimensional effect and it's a fitting name to describe this small restaurant's decor (cement benches, a white-gray-black color scheme, and an exposed kitchen) as well as its cuisine.
My companion and I started with the degustazione di salume e formaggi, a selection of salami and cheese. As a salami lover (my roommates always know whom to blame when their salami is missing after one of my nights out), I truly enjoyed Chiaroscuro's options. And the cheese, a spectrum from soft to sharp, was also impressive. Plus, our waitress recommended a matching wine that even pleased my companion, who's more of a wine-no than a wino.
Next came the entrées. I tried fresh gnocchi, which melted like potatoey butter and with sage, like Mom makes! in my mouth; lamb chops, polenta, and greens. The lamb was everything it should have been: lean meat, cooked medium and spiced lightly. The polenta came as a mini soufflé with a raw cracked egg in the center too bland for nonpolenta lovers like my dinner companion, but perfectly gritty, dry, and palatable for me. In fact, the polenta was the most impressive dish I ate all night, hands down.
The prices are considerable and the portions are small, but the food is both simple and solid: there's no gray there.
CHIAROSCURO RISTORANTE Tues.Sun., 11 a.m.midnight. 550 Washington, SF. (415) 362-6012, www.chiaroscurosf.com