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The Gatekeepers: Zane Fiala and Katie Mathis, Incanto

This is The Gatekeepers, where Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite dining destinations.
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Jennifer Yin, 5/29/08

At this point in Incanto's popularity, odds are that you probably know all about the little rustic Italian restaurant in Noe Valley and its celebrity chef Chris Cosentino, but we're betting you might not know Zane Fiala and Katie Mathis, unless you've had the misfortune of trying to score a walk-in table on a Saturday night. So, in this special two-part edition of The Gatekeepers, let's get to know Incanto's front-of-house duo, shall we? Today, we chat with Zane; tomorrow, it's Katie's turn.

Zane “Z” Fiala, Dining Manager/Assistant Wine Director at Incanto: When we are maxed out, we can seat about 111, and that’s including our 16-seat wine bar that we reserve for walk-ins. Incanto has several tables I might consider to be my favorite. Of course, our corner window table is great for an overall view of the restaurant ... If you would rather have a bit of seclusion, but still want to be out where the action is, there’s another corner table in the back of the main dining room that offers a nice blend of both. Now, if you really want something intimate, there is a separate room in the back called the Dante Room that only seats 18-20, and many guests prefer it to the main dining room.

Incanto started off as kind of a diamond in the rough and is now one of the city's destination spots. How, if at all, has the clientele changed? Well, the clientele hasn’t really changed. We do have a lot more first-time diners who have heard about us through various forms of media, but we still have an extremely solid base of regular, neighborhood clientele. After all, Incanto was created as a neighborhood restaurant, and I think that above all else, we strive to maintain that ideal. Was there a big swell once Chris Cosentino did the Next Iron Chef? I’m not sure how it would be possible to not notice a difference after that kind of national publicity. But what is significant about the whole affair is that Chris never faltered; he never let go of his passion for sustainable eating, and honoring the whole animal, and that is something commendable regardless of the outcome of the show.

We hear Cosentino's a character. Any good stories? Who in their right mind would refer to Chris Cosentino as a “character”? He’s at least ten, maybe more? Do you think he has had an effect on the appreciation of offal? An irrefutable yes. One of the most common bad jokes from our guests, old and new, is 'gee, offal ain’t so awful.' It makes me cringe just writing it, but it’s true. When I started working at Incanto, I wasn’t so hip to the offal way of eating. Well, I’ll put it this way: I’m about to go into my kitchen, braise some chicken with spring onions and serve it with some chicken livers sautéed with mushrooms, pickled cherries and shallots? He’s definitely an influential guy, but more than that he’s almost like a culinary pedagogue; he’s very good at passing on what he knows to those who are willing to listen.

Ok, down to business: 8 PM on a Saturday night. What’s the wait for a table? That’s a great question. Now I have one: do you have a reservation? Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Unfortunately, I am bound by the same principles of time and space as the rest of the universe and well, people only eat so fast and there are only so many tables....How about gifts or cash to speed things along? I gladly accept donations toward my personal goal of becoming wealthy, but again? bound by the same principles of time and space, etc?

Where are you eating when you're not at Incanto? Recently almost our entire staff has taken up frequenting Beretta, myself included. I dig the place; the food is simple and really tasty, and the cocktails there are right up there with Bourbon & Branch. But to tell you the truth, nine times out of ten, I find myself cooking at home and opening a great bottle of wine.

What’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? I think it would have to be patience. Everyone has a different idea of how their night is going to go at Incanto, both the staff and the guests. It’s my job to always do my best to fulfill their expectations, and patience is most certainly the key?

Coming up tomorrow in the second half of our Incanto interview: the things loud chefs are not allowed to discuss in open kitchens, the celebrity that walked out of Incanto after looking at the offal menu and so much more!

Incanto

1550 Church Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

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