Noe Valley Voice July-August 2002

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Voice column introducing new shops and businesses in Noe Valley. This month's Store Trek features Incanto, an "enchanting" Italian restaurant on Church Street; Lisa Violetto Designs, a popular handbag and accessory designer on Castro; and Danu, a Church Street salon that is blooming into a fashion boutique.

Incanto Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar

1550 Church Street at Duncan Street


Where the beloved Speckmann's German Restaurant used to be -- at the corner of Church and Duncan streets, across from Martha's Coffee -- there now sits a brand-new (and long-awaited) Italian restaurant called Incanto. Though his cuisine will be markedly different, Incanto owner Mark Pastore hopes he can live up to the Speckmann tradition of serving the neighborhood.

"Ebby and Peter Ullmann were here for over 37 years!" Pastore exclaims. "A restaurant in the family for that long is really something for San Francisco. It reminds me of the restaurants I love so much in Italy."

Pastore comes from Italian stock, but grew up in rural New England. He currently resides in the Sunset District and until last year was director of marketing for Tumbleweed Communications, a Redwood City­based software company. "I loved my work there, but I was dealing with competing passions, because I love to work with food, too."

He often explored these food passions while visiting relatives and friends in Italy, as well as while dining with friends and colleagues in Noe Valley. "When I came upon Speckmann's for sale a year and a half ago, I knew this was the place." After close to a year of renovation, Pastore opened Incanto on June 2.

The restaurant was designed by Incanto's next-door neighbor Bob Sauvageau of RYS Architects, who turned the two-room cottage feel of Speckmann's into one large space more subtly divided into cozy dining areas -- a rotunda entrance with a small stand-up bar, a large dining room, a full-service wine bar, and a small banquet room Pastore has dubbed "The Dante Room."

Incanto (Italian for "enchanted") is awash with warm Tuscany browns and reds and is dominated by Italian artwork. The Dante Room, however, is graced by a large mural depicting scenes from Dante's Inferno, painted by Noe Valley artist Tom Mogensen.

You can get a glass of wine at the long, sandstone-colored wine bar that seats 12, or you can sit down at small tables next to it. Along with an extensive wine list (more than 150 labels), the bar affords a view of the lively goings-on in the large dining room.

The wine list is compiled and supervised by Claudio Villani. Born and raised in Florence, Villani is a professional sommelier (the French word for wine steward) with several years of experience in Italy. "It's not as mysterious as some people think," Villani says. "You will come enjoy some good wine, and if you want to learn more, this is what I'm here for!"

Wines by the bottle range from $21 for a Chianti Rufina to $56 for the Brunello di Montalcino. The list is mostly Italian, owing to Villani's experience, and there are at least 25 wines available by the glass, from $5 to $12 each.

Villani also offers special features at the wine bar, such as "The Three Vermentinos" (a half-glass each of Santadi, Cantina Sociale di Gallura, and Antinori, $11) and "Sangiovese There and Here" (half-glass of Brunello Casanova di Neri, Chianti Rufina Riserva Basciano, and Riserva Noceto, $14).

And of course, you should eat something.

Chef Paul Buscemi has a simple one-page menu, "filled with the kind of food you might find on the table of a Tuscany family home," says Pastore. "All our dishes are prepared in the spirit of the Italian countryside."

Buscemi has been working as a chef in the Bay Area for 20 years, first at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, then at Square One in the city, and finally at Tomales Bay Foods in West Marin. But Buscemi says, "I'd really rather be known for just being a good cook."

Buscemi starts things cooking with appetizers such as the spring onion soup ($6.50), San Danielle prosciutto with mango and cheese ($10), or green-bean and saffron onion with pine nuts ($9.50). A favorite entrée is pan-roasted King salmon with shaved fennel, beets, and salsa verde ($19). You might also try one of the heartier plates, such as roast chicken, roast pork, rib-eye steak, spaghetti, or penne pasta. Interesting side orders include broccoli di ciccio (a younger, sweeter broccoli, $4) and Bluelake beans and olive oil ($4).

Buscemi says he will add dishes now and then, but the menu will never be more than a page long (six or so entrées). "I am always suspicious of overly large menus. How can they all be done well?"

There are a variety of beverages available, from beers such as Anchor Steam ($4), Bordelet pear cider ($5), or Erdinger Hefe-Weiss ($6). You can sip a limonata ($2.50) or get a caffe latté ($3) or regular cup of coffee ($2.50). Cold filtered water, carbonated by a system Pastore had seen in Italy and had made to order here, is offered free at each table.

Pastore says he felt things coming together when, on one of the first nights Incanto was open, neighbor Gerry Hinkley offered a toast.

"He stood up, right in the middle of the dinner rush and bought everyone in the house a glass of sparkling wine," Pastore recalls. "He said that he hopes Incanto becomes a place where everyone shares birthdays, anniversaries, and other important occasions together for a long time to come. That meant so much to me."

Hinkley, a Sanchez Street resident, remembers the evening well. "Mark had been very sensitive to the neighbors throughout the construction, and then we all were there that night in this beautiful place having a great meal. I just had to get up and tell everyone what a wonderful addition Incanto is to our neighborhood!"

Incanto is open Wednesday through Monday, from 5 to 10 p.m. (closed Tuesdays). The wine bar is open until 11 p.m.

-- Heidi Anderson

Lisa Violetto Designs

1414C Castro Street between Jersey and 25th streets


Lisa Violetto, the proprietor and creative force behind Lisa Violetto Designs, loves color. "Color is so much happier than black," she says.

Not surprisingly then, most of the handcrafted silk purses, scarves, and totes that adorn the walls and shelves of her second-floor shop and studio, located at 1414 Castro Street, are in bright oranges, purples, pinks, and greens.

After primarily selling her wares wholesale to small boutiques and catalogs for more than a decade and operating out of a warehouse in the South of Market area, Violetto relocated her business to Noe Valley in February. Since then, she has begun the process of becoming a retailer of her merchandise, which has been featured in Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. "We had a little outlet store in front of our studio on Brannan," she explains, "and we got a lot of people coming in there to buy our purses and scarves. So the idea of becoming a retailer just sort of mushroomed."

Violetto, who has lived with her husband Gary Taormina on Alvarado Street for almost two decades, insists she's not looking to become the next Kate Spade, though. "It's really important to me that I create handmade artisan things," she says. "You can't do that if you mass-merchandise, like Kate Spade does. Plus, there are quality-control issues. I want to stay at the boutique level. I want to spend my time designing things that women feel great about putting on."

Violetto does all the cutting and pattern-making for her merchandise. She sews and beads the items with the help of a staff of four seamstresses who work in a "little factory" behind the store, filled with bolts of fabric and boxes of beads.

Another reason Violetto wants the business to stay small is so that she and Taormina, who handles the business end of things, can spend plenty of time with their two children, Peter, a fifth-grader at Alvarado School, and Veronica, an eighth-grader at St. Paul's.

Ninety percent of Violetto's purses and scarves are made of silk from Italy and France. Asian-influenced and flowered fabrics, along with French brocade, faux suede, and pearl and glass beads, often show up in her merchandise. She works with anywhere from 60 to 90 fabrics each season to come up with 50 different shapes of bags. Most of the purses have beaded straps, and beads often dangle from the ends of the scarves, both as decoration "and to hold the scarves in place," she says.

Prices range from $35 for a small bag-- suitable for carrying a wallet, car keys, and a lipstick -- to $110 for a tote large enough to do double-duty as a diaper bag or weekender. She also custom-makes bags for wedding parties and other special occasions.

For customers looking to coordinate their accessories, Violetto offers scarves, priced from $39 to $69, to match the handbags. "Some people come in and purchase a scarf, a tote, and a small purse all out of the same material," she says. They also may buy beaded necklaces and earrings, priced from $10 to $200.

"I love fabric and I love beads," says Violetto, "so I always try to combine them in what I make."

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Violetto has been studying art since she was 5. She has a degree in fine arts from Hunter College, but took a detour from her creative work for 11 years in the mid-'70s and '80s -- to work as a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood in New York. Just two weeks after she left her Planned Parenthood job to relocate to San Francisco and start Lisa Violetto Designs, the clinic in her building was blown up. "I was part of the so-called 'bomb squad,'" says Violetto. "I was trained to look for suspicious packages and alert the authorities."

Her husband was the instigator in moving to San Francisco. "We were bicoastal for five years, with him living out here and me on the East Coast," says Violetto, "and then he finally broke me down in 1986 to move out here full-time. We'll be married 16 years in October."

Since then, she has more than adjusted, and in fact, has come to love Noe Valley.

"We're so glad to have our studio here," she says. "Life is way less stressful not having to go to South of Market every day, and since I'm spending so much more time in the neighborhood, I feel like I'm reconnecting with people here. We love the weather, and we love the ambiance of 24th Street. It's got the feel of a New York neighborhood. You know, I walk down the street and say hi to this person, hi to that person. It's how I grew up."

Soon, Violetto hopes to expand to the storefront below hers (formerly the home of Purely Physical Fitness and most recently the temporary location of Zephyr Real Estate) to increase street traffic. She also hopes to increase her merchandise to include housewares, such as tablecloths, candleholders, lampshades and bases, and even some furniture.

Although the store is officially open only during the afternoons, Violetto says she is often in the studio in the mornings, so people "should take a chance and drop in. Or you can always call and make a special appointment. If you've got a fashion emergency, no problem. We'll take care of you."

Lisa Violetto Designs is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 5:30 p.m., and by appointment.

--Kathy Dalle-Molle


1478A Church Street at
Cesar Chavez Street


The bright orange "Grand Opening" banner recently hanging in the front window of Danu Salon & Spa may have puzzled some Noe Valley residents. Hasn't Danu been in that location for a number of years?

In fact, Danu Salon has been on Church Street near the corner of Cesar Chavez for six years. However, the banner is not for the hair salon. It's heralding the new Danu clothing boutique.

The good news is that Noe Valley hasn't lost Danu Salon & Spa; it will continue to operate on a "request and referral" basis. Instead, salon owner Teresa Donnelly and her daughter Tara Kitami decided to expand their business and transform the salon space into a fashion-forward, women's clothing and accessories store.

"We're excited that Church Street is becoming a destination street," says Donnelly. "I think a new boutique complements the other merchants and offers more opportunities for local and visiting shoppers on upper Church."

The bi-level salon space has been converted nicely, with accessories and beauty products on the lower level, and clothing and (soon-to-be-added) shoes on the second level. Donnelly and Kitami want to create a venue for distinctive clothing by offering lines not represented elsewhere on the West Coast. "We're featuring brands like Bony, Vianco, Sxy's, and Shyde, which are big in New York, but you don't find them out here," explains Kitami. "We also have Casadei, a designer who I'm sure is about to explode. As far as I know, she's not found anywhere else in San Francisco."

Another plus is that you're not likely to see your Danu outfit on everybody else. Says Kitami, "We don't buy huge quantities of any particular item, so customers can enjoy having almost one-of-a-kind pieces." Kitami points to a shelf of fuzzy, pastel-colored sweaters. "These embroidered mohair sweaters [$108] are from L.A. There was only a small inventory available and we bought them out, so you won't see these sweaters anywhere but here."

Donnelly and Kitami bought the first round of inventory together and plan to continue to work that way each season. The mother/daughter team makes for an ideal business partnership. Donnelly, who is a cosmetologist by trade, has had a successful business in the neighborhood for years. Kitami is a student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, focusing on product development. Their combined input allows them to buy for a wider age range, style, and taste. "Our goal is to cater to women of all ages and sizes," says Donnelly.

As longtime residents of Noe Valley, they are tuned into what women here are wearing. The Danu boutique was planned with the Noe Valley clientele in mind. "The style of dress here is very casual. There are a lot of moms who want to wear comfortable clothes," Kitami says. "We want to enable casual moms to be more fashion-conscious."

They also want to offer affordable clothes. "We're trying to keep the prices down," says Kitami, "Our clothes range from really affordable knit tops [$19] to higher-end ensembles, such as the long Michel Stephen velvet dress and jacket for $310."

Walk into Danu, and you will most likely meet Kitami, who is now managing, merchandising, and marketing the shop. She makes it a point to get to know her customers, their taste, and their particular wardrobe needs

"I remember people and I know what they're doing and what they like to wear," Kitami asserts. "I give people upfront, straightforward fashion advice for their particular body types, sense of style, and comfort. I know all about the lines we carry. I picked them out! I'm not going to recommend something that doesn't flatter the customer."

Danu is open from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Tuesday through Friday, the shop is open from noon to 8:30 p.m. Hours may change.

--Beth Gilbert


Lovejoy's Antiques and Tea Room

1351 Church Street (at Clipper)


In June 2002, Lovejoy's wrote the Voice, asking to update the hours and prices at Lovejoy's Tea Room on Church Street. Here's the scoop. Tea will no longer be served late on Friday evenings: new Friday hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Also, prices have gone up. The Wee Tea is $8.25; Light Tea is $10.95; High Tea is $14.25; and Queen's Tea is $18.95.