One morning last week, a pastry chef approached the service entrance of Incanto Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar in Noe Valley and discovered a disturbing work of vandalism. A swastika had been painted on the door. "It was about 24 to 30 inches across, on the door," restaurant owner Mark Pastore says. "It was in silverish-gray paint. We called the police." According to SFPD spokesman, Officer Samson Chan, the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
There may be an odd reason for that. According to an Ingleside police newsletter documenting the graffiti at Incanto, "the owner believed that the menu at the business generates particular crimes." The restaurant sometimes serves foie gras — the liver of a duck or goose fattened by force-feeding. The menu item had resulted in past threats from animal rights activists.
Last year, Incanto received a video and letter from unidentified protesters, demanding that the owners discontinue serving foie gras. Pastore's business partner, Chris Cosentino, responded with a 3,000-word argument defending it on Incanto's website. "Incanto continues to serve it because we believe both that individuals ought to decide their own morality and that those who dedicate so much energy and animosity toward fighting it simply have their priorities wrong," he wrote. The activists responded, "We are coming to protest, be prepared," according to the blog Eat Me Daily.
But would they resort to accusing Incanto of Nazilike behavior? It wouldn't be the first time, says Nancy Appel, the associate director of the Anti-Defamation League's San Francisco office. In fact, some animal rights organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have used Holocaust imagery to draw attention to their causes, according to the ADL's website. Appel doesn't appreciate the attempt. "It cheapens the crime of the Nazis," she says. "It cheapens all of us."
PETA media liaison Jane Dollinger said that although her organization sees foie gras as nothing more than an abused animal's diseased, rotting organ with a high price tag slapped on it, PETA was not responsible for the Incanto swastika. "We hadn't heard about this incident until you called," she says.
In an interview with SF Weekly, Pastore didn't want to get into whether the various animals and parts of animals his restaurant serves —including whole pig and goose intestines — might have played a role. "I think that can only be speculation, and we aren't concerned about that at this point," he says. He says nobody involved in the ownership or management of the restaurant has any Jewish connection.
Although the restaurant had been defaced before with "the normal kind of urban tagging you see everywhere," Pastore says, this was the first Nazi symbol: "I think it goes to show you there are a lot of small-minded people out there, even in a place as enlightened as San Francisco."
John Birdsall contributed reporting to this story.