Monday, August 22, 2011

Acquerello and other fine eats

The best meal we've had recently was dinner at Acquerello, San Francisco's finest Italian restaurant, which I think is saying a lot in itself. The only unpleasantness is leaving a credit card for the reservation, but after that everything is perfect. The entry and dining room had been remodeled since I last was there (a few years ago) and it is a wonderful space. Filling a former chapel, it is elegant, quiet, and comfortable. Warmly welcomed, as we were seated we were offered a black napkin if we were worried about white lint. I noticed that some tables had little seats for women to put their purses on. We were given an orange juice, melon, and bitters refresher to help us settle in.
An incredible amuse gueule of a small arancino with a little dollop of truffled mousse was served after we ordered. It was perfection. We ordered a lovely Roero Arneis to begin and then followed with a beautiful Petrolo Sangiovese, the best I've ever had. They were 4 of us so that's just 1/2 bottle each! Both were around $80, which is high for me, but on the low-end here with an encyclopedic selection of the very best in Italian wines, and both were worth it. They have 2 wine rooms which one is welcome to enter.
Dinners can be ordered in 3, 4, or 5 courses as well as a chef's tasting menu. We all had the 4 courses at $78. Again, for the quality, prices are more than fair. Starters included a Parmesan budino on sauteed mushrooms, a perfect combination of taste and texture, smoked sturgeon over parsnip puree, just smoky and salty enough to honor, not overwhelm the fish, and grilled lambs tongue, deliciously chewy and flavored.
Second courses included a nicely stuffed ravioli of lamb shank, a baby squash risotto with squash blossoms, and a ridged pasta with a foie gras and truffle sauce. OMG, each was balanced and celebrated the ingredients. Main course highlights were a beautiful lamb tenderloin, a filet of dorade, and pancetta-wrapped scallops. Once again, the ingredients sparkled, the tastes exploded, happiness abounded.
The dessert that for me encapsulates the whole Acquerello experience is the house-made vanilla gelato with 25-year old Balsamic, and in season strawberries. It is very simple but each ingredient is perfect, and each bite ethereal. They also offer a beautiful cheese selection, which 2 of us took advantage of.
Service throughout the meal was perfect, replacing napkins if you got up, serving warm bread when needed, dishes coming at the same time but not French Laundry pretentiously. I had asked the sommelier to write down the names of the wines we had. An envelope was waiting for me as we left with an embossed card with the names. Acquerello is such a bastion of good taste and service, may it thrive forever. Multi grazie!

A few other recent great dining experiences include finally having food from the Chairman Bao food truck. Palo Alto now has a Monday night food truck gathering at Edgewood Plaza, which is fun to try. The greatest single item was the pork belly steamed bao, rich, flavor-packed, and sooo tender. Yummers. Another highlight was the bundt cake with strawberries from Butterscotch-on-the-Go. They had just run out of their famous-- and still untried-- butterscotch pudding, but this was a great substitute. We had dinner at Liaison in Berkeley before a great performance of Let Me Down gently by Anna Deveare Smith. Service was not great, but the weekday prix fixe of 3 courses and a glass of wine for $32 was quite nice. It started with a mixed green salad, followed with veal scallopine, and then ended with a fruit tart. Evrything was tasty and portions were pretty large, especially considering the price. Made it to ZeroZero on Folsom in San Francisco and I'd happily return. A happening place with a busy bar scene, the food is better than it has to be. Excellent thin pizzas, fresh salads, and wonderful appetizers like their albacore crudo with tomatoes and stone fruit and incredible stuffed squash blossoms, made for a reasonably-priced, high-quality, delicious dinner. We recently returned to A16 in the Marina after a long absence. The pizza there is also truly great and it would be a mistake to go there and not order at least the Margherita. Starters of roasted and raw figs, arugula and frisee salad were perfect while lovely burrata was slightly overwhelmed by the sea salt on top. A piccheri pasta was also too salty from the mullet bottarga on top, but the interesting fregula,a couscous-like grain, was delicious. Wine choices are excellent, but service was a little unresponsive. The server gladly agreed to things, like bringing bread, but didn't! Dinner was followed by an evening of improv at BATS, always a pleasure even when perfection is not reached.