On the seasonal menu, the chefs work together closely on inventive takes that rival the better fine dining meals I've had. An amuse of raw yellowtail is alive with seabeans and arugula blossoms, while red abalone pairs with cabbage "seaweed" in porcini broth. Snake River Kobe beef is tender and pink, cooked sous vide under shaved hazelnuts. The cheese course is a warm, oozing round of gorgonzola D.O.P. (denominazione di origine protella, or protected designation of origin) beautifully co-mingled with potato, onion, mustard seeds, and nasturtium. Probably the most delightful, unique dish is "baked potato" gnocchi, a playful take on a baked potato made with a base of doughy gnocchi topped with chive crème fraiche, pancetta, and paper thin, fried slivers of potato skin.
Palate cleansers include a shot of carrot-apple-ginger juice with vanilla foam and a refreshing starter of orange juice, vermouth, and bitters. On the seasonal menu, a vivid dessert from pastry chef Theron Marrs marries cucumber sorbet with tart lime curd, sweet strawberry consommé, and herbaceous mint granita. As at Gary Danko, the cheese cart is one of Acquerello's shining glories. The cart traverses the restaurant covered to contain the smell of its stinkiest offerings. Diners have their work cut out of them to select from among its unusual, largely Italian cheeses. An impression was made with earthy Blu di Valchiusella from Piemonte wrapped in walnut leaves and an impeccable Beppino Occelli in Barolo wine leaves.
Boasting input from no less than three sommeliers, Acquerello's extensive wine list is novel-thick, dense with Italian wines. There's an impressive range of varietals and vintages stored in its wine cellars. Suggested pairings meld seamlessly with each dish, whether it be a classic, lovely Nebbiolo d'Alba (2008 La Val Dei Preti), an unusual Langhe Rosso Burgundian-style Italian Pinot, or D'antiche Terre Taurasi Riserva, which transforms when sipped with fabulously rich veal and truffled mortadella tortellini Bolognesi.
For a special occasion, I'd place Acquerello among the best fine dining experiences in San Francisco — even up against hot newcomers and pricey minimalist restaurants. This is a place with a sense of history and a vision for the future.
1722 Sacramento, SF
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