Lamb Chops with Cauliflower Sformato and Olive Tapenade, Lobster Panzerotti, Vanilla Gelato with Balsamic Vinegar
Occupation: Recruiting Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Acquerello
Reviewed Acquerello: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Acquerello is somewhat unknown in San Francisco, which is surprising, considering both the fact that San Franciscans love to spend money on high-end food, and the fact that it is rated a top ten restaurant in San Francisco and has been rated as such for many years.
Walking in to Acquerello is a pleasure because it is so wonderfully quiet and civilized. The décor has a distinct Tuscan flavor, with light-colored, ornate moldings, and a charming wooden beam structure along the ceiling.
The establishment is small and refined, seating, maybe, 40 people at most in just one room. The noise level is never so high that it does not allow for a quiet and romantic dinner for two. In fact, the word romantic is key to understanding the establishment. Acquerello is not a place for a glass of wine and a snack with a friend. It is a place that offers a very classic fine dining experience in a setting commensurate to such a description.
I had a lengthy meal, but one that was well-paced at every turn. I had four courses, including dessert. Minus a small misfire on the starter course, I found the meal to be exceptional.
The starters I had were interesting and seasonal, particularly the risotto with grapes and pork belly. The risotto was not mealy or over-served in terms of portion. A little choice like portion size is more important than one might think, especially when you are preparing for three additional courses. Regardless, cubes of pork belly and small grapes work nicely with the risotto because they create a balance of salty and sweet.
The pumpkin fettuccine starter was served in a broth, which I felt took away from the dish. More to the point, I found this dish to be unimportant, regardless of the choice of serving it in a dish lined with broth at the bottom. The fettuccine was flavorless, and the pancetta should have been more prominent and distributed, which could have enhanced the flavor. Instead, the pancetta was one long piece, more resembling an over-cooked strip of bacon.
The second course was extraordinary: lobster panzerotti. These are four little ravioli-like pasta pockets filled with lobster, shrimp, and scallops. The pockets of greatness are made even better by the brown butter sauce that supports them in the dish. It is a destination dish.
The final course that I had was the parsley-crusted lamb chops. I could say a lot of things about this dish, or I could simply say it was the best lamb I’ve ever tasted, which it was.
For dessert, I had the butterscotch semifreddo. It basically presents as a scoop of pumpkin-colored gelato with a chocolate statue surrounding it that resembles the Bilbao MOMA, if that’s not too pretentious of a description. The semifreddo is unique in its flavor and texture. It’s creamy and rich, yet the butterscotch flavor is not overpowering to the point that it makes the dish tacky or over-sweet.
The white wine and sparkling wine selections I had were well explained and well balanced in taste.
The service at Acquerello was outstanding, as it should be, considering the price point and the restaurant’s accolades and reputation.
I would go back to Acquerello without thinking twice, but it would likely be for a special occasion, or if I perchance befriend a loan officer.
Occupation: Superstar Mother of Three
Location: El Sobrante
Favorite Restaurant: Zeni Ethiopian Restaurant
Reviewed Acquerello: Saturday, November 29, 2008
We had a reservation for three at 6pm on a Saturday night. We found parking right out in front of the restaurant! A sign that, surely, the food would be good. Acquerello is nestled in a bustling neighborhood with an unassuming facade, and from the outside you may mistake it for a boutique hotel. Upon stepping in, however, you immediately get the feeling that you have stepped into someplace special. From the foyer you can see the impressive wine cellar. Our coats were taken, and we were immediately seated. The crowd was very mixed in age with the majority being older. The feel of the place was rustically elegant. The colors were soothing, and the dining room was very intimate without feeling crowded.
While getting settled, we were presented with one of many little surprises of the evening: an aperitif. Oh, so lovely. We were mainly attended to by Francesco, who was so informative and helpful. He gave us our menus and showed us the ropes of the multi-course dining. You can order three, four, or five courses, you can order courses separately, or you can order the chef’s tasting menu. If you want the chef’s tasting menu, your whole table must also have it. While we were perusing our menus, out came another little surprise: a spoonful of halibut. Delicious. We were asked if we’d like to have wine, and a sommelier came to our table, also a wonderful treat. I am by no means a wine connoisseur, but I enjoy good wine. He inquired about our usual tastes and gave some lovely suggestions. I chose a Saltner Pinot Nero, and it was perfect. I was with wonderful company with whom I could share food, and we chose our food knowing we’d be able to taste everything.
The food at Acquerello was extraordinary! It surpassed all of my expectations. Each course was better than the last. There was never a dull moment for my palate. The first course came, as did all the rest, from several servers presenting each dish in unison and acquainting us with its ingredients. My first course was a peppered carpaccio of beef with truffled-anchovy vinaigrette and a quail egg. I loved it. My dining partners ordered the chicory salad with Gorgonzola and the citrus sardines. They were equally as delicious as mine. Our empty plates were skillfully removed and replaced with clean silver, and just when we were starting to think about what we ordered next, the servers appeared again. We were feeling so special. The service is impeccable.
The second course came with the same flourish as the first. I had the herbed risotto with braised pork belly. Very good. I was also able to taste the Lobster Panzerotti, which was out of this world! Also, the gnocchi made with bone marrow over beef ragu was exquisite. The third course was the medallion of veal with fennel potato gratin, chanterelle mushrooms, and truffled veal glaze. I also tried the dorade and the scallops. Everything was intensely flavored and cooked to perfection. Divine, divine, divine.
The cheese course was the fourth course. I was definitely glad that I had gotten it. I was able to choose three wonderful cheeses out of about 12 that were explained to me by Francesco. To finish off the meal we ordered coffee and two desserts. The coffee came to us each in our own lovely pot and was accompanied by a plate of biscotti. Another surprise and simply fantastic. My desert was the huckleberry and pear tart, and I also tried the chocolate mousse. Both were very good, but, dare I say, not extraordinary, which seemed to be the theme of the night.
Acquerello is a dining experience that should not be missed. The service was exceptional. Your every need is attended to before you even realize you have one. The food was an adventure for my palate. The portions were just right. Everything was sublime. It was worth every penny. I would highly recommend it.
Occupation: Marketing Engineer
Favorite Restaurant: Quinn’s Lighthouse Restaurant & Pub
Reviewed Acquerello: Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Portion size: The portion size was just right. Every portion left us satisfied.
Quality of food: Outstanding. Everything was cooked and served to perfection. We were even offered extra items, which were also delicious.
Service: Right on the mark. We were served courses fresh from the oven as soon as we finished the previous course. We never felt hurried, but always felt attended to. This even included, when leaving after the meal, having our checked coats waiting for us.
Décor and atmosphere: The atmosphere was elegant. It reminded me of the best restaurants of Napa and Sonoma. It was well appointed, and we felt very comfortable. Although there were other tables, we felt that we had singular service.
Bang for buck: This was an excellent restaurant with several complimentary drinks and courses provided. The price was on the high end, and I would reserve this restaurant for special occasions.
Comfort: The dining room was very comfortable.
Wine service: They had a sommelier to assist in wine selection. As I didn’t recognize any of the wines offered, he assisted me in selecting a Chardonnay.
Noise level: The noise level was perfect. We had no trouble hearing each other at the tables, but did not hear conversations at other tables.
Wait for table: We were seated as soon as we arrived.
Food arrival speed: The courses arrived perfectly times after we finished the previous courses. When each course arrived, the waiter explained what we had ordered.
This was one of the best dining experiences that I have had. I would highly recommend this restaurant to others and would go again for special occasions.
Reservations are recommended. Plan for three hours for dinner. I was only able to reserve for either 5:30 – 6:00pm or 9:00 – 9:30pm. I believe they are selective about giving out reservations in order to provide guests with an outstanding dining experience.
The restaurant is in a mixed commercial/residential neighborhood, allowing for shopping before or after dining. It is a block away from the California Street cable car line and near other public transportation. There is adequate parking in the area, but there is also a garage directly across the street.
One of my dining companions said dining at Acquerello made her feel rich. I would second that opinion and use that quote to refer diners to Acquerello.