We last visited Acquerello in 2018 and you can read that one here. It is in Nob Hill in a building that had housed many businesses but the main was a chapel which you can recognize by the high peaked ceiling. For 3 decades they have offered Italian-inspired cuisine and have been recognized with 2 Michelin stars. It’s a good-sized room with music in the background and friendly yet very professional service, including purse stools. Executive Chef Suzette Gresham still co-owns the place and runs the kitchen. Co-owner Giancarlo Paterlini was at another of his restaurants that evening but his most capable sommelier son was on site. They offer 2 tasting menus, one seasonal and one where you select 3-5 courses from several choices. We specified the seasonal tasting on our reservation so didn’t even see the other menu but their website has it online. Wine pairings are available as are some supplemental courses of caviar and cheese. We opted for our own wines and no supplements. It is a lovely place but should I go back I’d pick the menu with choices because although the plates were gorgeous they didn’t pack the flavor punch I remembered.
The tasting started with small bites called Chef’s Surprises. They were presented with detailed descriptions that I couldn’t write fast enough to get all down but they were all quite good. The standing tubes were crispy potatoes filled with a parmesan mousse. The light crisp potato was a delightful contrast to the creamy filling. The middle tarts were made with pickled beetroot in a hazelnut vinaigrette. The ultra-thin shells were so light and delicate that they were one delicious bite. The top rounds were financier cakes with caramelized onion and chive powder. The topping was very creamy on the little rich cake. Another delicious start.
The bread service started with rosemary bread that was light inside with a good crust. A bit later they added a piece of olive bread that was warm, brown and much denser. Both were fine and served with cultured butter from Vermont. I thought it would have a stronger ‘butter’ flavor than it did but the color was rich and inviting.
Carpaccio of Hiramasa with sour cherry and coffee was the first course. The Kingfish was from Australia and dusted in between and outside with seaweed powder. The sour cherry and coffee-scented oil made up the surrounding red gel. The dish looked deep but it was in fact quite thin and thus also nicely tender. The portions of fish broke easily a part for eating but it really needed the sauce to give it life. This was a striking plate that didn’t live up to its visual appeal.
Wolfe Ranch quail mortadella with pistachio praline was plated with kumquat mostarda including pieces of pickled kumquat. Some tiny arugula and baby kale leaves completed the plate. The mortadella was more like a roulade of quail as there were no large chunks of fat in the mix. The kumquat variants provided a sweet and tart contrast and definitely had more flavor impact than the mild quail. Another spectacular-looking plate though.
Sesame-crusted Ora King salmon was on artichoke, green garlic, and spigarello (an Italian brassica in the broccoli family that resembles rapini). The New Zealand salmon was pan-roasted and then crusted with sesame seeds and decorated with mustard flowers. It was a stronger-tasting salmon than is my preference but I loved how much it looked like a scallop. The greens were good with the fish but this was a lesser course for me.
Swordfish triangoli was with grilled lemon butter sauce, caper, pole beans and oreganata. The pasta pyramids were an amazing feat. The pasta was perfectly cooked and the edges retained a nice thinness rather than the usual bulked-up ones. Inside the mild meaty fish needed the crispy breadcrumbs floating in the sauce to give it some textural contrast. The lemon in the sauce helped bring everything together for a good melding of flavors.
Ridged pasta with faux “foie gras”, black truffle and Marsala is one of the chef’s signature dishes and is always on the menu. The significant difference is that now there is no real foie gras but instead a duck liver blended with fat to blend into the sauce. The perfectly cooked tube pasta had an exterior that adhered nicely to the thick sauce. To me, though, the Marsala added too much sweetness and the dish lost its savory touch. It was rich but felt more like eating a dessert.
Charcoal-grilled ribeye, razor clam, asparagus, fava bean, and salsa rossa were the last savory course. Note that it is a singular clam and not a whole one at that – a few slivers of the clam were in the mix with the asparagus pieces and shavings. The salsa rosa included bell peppers and almonds and the vegetable mix was tasty as well as attractive. The beef was another story – cooked a nice medium rare it was dry and dull. The sauce was good but couldn’t save this meat.
Lemon verbena and creme fraiche sorbet were on a thick slice of aprium and topped with candied Buddha’s hand. The seeds of the apricot were blended into the foam which added an almond-like flavoring. The sorbet was excellent, smooth and flavorful and the fruit below was wonderful. The candied fruit on top was overkill but this was still a favorite dish of the evening.
Fromage blanc mousse was on strawberry-rhubarb and wrapped with a poppy seed and elderflower tuile (super thin wafer). The fruit mix was also on the inside and it was very good. The tuile was not tasty with a flavor like cardboard but easily discarded as the rest of it had wonderful flavor and texture. Overall a yes on this one.
We declined the cheese course because we knew the dessert cart was coming next. It is filled with chocolate, nougats, cookies and the like and you can pick what you want. It is all made in-house. We tried an Italian almond cookie, a strawberry lollipop filled with chocolate, chocolate truffles, nougat, pear tart and ginger passionfruit marshmallow. They were all fine but none blew me away and wishing for more. The surprise was the cart had no caramel.
They sent me home with a box of housemade biscotti and some chocolates. The biscotti were great with coffee the next morning and the chocolates were okay.