(Please excuse the photos that follow — it was dim lighting for non-flash photography, and I really didn’t want to interrupt other people’s dining experience by using my flash either, so I did what I could.)
On my first visit, the service was simply impeccable. At that time, Acquerello was wholly underrated versus the better known Michael Mina and/or Gary Danko — and the restaurant was only half-full, at best, though they had been around since 1989.
We were presented with a variety of “surprises” from the kitchen even after the apertif for the evening, which was perhaps the only thing I wasn’t crazy about on this night — it tasted like bubble gum.
I didn’t quite catch what these were, though they were described to us upon delivery, but I can tell you that the first amuse bouche, placed upon a triangle cut-out of toast, was an explosion of flavors that paired amazingly with the Quarz wine we were drinking. The concoction you see atop the toast was potato-based, with what I believe to have been an parsley-based sauce.
The second amuse bouche tasted like deep-fried risotto — no joke. Again, rich in flavor and cooked perfectly, the little balls were heavenly and did its job of getting our appetites into revving mode.First up on the tasting menu that Mr. K opted for, primarily so I could taste all of it, was the poached ranch egg nested in toasted farro with asparagus tips, roasted sunchokes and shitake mushrooms. The egg was, not surprisingly, poached to perfection, nicely coasting everything on the dish, especially the farro. Farro was an interesting choice (and it was my first time trying it as I find it’s rarely used) as though the texture is much like an undercooked risotto, it provided a nice contrast to the poached egg’s softness. Combined with the subtle taste of asparagus and the big flavors of shitake, the dish was a consortium of flavors — which is what I’ve come to expect of Chef Suzette Gresham.
Since one of us had opted for the tasting menu, I decided to order the a la carte four course menu option. There’s really no other way to taste things you would have liked to try on the menu AND experience the Chef’s Tasting Menu. My first course was the “Dungeness Crab Salad with cured Meyer lemon, sultana raisins and Yuzu caviar”. I love crab but have never been a big fan of crab salads because all one can really taste is mayonnaise! I was more curious than excited to see what Acquerello would serve up — and wouldn’t you know it, their crab salad was divine. It was 100% crab meat and packed with crab flavor with nary a hint of mayo anywhere — and little pops of caviar and citrus notes peeked through the crab flavor making this dish simply outstanding. Quite small, and it’s so good that you end up wishing you had a couple more bites.
Up next on the Chef’s Tasting Menu at Acquerello was “Fennel Soup with Seafood” which included prawn, mussels, oyster and clam (singular and plural versions used deliberately), as there was only one of each except the mussel presented in this soup. This dish was presented “dry” (sans soup) and the heavy cream soup was poured atop the dish after presentation at the table. The fennel soup was delicious albeit a bit heavier than I’d have wanted ideally — and the seafood was topnotch in quality. Paired with the soup, I thought the oyster’s flavor backed down more than it should have, but the seafood was prepared perfectly.
And this is why a review about Acquerello has more to do with the exemplary service than just about the food!
Because one person had ordered the tasting menu (six courses), and the other had ordered only four courses, the kitchen sent out a course to make sure I wasn’t left out of eating while Mr. K enjoyed his seafood fennel soup. It was a warm cheese-filled puff pastry put atop a bed of chopped, sauteed mushrooms that was simple and comforting. Regardless of what they had sent out — it’s those little extras in service that make all the difference.The third course of the tasting menu was simply divine: braised duck tortellini in a caramelized onion consomme. Each spoonful had a perfect balance of duck flavor paired wonderfully with a background of pasta, accented only be the onion scent in the broth. It’s creative, but simple — and more importantly, every ingredient in this dish stood on its own, which is what sets Chef Gresham apart from her peers.
(My photo on top…Kent Hwang’s photo on the bottom…obviously.)
DO NOT MISS THIS ONE WHEN AT ACQUERELLO, FOLKS!
The cheese course immediately followed and Giancarlo explained all of the cheese to us in great detail. Cheese is perhaps the one food item that I am not impressively adventurous about because I have been brought to my knees, suffering, by a few types in my lifetime thus far. I can eat the intestines of anything that was once living; I can eat a live squid without blinking an eye — but so far, I have found that the three things that I am unable to stomach as of yet are as follows: chicken feet, stinky tofu, and a few varieties of cheeses that were pungent to the point that I was unable to push it down my throat.However, at Acquerello, I have yet to encounter cheese of that sort — or perhaps they have never let me pick that kind of a cheese off the cart. This was part of the chef’s tasting menu, and a course I had opted out of — but Giancarlo let us pick as many as we wanted to share. Paired with the toast that was served for this course, I found all four cheeses to be quite delightful — and with it, we finished off the whole bottle of wine. The candied nuts that came with the cheese were sinfully delicious and paired wonderfully with all the cheeses.
During dinner, the patrons of Acquerello appeared to be quite mixed with some younger couples obviously on dates to celebrate special occasions, a couple of groups appearing to be having business dinners, some old-school customers who brought the term “old money” to my mind, and a couple of group dates with what appeared to be ground of friend and/or couples sharing a great meal. It’s a versatile dining venue despite its formality.
With the 5 course menu topping at $90 (three and four courses are priced at $64 and $78, respectively) and the chef’s tasting menu priced at $105 per person, go to Acquerello prepared to be wowed by the intense flavors and culinary mastery at this restaurant — and don’t skip out on the wine, as it’s some of the best I’ve had in San Francisco to date. Trust the sommelier, who will ask you for a desired price range prior to choosing, and expect the wine choice to be no less impressive than the very best dish that this restaurant offers.
Located at 1772 Sacramento Street (at Polk), Acquerello is open from Tuesday to Saturday only, from 5:30-9:30 PM. Parking availability really fluctuates in this area, but there is a paid parking structure right across the street, and also a few steps towards Van Ness from the restaurant. The website has more details.
Below are shots taken by a photographer I took to dinner here on another visit after this review. Note that Chef Suzette Gresham included one of her recipes into my book!