On Saturday I took a friend to Acquerello to celebrate her birthday. It was the first time there for both of us. We had a fabulous experience.
The space is exceptionally beautiful. There is generous spacing between the tables. Couples are seated at round tables along the wall with chairs rotated with their backs angled toward the wall so that you face looking out into the room and at an angle to each other. This allows you to sit close to your date and have a very private conversation. It’s the perfect setting for a very intimate dinner.
We were led to our table by a large gentleman who spoke with an accent that I found a little hard to understand. He seemed rather formal, perhaps even a bit stuffy. Fortunately he had a lighter touch in our later contacts and none of the other wait staff could remotely be called stuffy. The service throughout the evening was attentive, warm, friendly and gracious.
You definitely feel pampered at Aquerello. During the evening we were treated to complimentary extras—an orange-juice based aperitif when we were seated, delicious arancini with black truffle, and after dessert some exceptional chocolates. When I asked where the men’s room was the waiter escorted me to the door leading to the restrooms and opened it for me. When I returned my old napkin was gone and the new napkin which awaited me was opened for me and placed on my lap. Each new course was delivered by two servers who placed both our dishes down at the same time. There was a perfectly coordinated flow of events through the evening that seemed effortless and natural. The attention to detail was remarkable, but also unobtrusive.
The menu is arranged into three courses plus cheese and dessert. You can choose three, four or five courses with cheese and dessert counting as courses. We had four courses—three plus dessert.
The food was outstanding. I had previously examined the menu on their website and knew what my first choice in each course would be. I was pleased when my friend chose exactly the same three dishes and later when we both selected the same dessert as our top choice. Since we were sharing dishes we selected an additional choice for each course except for the third course where we both had the scallops.
Our choices were (with our first choice first):
-Chilled soup of toy box tomatoes, compressed peaches infused with basil and Marcona almonds
-Carpaccio of plum with herbaceous baby mustard greens, shaved porchetta and balsamic cipolline
-Baby squash risotto, squash blossoms, piccolo fino basil and shaved Del Piave cheese
-Succulent ragù of guinea hen and duck with flour less and egg less potato gnocchi
-Pancetta wrapped scallops with carrot ‘zenzero’ foam, puffed wild rice and chanterelle mushrooms
-Amarena and cherry gelato with bittersweet chocolate crema sauce, and cocoa cake with cherry syrup
-Compressed peaches and blackberries with lemon mascarpone sorbet and thyme scented phyllo
The chilled tomato soup was delicious, with a complex yet still delicate flavor and some nice crunchy textures. The only dish of the evening that didn’t impress me was the salad with thinly sliced plums—I didn’t think the bitter greens went well with the plum. I probably overused the 25 year old balsamic vinegar which may have contributed to my lack of enthusiasm. My friend enjoyed the salad very much.
We both were particularly anticipating the risotto. It was very good but not quite as sublime as I had hoped. The ragu was the only second choice selection we hadn’t immediately agreed on—I talked her into it and thought it was outstanding, better than the risotto. It had a wonderful complex flavor. I wish I could order this as a third course to enjoy a larger quantity. She was glad we ordered it and thought it was excellent but not necessarily better than the risotto, which she thought was terrific.
The pancetta wrapping really worked well with the huge scallops and the carrot foam complimented the other flavors.
Her gelato and cocoa cake dessert came with a candle and Happy Birthday spelled out in chocolate. It was artfully presented and each little puddle of flavor was wonderful in its own way. In addition to different cherry and chocolate flavors there were some delightful white puddles of deliciousness that I couldn’t identify. The peach and blackberry dessert was delicious but the quantity was small.
With so many wonderful dishes it’s hard to choose favorites, but mine would be the tomato soup, the ragu, and the gelato dessert.
It was a lovely evening and one of the finest dining experiences I have ever had. My friend declared it was the best meal she had ever had and stuck to her guns when I challenged whether any one meal can be unequivocally the best. The glow on her face left no doubt as to her sincerity. I can’t say the food was clearly superior to other very memorable meals I have had at La Folie, Chez Panisse and elsewhere but the total experience including the beautiful setting and wonderful service made this meal seem even more special.
2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709
1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109
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