Acquerello: SF’s Best Fine Dining

Since I wrote about my second favorite San Francisco fine dining spot, it seems only appropriate to share my #1 favorite. After five years of eating our way through the Bay Area and Napa, both my husband and I agree that Acquerello was our best meal in the area, and probably the best of our lives. Part of that is undoubtedly personal preference (I really like French food, but I love Italian food), but the food at Acquerello is exceptional no matter what your favorite kind of cuisine is. The Classic Tasting Menu we had has been abolished, but some of the dishes we had show up on the Prix Fixe menu or the Seasonal Tasting Menu.

We started with a “Chef’s Surprise,” an arancini with black truffle and parmesan cream, and an herbed ricotta cheese puff. A cheese puff is a pretty standard amuse bouche, seemingly served at about half the fancy restaurants in SF, but the heavenly ricotta filling really set this apart, and the arancini was absolutely delicious as well.

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The first course was a cauliflower budino with mixed greens. I’d never had a budino before, but I absolutely loved it. It sort of looked like a flan but tasted more like a souffle. It had a rich, creamy texture that was nothing like the soggy cauliflower you may have been served as a kid, and it was on top of a parmesan cream sauce with bits of buttery bread crumbs, which obviously I didn’t hate.

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The second course was a lobster panzerotti (a pasta a lot like ravioli) in a spicy lobster brodo, all topped with bits of lobster claw. I’ve had a lot of lobster pasta dishes in my life, and I have never had one that comes close to being as good as this was. It was phenomenal and is definitely on the short list of “best things I’ve ever eaten.” The sauce was the very best part of this dish. It was creamy and rich but not too heavy and had a distinctive lobster flavor without being overwhelmingly fishy. It was also, despite the name, not terribly spicy (which I consider a plus, especially with lobster, which can get overpowered easily).

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I thought nothing could possibly compare to that dish, but the next course, a ridged pasta with duck liver, black truffles and Marsala wine sauce, came very close. Although you might not typically associate fine dining and pasta, this and the lobster convinced me that nobody does pastas better than Acquerello. The ridges on the pasta were perfect for soaking up the sauce, which was a good thing since it was creamy, truffle-y perfection.

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Our fourth, and final savory, course was a letdown compared to the previous three, although that’s not saying much, since the first three ranged from outstanding to unbelievable. It was a fairly ordinary chicken breast and potato au gratin and was good but not terribly remarkable.

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The dessert course, however, was yet another standout. The texture of the bourbon caramel semifreddo was excellent and I loved the thick rich fudge sauce drizzled on the plate (I just wished there was more of it). The presentation was beautiful too.

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After the meal ended, they wheeled over a cart of all sorts of cookies and candies and let us choose whatever we wanted. Post-meal sweet treats are standard at restaurants like this, but I don’t know of anywhere else in SF that offers this kind of choice.

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It’s really an afterthought with the food as good as it is, but it’s worth noting that the service and ambiance are terrific here as well. Acquerello is a very special place, and its always at the top of my list whenever anyone asks me for a recommendation for a nice restaurant in SF. It’s a must visit for anyone, and especially so if you love pasta.

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