It wasn't quite the A to Z of dining in San Francisco, but a recent trip there provided an opportunity to visit Acquerello and St. Vincent Tavern and Wine Merchant, two very different restaurant concepts.
I had wanted to dine at Acquerello since meeting Gianpaolo Paterlini in Piedmont in 2011, at a dinner with Luca and Elena Currado of Vietti. Paterlini is Acquerello's wine director and son of the founder, Giancarlo Paterlini. I knew from our conversation that this was a destination for Nebbiolo lovers in San Francisco.
Acquerello's high-beamed ceiling and airy interior belies its intimate feel. One almost expects a choir to burst forth in song from the balcony, yet Paterlini Sr. and his professional staff keep you engaged with flawless service as they deliver a series of amuses-bouches and then the 3-, 4-, 5-course prix fixe or the market tasting menu.
For my colleague Kim Marcus and me, the standouts were the chilled gazpacho of yellow squash, strawberries, green beans and pickled shallots; the melt-in-your mouth Black Angus beef carpaccio, roasted garlic, asparagus, Grana Padano and egg yolk; and smoked potato gnocchi with prosciutto, summer truffle, chive, and Parmigiano. The restaurant's signature dish, ridged pasta with creamy sauce of duck liver, black truffle and Marsala was another highlight.
Though Italian-inspired, Acquerello is more modern in its approach, with composed dishes and complex sauces. Perhaps the most difficult decision is choosing a wine from more than 1,800 the list offers. We settled on a Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2009 from G.D. Vajra and Sottimano's Barbaresco Cottà 2004. The Barbera shone with its juicy blackberry fruit, while the 10-year-old Barbaresco revealed more savory, complex flavors and fine intensity.
About a year old now, St. Vincent Tavern and Wine Merchant is the brainchild of David Lynch, a former wine director at Quince (San Francisco) and Babbo (New York). As the name suggests, it is both casual and offers wines at retail.
Better yet, if you are dining there, every one of the 100 wines offered for less than $100 is available by the half-bottle. This allowed me to enjoy an opulent Raccaro Friulano Collio Vigna del Rolat 2012 and a meaty, peppery Aglianico del Vulture 2006 from Basilisco.
St. Vincent's kitchen is tiny, but the food is robust and flavorful. The pea and fava bean soup gets lift and a textural counterpoint from slices of radish and pea shoots. A dish of bone marrow with grilled rustic bread and pickled onion was sinfully delicious, though the smoked chile relish was a little overpowering for the marrow and wine.
A huge ham chop proved succulent and tender, accompanied by collard greens with a light vinegar snap and blackberries whose vibrant acidity worked perfectly with the Aglianico.
Two memorable dining experiences, one refined and formal, the other casual and rustic, shows why San Francisco is such an exciting destination for food and wine.