Acquerello, San Francisco (September 2008)

My Acquerello seed had been planted about four weeks ago when I made my reservation, which required the risky, even if only temporary, suspension of my Francophilia. Upon walking past the posh streets of downtown San Francisco, I strolled through Russian Hill’s Polk Street befuddled by droves of schizophrenics, so I increased my pace, hurriedly arriving at Acquerello. Never would I have imagined that the schizophrenia would persist, afflicting the Acquerello kitchen. Some dishes left me yearning for one more bite, while others hardly merited more than one bite.

Moments after sitting down, a server delivered an apéritif of orange juice, sweet vermouth, and a splash of pellegrino.

Before the tasting menu courses would begin, I enjoyed a refreshing cup of shrimp, cantaloupe, honeydew, and aioli.
First course: Foie gras torchon sitting on a roasted fig with black truffle, wrapped in duck prosciutto. This dish was well conceptualized. I especially savored the smooth textures of the foie gras and duck prosciutto.

Second course: Lobster salad with lemon cucumber, purslane and lemon oil. I accidentally dismantled the lobster tower before taking a picture. The cucumber pieces were cut into the shape of peas, which provided an unexpected sensation.

Third course: Pancetta wrapped trout with white corn succotash and a Hatch chili.

This dish just did not do it for me. The fish could not compete with the corn’s sweetness or the pepper’s kick.

Fourth course: Sweet prawns risotto with prosecco and English peas.
Without question, the meal’s nadir. Risotto easily qualifies as one of my top ten favorites dishes. When 
I look at this picture, I think, hey, that looks good. Sadly, it was not. I hated it like poison. 
Fifth course: Veal and artichoke ravioli in tomato and basil sauce with shaved Parmesan.
The parmesan’s sharpness really elevated this dish. After the insipid risotto, I craved a flavorful dish, and the ravioli delivered. 

Sixth course: Duo of ribeye and basil crusted lamb loin.
I would have preferred a more equitable meat distribution. The paper thin lamb loin approached transparency. 

The two desserts left me nonplussed. After seven paltry courses, I could not understand why the kitchen would serve such large dessert courses. Maybe a defiant pastry chef felt the need to compensate for an otherwise prosaic menu. 
Seventh course: Lavender gelato in a cinnamon tuile and an apple torta.

Homemade almond biscotti.

Acquerello belongs in the one Michelin star second tier along with Chez Panisse; when dining at these two places, one can expect good food, but little beyond that. Improving service would be a good place to start. The maître d’ greeted me as if I had stumbled in the wrong building. The meal’s pacing was terribly inconsistent–at times, plates would emerge from the kitchen within minutes, but as the dining room filled, the wait between courses became interminable.

It seems that the seed I planted four weeks ago failed to germinate. My disenchantment will soon fade, though, for San Francisco has plenty more restaurant seeds to sow.

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