Acquerello

August 29, 2010

 

August 25, 2010

First Course

Parmesan budino, mushrooms ‘trifolati’  and shaved Parmigiano ‘Vacche Rosse’

Grilled lamb’s tongue with celery, salsa verde and black Gaeta olive oil

~~~

Second Course

Ridged pasta with foie gras, scented with black truffles and Marsala

Lobster panzerotti in a spicy lobster brodo with “Diavolicchio”

~~~

Third Course

Lamb loin in lamb sausage, roasted fennel with black Gaeta olive tapenade and marble potatoes

Sous vide ‘bavette’ of American Kobe beef with braised oxtail stuffed squash and basil

~~~

To celebrate our third wedding anniversary this past week, Michael and I dined at Acquerello in San Francisco.  The menu above lists my selection for each course in the primary position with Michael’s choices second.  We very much enjoyed the meal, would recommend it to anyone and are already looking forward to our next visit.

The restaurant is intimate and serene.  The palette is composed of muted earth-tones intended perhaps to evoke the sun-scrubbed walls of a rustic Italian farmhouse, but the finishing is unerring and precise.  Both the wait staff and sommeliers are attentive but unobtrusive and the pacing of the service correct. The highlight of the evening was the foie gras pasta with truffles and Marsala, which is a signature dish and not to be missed. Though it is clearly as big a favorite of the staff as of the patrons, our waiter did explain that the inclusion of Marsala wine in this dish results in a sweetness that may not suit all tastes. While I did appreciate the warning, a little sweetness was not enough to dissuade me from the delectable duo of foie and truffles.  We ordered wines paired with each course and were delighted by the evident enthusiasm with which the sommelier presented each offering and explained his pairing strategy for each dish. In advance of the second course, he sidled up to our table with a half-smirk and inquired whether I would permit the pasta to be paired with a Sauternes – a play on the traditional partnership of foie gras and Sauternes, as well as a mechanism for balancing the uncharacteristic sweetness we had been warned about.  I am not generally a devotée of sweet wines, but given the excellent pairing provided for the first course, and the careful choreography dedicated to this single serving of pasta, I resolved to leave its execution to the professionals. Absolutely the right decision, as it turns out. I do not mean to discount the other courses or components of the meal – Michael’s lobster panzerotti was a winner – but I feel duty-bound to report the presentation and consumption of the foie and truffle pasta with as much detail as my receding recollection can provide.

The pasta was served in a low bowl capped with a white porcelain dome – an elegant touch affording a bit of drama upon reveal of the dish, but, more than that, the perfect means of ensnaring the ambrosial aroma of rich foie and earthy truffle that oozed out from under that innocent cap when it finally lifted.  The scent of it enveloped me like a heady swoon and I am sure I batted my eyelashes and blushed – defenseless against so ardent an introduction. The preparation of the dish begins with foie gras melted down into “butter” combined with a Marsala wine reduction.  The pasta is tossed in this sauce and decorated with shaved black truffle. It is decadent to be sure and a little goes a long way, but there is so much to experience in each bite – the luxurious texture of the foie, the mysterious umami of the truffle, and the maple syrup sweetness of the Marsala wine that ties the two together. It is a simple dish of a few complex ingredients amplified by the golden raisin sugar in the Sauternes. This pasta was an all-around pleasure that left me feeling positively giddy with delight.

Perhaps the success of the second course contributed to unrealistic expectations on my part, but the lamb served as my third course was not as well received. The loin was prepared sous vide – cooked in a vacuum bag under water with to-the-degree temperature precision. This technique has obvious benefits as it guards against overcooking of delicate protein and permits storage at temperature which can buy the kitchen time, however it is not my preferred method for the preparation of red meat. The lamb loin was, admittedly, cooked to my specified temperature, but both the flavor and the texture were off. I missed that lovely, distinctive lambiness and the loin, while promisingly pink, was dry. It is possible that the sous vide preparation was not the culprit since the loin was subsequently rolled in lamb sausage and finished in the oven.  Either it didn’t spend enough time in the oven – due to the fact that the interior loin was already at the desired temperature – or it should have been seared off and oven-roasted without the need for sous vide, but in any case the result was not as I had hoped. Perhaps it is simply personal taste, but I think true flame is the best homage to a quality piece of red meat. I want the exterior caramelized and constricted by direct heat, which is to say nothing of the fond that should find itself into the sauce on my plate. I will grant that the foie and truffle pasta was a hard act to follow, but even so, I think the lamb should have been stronger.

We had initially intended to include a dessert, but once the plates were cleared after the third course, we were forced to conclude that our eyes had been bigger than our stomachs.  I look forward to returning to Acquerello and sampling more of what they have to offer.  Perhaps next time I will see about some fish.

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