Room Out of Time

Acquerello is as outstanding as ever

On a well-traveled block of Nob Hill, Acquerello continues to serve some of the city's finest Italian food more than 20 years after its debut.

Most of San Francisco's best Italian restaurants wear their casual atmospheres and rustic food as a badge of honor. Not so at Acquerello, where the nondescript exterior belies the dining room's refinement.

Our favorite way to experience Suzette Gresham-Tognetti's food is by assembling a meal (3 courses for $64; 4 courses for $78; 5 courses for $90) from the a la carte dishes.

A recent evening began with fillets of pickled sardines layered with piquillo peppers, and Hirasama crudo with pearls crafted from Gaeta olives.

Then followed course after course of Acquerello's faultless pasta: the signature tubes with foie gras, Marsala and black truffles; savory rabbit agnolotti; dainty sheep's-milk ricotta ravioli in sweet pea brodo.

The meal continued, swerving from guinea hen "squared" (its breast stuffed with guinea hen sausage) to the city's best cheese cart to a woozy bourbon caramel semifreddo.

The massive wine list teems with high-ticket vintages, yet also features value-priced Italian bottles. The professional service is ingratiating but never sycophantic, and the ambience is a charming time warp.

In a clever gamble, Acquerello has eschewed the trendy in favor of the timeless.

Acquerello, 1772 Sacramento St. (at Polk St.); 415-567-5432 or acquerello.com