Palio d' Asti -- underrated?
Or really, not rated at all, since it's rarely mentioned.
Anyway, a friend took me out for dinner last night at Palio d'Asti and we had a lovely meal. The current menu is the spring menu (not on their site), which is supposedly inspired by the cuisines of Rome and Umbria. Who is going to argue with multiple preps of artichokes and lamb!?
We chose the three-course option (their menu is priced at two courses for $31, three courses for $38 and four courses for $45). We both ordered the fried baby artichokes with Meyer lemon aioli. Since I don't like aioli, I thought they were a little lacking, but you really can't go far wrong with fried artichokes. Then she had the grilled asparagus and I had the pasta carbonara ("hand-rolled" penne with hog jowl bacon) that was a very good rendition and an appropriate sized portion for a primi. We both licked our plates, and our waiter joked that he was going to take them back to the kitchen to show the chef how we "hadn't liked" our food. For the third course I chose the fennel-crusted rack of lamb on a bed of baby carrots and peas in lamb shank sugo. Lamb and more lamb! The four ribs were perfectly cooked, and the lamby vegetables were so delicious I mopped the plate with some bread (nice bread basket with two kinds of bread and some light, crisp house-made breadsticks). We shared a selection of five Chocolatier Blue chocolates for dessert.
"A founding restaurant member of Slow Food San Francisco, [Chef-ownder] Scherotter insures that Palio’s menu utilizes locally sourced and organic produce from small family farms as well as sustainable meats, poultry and fish...." The website also claims that all their wines are priced at retail plus $15, which makes them quite reasonable.
My friend was paying (belated birthday treat) but I sneaked a peek at the check and it came to just over $100 (after tax and before tip) for three courses for each of us, a glass of wine, an iced tea and the chocolate, which I thought was very reasonable. I've certainly spent more in this town for much less satisfactory food.
I got my white table cloths, and it wasn't too noisy (although it was less than half full when we arrived for our 7:30 reservation and was almost empty by the time we left). There is something just a little off about the atmosphere that may have been the cause or the result (or both) of the restaurant not being busy. It may draw more right after work, as it's in a dead zone in the FiDi (street parking was abundant at 7:30).
I would put it on my "appropriate for parents list" -- I'd have to re-visit the atmosphere issue before I'd give it an unqualified rave.
Palio D' Asti
640 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94111
1964 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94701
I recall eating there several years ago and being completely underwhelmed. The starters came out on ice-cold plates, suggesting they were hours in the cold box. The main courses were similarly perfunctory. I would like to like this place, so I'll try them again on the strength or your review.
The atmosphere issue is what keeps me away - it always feels dead in there, to me, even when packed. there is something a little soulless about the place, and i can't figure out what it is. maybe it's the size? i've liked the food the 4-5 times i've been there in the past 10 years, but i never really want to go there, (friends wanted to, Jeanty closed, office function, etc.) and always leave feeling... i dunno, blah.
re: Robert Lauriston
It's the last surviving restaurant of the former Jeanty at Jacks/Palio/Rubicon cluster that seems to have been hit really hard by the upheaval in the finance/insurance industry. My vague memories from walking by was that it used to be more formal and relatively more expensive -- I think it reinvented itself and no one took much notice.
re: Robert Lauriston
When did the change happen (retirement)?
I've not been to a regular dinner, only to a few big events in which a group booked the whole restaurant, featuring a fixed price meal--and found it expensive and not great--but a) banquet cooking is no easy feat and b) perhaps it may have been under the old regime.
If the latter, and in any case, sounds like a place to re-consider (for that happy hour deal, if nothing else).