San Francisco’s All-Star Acquerello Team Opens a Little Sister Spinoff

Dry-aged beef timballo | Photo Credit: Hardy Wilson

San Francisco has a new warm and inviting Italian restaurant that swung open in December in Nob Hill. Sorella literally means “sister” in Italian, and that’s the new name of the casual spinoff of Acquerello, chef Suzette Gresham’s award-winning institution with two MICHELIN stars. But while big sister Acquerello has the reputation for Italian fine dining on white tablecloths with stunning florals, little sister Sorella is the hot date right now, thanks to cicchetti bites and amaro cocktails at the bar and many-layered pastas and juicy heritage pork chops in the dining room.

“Sorella is Italian, but not white checkered tablecloth Italian American, and also not super modern like Acquerello,” chef Denise St. Onge explains. “She’s a second-generation Italian American, who learned to cook from her grandma and mom and maybe studied abroad in Italy. She respects the past but she’s living in the present.”

In San Francisco in 2022, that looks like a dining experience that’s a little more off-the-cuff. But what distinguishes Sorella from the many other Californian-Italian restaurants and European wine bars across the city is this powerhouse team. Snacks, cocktails, dinner, wine, and dessert all promise to be excellent. Here’s how to dig in.

Cicchetti | Credit: Hardy Wilson

St. Onge has cooked at Greens, Prospect, SPQR, and other acclaimed restaurants around San Francisco, and she says she’s been lucky to call chef Suzette Gresham a mentor for nearly a decade now. The two women collaborated closely on the menus, diving back through old Acquerello menus from the ’80s and ’90s and Italian cookbooks. They both love cicchetti, those Venetian small plates, and recommend starting with that menu of nearly a dozen small bites, from fancy potato chips “cacio e pepe” to plump veal meatballs. Taking advantage of Acquerello’s deep cellars, wine director Gianpaolo Paterlini is pouring Italian wines alongside, as well as more than 60 amaros, which slide into many cocktails and star by the glass and flight.

Then head into the dining room to dig into the full dinner menu of comforting antipasti, layered pastas, and thick cuts. St. Onge wants a soul-warming soup on the menu at all times, currently a pumpkin and farro minestrone, while the Dungeness crab salad offers a fresh take on a North Beach classic, tossed with little gems and fine herbes. Gresham’s favorite focaccia recipe is studded with sweet leeks and fluffy potatoes, while a parmesan budino borrowed from the Acquerello archives is heady with truffles and brown butter.

The early fan favorite is the timballo, a baked pasta dish similar to a lasagna, which stacks 10 to 12 layers of handmade pasta with a slow-cooked, dry-aged Flannery beef bolognese. Never least, a sweet Rancho Llano Seco pork chop rests on a bed of butter beans with bright salsa verde. And while not many Italian wine bars have the luxury of a dedicated pastry chef, Sorella sweeps together the crumbs of Acquerello’s legendary biscotti and folds them into a creamy cookie-flavored gelato.

Credit: Hardy Wilson

The Acquerello group already owned the Nob Hill location at 1760 Polk Street, formerly known simply as 1760, at the corner of Polk and Washington. Flipping the restaurant into Sorella wasn’t a massive renovation, but the team did attempt to warm up the formerly spare and dark space. The restaurant still has Streamline Moderne touches to the exterior, with that big wraparound glass window at the corner and a few rows of square glass letting in light up above.

Designer Tava Lloyd of Harbour Creative repainted the walls a warm white, added touches of color with calm blues and greens, and hung botanical and citrus wallpaper at the entrance and in the bathroom. She pushed back one low wall a few feet to give more standing room at the bar, and added a cane and maple partition, to better separate it from the dining room. The warm walnut bartop and tabletops all stayed, now brushed to a soft matte.

Sorella is now open Wednesday to Sunday from 5:30pm to 9:30pm. St. Onge recommends making a reservation for the dining room, but arriving half an hour early to belly up to the bar for the cichetti and cocktails. And check out the special Valentine’s Day experience at this restaurant by clicking through to the Experiences section here.

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San Francisco Restaurant Week

October 23, 2020 - November 1, 2020