1760, Russian Hill (1760 Polk Street at Washington, 415-359-1212)
As is typical with any new restaurant opening, friends, colleagues and strangers ask for my take on a place… and in the case of 1760, the new restaurant from the owners of Acquerello, every single one of them has breathed a sigh of relief when I say I like it. “Oh, good,” they’ll exclaim, “because I really liked it, but after that Bauer review [Michael Bauer/Chronicle], I’m not sure if I’m supposed to.” I would posit that there are more than a few reasons to like 1760, and that, in fact, we need these kind of restaurants in the mix in our incredible dining city.
As an Acquerello devotee, arguably the best fine dining restaurant in San Francisco (one of the greats since the 1980’s), Giancarlo Paterlini and Suzette Gresham go for casual and forward-thinking in their new restaurant. 1760 is less a low key version of Acquerello and more its own entity – with Acquerello pedigree.
They’ve assembled quite a team: Chef Adam Tortosa (from none other than Michael Voltaggio’s Ink in Los Angeles), cocktails from Christopher Longoria (whose cocktails at Aziza have been among SF’s unsung greats for years), and Gianpaolo Paterlini, son of Giancarlo, who, like his father, is expert at all things wine, having crafted a lovely 1760 list of 13 wines by the glass ($10-$19) and over 200 by the bottle, heavy on France, Italy and (thank you!) Austria and Germany. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one of the remaining bottles of the collaboration wine they did with Massican in Napa, 2012 Massican Sauvignon Blanc Acquerello, you will be rewarded with a balanced beauty of a Sauv Blanc.
Cocktails ($10-12) are as joyous as I would expect from Longoria, typically named by ingredients rather than cocktail names. None of the 7 cocktails I’ve tried here over my visits have been “too sweet”, something I am extremely sensitive to as a straight (and cask strength) spirits lover and globe-trotting distillery visitor.
An herbaceous Basil-Mezcal Sour is an herb and mezcal lover’s dream, soft on the mezcal smoke, frothy from egg white, gorgeous with basil and kaffir lime. Meyer Lemon-Fresno Chile leads with those two ingredients, a tart, vivid drink with a base of cachaça (sugar cane spirit), herbal nuance from Yellow Chartreuse and intriguing-yet-subtle backbone from Sauvignon Blanc vinegar.
I typically skip over vodka cocktails with vodka being a blank (read: flavorless) backdrop to the other ingredients. In the case of the vodka-based Strawberry Shrub, sous vide strawberries and basil, again balanced by bracing honey Viognier vinegar, make for one of the more fascinating drinks on the menu, accented by dry vermouth and Strega (an Italian herbal liqueur). Both the strawberry and the Meyer lemon drinks are saved from sweetness with vinegar underpinnings. The Garam Masala-Cardamom cocktail is also quintessential Longoria: savory, herbaceous, and textured. In this case, bourbon is livened up by garam masala, thyme and toasted cardamom, while orange oil adds body and brightness.
The place is buzzing and packed, but even on a Friday night, I didn’t have to yell to be heard, which can happen at some hotspots around town and is a pet peeve of mine. My one issue at 1760 is the decor. Though I love the curvature of massive windows illuminating the corner spot with natural light, nondescript blacks and greys feel impersonal, even sterile. Thankfully, warm, attentive service overpowers what, for me, is lackluster decor begging for a splash of color or warmth.
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The cuisine? Consider it an East-meets-West interplay of unexpected flavors. What could easily seem haphazard, is thankfully surprising and alive with flavor. Rather than yet-another round of kale salads, pork belly, burrata or beet dishes (sometimes together) – all worthy dishes that over the past decade have been served ad nauseum – at 1760 even common ingredients arrive in unpredictable fashion.
Take octopus ($18), which here takes on a singular texture alongside purple and brown potatoes and peanuts over an avocado mash. Tortosa cooks the octopus sous vide, then quickly flash fries it, resulting in a rare confluence of tenderness and crisp.
Seafood dishes often shine. Case in point: that lobster ceviche ($17). Delicately refreshing, cool lobster is aromatic with kaffir lime, breezy with caramelized coconut and pineapple, tasting of an island vacation. Hamachi crudo ($17) has evolved from the original menu where it was sweet with pluots and the citrus tart of yuzu kosho, to become a more realized dish. Now, the raw hamachi is imbued with substance from a Korean-style bulgogi vinaigrette, hot streak of Sriracha-esque sauce, celery, yuzu and satsuma.
Crazy as I am about classic beef tartare, I can find that done beautifully at plenty of places around the city. Here, Chef Tortosa blessedly ushers it from the usual to the unusual. A favorite dish since they opened in September (included in my tartare article for PureWow), it has even improved over the last three months. Organic Snake River Farms beef tartare ($16) over a Marcona almond and coconut milk spread exudes the warmth of Thailand from Thai herbs and chilies. Memories of my months in Thailand sail back to me with each bite.
Commonplace ingredients are likewise given unpredictable treatment. Dollops of silky burrata ($12) on grilled rustic bread are smeared with garbanzo beans and graced wtih Asian pear, or lollipop kale ($11) is subtly meaty with guanciale (pork jowl) contrasted by sweet-spiced notes from red currant and ginger.
The fried duck sandwich ($16) is already a signature dish, hefty with slaw, pickles, spicy aioli and a steak knife dramatically thrust into its center. It’s gratifying, to be sure, but I find some of the aforementioned dishes more fascinating.
I don’t always have room for dessert, but during my latest visit I was glad I “forced down” warm banana bread ($9) playfully marked by their version of “chunky monkey” banana-chocolate ice cream and peanut butter crunch, like a grown-up childhood indulgence.
Chef Tortosa’s recent past at Ink shows in this eclectic menu. At reasonable prices in a laid back setting, menus like 1760’s continue to prove that experimentation and boundary-pushing are alive and well in one of the great dining cities of the world – right alongside our oft-discussed devotion to purity of ingredients.
We have room for, and in fact, need both. Most importantly, whether pure and simple, or inventive and complex, it should all taste transcendent… or at least very good. At 1760, it does.