Hometown: San Francisco
Occupation: Wine director, Acquerello and 1760
Years worked in hospitality: 15
Years lived in San Francisco: 26.5
Awards/Accolades: 30 Under 30, Zagat (2013)
Grand Award, Wine Spectator (2012)
Go to Gianpaolo Paterlini’s shortlist
You grew up in California. What is your favorite childhood memory involving food?
Going to a simple pizza place close to home with my family. There was really nothing special about the place, but it was everything I like about going out to a restaurant: warm and welcoming, good food and drink with family and close friends, unpretentious. Just a good experience.
What do you love best about San Francisco’s food scene?
I don’t know of a city in the world where average quality of food is higher. It’s very easy to eat well all over town.
You specialize in Italian wines, but what other kinds do you enjoy? What wine bars in the city have impressed you?
Actually, I rarely drink Italian wine at home. My favorite wine to drink is Champagne. I drink more white than red, mostly Chablis, other Burgundy, and Rieslings. For red, I drink a lot of cru Beaujolais because it’s easy to drink and affordable. I have so much wine at home that I never go to wine bars.
What’s your favorite dish-wine pairing at Acquerello?
One of our signature dishes at Acquerello is the foie gras pasta, which is paired with Maculan’s Torcolato. It’s a rigatoni pasta dish with a creamy sauce of foie gras, black truffle and Marsala. It is rich and savory, so Torcolato (which is like Sauternes, but less thick and sweet) cuts through the texture and contrasts the flavor.
Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to San Francisco should try.
La Ciccia is one of the realest Italian (specifically Sardinian) experiences one can have, and their braised octopus dish is outstanding.
Benu is on the very high end and certainly not off the beaten path, but it is a unique take on modern fine dining, showcasing mostly classic Asian dishes in creative, contemporary presentations.
I love Commonwealth because the food is wildly creative and affordable (a rare combination). The menu changes all the time so some dishes are better than others, but with nothing on the menu costing more than $19, it’s worth the risk.
Describe your perfect dining out day in San Francisco.
I could never eat this much in one day, so this might be a bit unrealistic, but here’s my eating and drinking fantasy in SF:
I’m not a breakfast guy, but if I am eating early, I like it to be light and fresh. If I eat something before lunch, it would be pastries from b. Patisserie. It’s worth trying anything seasonal, but their kouign amann and chocolate-banana croissant are amazing. I would start with an early light lunch at Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street; I love their crab Louie. Then, I would have a margherita pizza at the bar at A16. I prefer sitting at the bar at A-16 during the day when it’s mellow; it can get crazy at night. After lunch, I would pick up takeout from Nopalito or 4505 BBQ (two blocks from each other) and a few bottles of wine from Bi-Rite and have a picnic at Alta Plaza Park. After a nap in the sun, I would go to Benu for a tasting menu, and no matter how full I am, I wouldn’t skip desserts at Aziza because they are the best in SF. If I was still hungry, a burger at Nopa (with broccoli instead of fries) would be the perfect nightcap.
What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?
Tough question, because one of the things I love about SF is how no one neighborhood really stands out above the others. You really need to check them all out to get a good idea of the city. But if I had to pick one, I would say the Mission. It’s a flat neighborhood so it’s easy to walk around in, and there are so many restaurants in the Mission that it’s one of the best ‘hoods for restaurant/bar hopping.
What’s one dish in San Francisco that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?
Zuni‘s roast chicken with bread salad. It’s so simple, but timeless and so delicious.
What are your favorite budget, mid-range and high-end dining places in San Francisco?
Budget: Nopalito. I love their chicharrón quesadilla, but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with anything on the menu.
Mid-range: Frances is the perfect neighborhood spot, with relatively straightforward food done really well. The whole experience is homey and comfortable and never pretentious. If I lived nearby, I would eat at Frances all the time.
High-end: Benu. Best restaurant in SF by a long shot.
Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at the San Francisco area airports or in the city’s hotels you would recommend?
My favorite hotel restaurant is Bourbon Steak in the Westin St. Francis. Amazing food, really cool room, and great wine list.
What’s your guilty pleasure and where in San Francisco do you go to get it?
In-N-Out Burger is my guilty pleasure. I go to the location in Mill Valley almost every week. There is one in SF, but it’s in Fisherman’s Wharf and parking in that part of town sucks, so I leave that one for the walking tourists!
Do you have any favorite watering holes you like to frequent?
Bourbon & Branch is my favorite in SF. I almost never order the same thing, but the drinks are always impeccably balanced.
Are there any foods native to San Francisco that you particularly like that visitors should look for?
Cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, but not sure if they are available elsewhere or not. Driving up the coast to eat oysters at Point Reyes is a unique experience.
What would you say any visitor must see or do before leaving San Francisco?
The Ferry Building. It offers the perfect snapshot of SF. Great food and beverage options, small local companies, beautiful views. It’s easy to spend a whole day there.
Finally, in your opinion, what kinds of wine do you think every person should have at home?
Types of wine: Champagne, Chablis, Gamay.
Specific examples that people can actually find in stores: Louis Roederer Champagne Brut ‘Premier,’ Christian Moreau Chablis Vaillon, Marcel Lapierre Morgon (or his real everyday wine called ‘Raisins Gaulois’).
Gianpaolo Paterlini’s Shortlist:
Acquerello, 1722 Sacramento Street (Nob Hill); Italian, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
1760, 1760 Polk Street (Nob Hill); new American, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
La Ciccia, 291 30th Street (Noe Valley); Italian, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Benu, 22 Hawthorne Street (SoMa); contemporary American/Asian, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Commonwealth, 2224 Mission Street (Mission); progressive American, dinner only daily.
b. Patisserie, 2821 California Street (Lower Pacific Heights); pastries, open Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Swan Oyster Depot, 1517 Polk Street (Nob Hill); seafood, lunch and early dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
A16, 2355 Chestnut Street (Marina); Italian, lunch Wednesday-Sunday, dinner daily.
Nopalito, 306 Broderick Street (North Panhandle); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 1224 9th Avenue (Inner Sunset); lunch and dinner daily.
4505 Burgers & BBQ, 705 Divisadero Street (North Panhandle); American, lunch and dinner daily.
Bi-Rite Market, 3639 18th Street (Mission Dolores); food market, open daily.
Second location: 550 Divisadero Street (Alamo Square); open daily.
Aziza, 5800 Geary Boulevard (Central Richmond); Moroccan, dinner only Wednesday-Monday, closed Tuesday).
Nopa, 560 Divisadero Street (Alamo Square); Californian, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street (Hayes Valley); French-Italian, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Sunday, closed Monday.
Frances, 3870 17th Street (The Castro); Californian, dinner only daily.
Bourbon Steak, 335 Powell Street (Downtown); contemporary American, dinner only daily.
In-N-Out Burger, 798 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley, CA; American fast food, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 333 Jefferson Street (North Waterfront); breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Bourbon & Branch, 501 Jones Street (Downtown); bar, open daily.
Cowgirl Creamery, Ferry Building, 1 The Embarcadero, No. 17 (Financial District North); cheese shop, open daily.
Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Building (Financial District North); open daily.
About Gianpaolo Paterlini: Gianpaolo Paterlini had always enjoyed the taste of wine, having been exposed to it casually from a young age. But it was a glass of 1945 Petrus that he sampled when he was 16 that changed the way he approached wine forever.
A couple of years later, Paterlini was off to Boston University. With fake ID in hand, he would go to the local wine shop and buy a dozen different bottles of wine each week. What he did with them wasn’t typical of a college student: he would open a few bottles at a time, comparing and contrasting them and trying to teach himself grape varietals and geographic regions. He was clearly passionate, but it wasn’t until an internship at Michael Mina that made him realize he was meant to work with wines. It’s not entirely surprising he chose to work in hospitality; his father, Giancarlo, co-founded Italian restaurant Acquerello in 1989, which now boasts two Michelin stars and is one of San Francisco’s top fine-dining destinations. Paterlini, who helped out there during his high school years, eventually returned as a sommelier and worked his way up to wine director, expanding the restaurant’s wine list to nearly 2,000 selections.