Horse Race

Palio d'Asti to win, place, and show

We started with a rerun of the lush foie gras terrine, which tasted more classically French than Italian to me, this time more simply and happily accompanied by a salad of mâche with pistachios, green olives, blood orange sections, and preserved garlic and fennel; a plate of what was described as "the ultimate prosciutto" (I've had better), with a salad of radicchio, fresh fava beans, and shaved pecorino; and tuna carpaccio, raw ahi (a little dull) with bottarga (dried tuna roe) and a lemony arugula salad (the fresh horseradish mentioned on the menu escaped me). I was impressed that each dish came with a different, thoughtful salad. We shared a respectable risotto of the day, more soupy than creamy, laden with lots of prosciutto, snap peas in the pod, and Parmigiano.

My mom had switched from spaghetti to the spring lamb dish del giorno when told it was house-made spicy lamb sausages, several plump, juicy ones served with creamy polenta and roasted red peppers — an earthy, satisfying dish. My father's fat potato gnocchi were dressed with a rich braised baby goat sauce, peas, and clumps of soft, tangy goat cheese. Mary's appealing rack of suckling veal chops, crusted with mustardy breadcrumbs and served with toothsome roasted asparagus and a hazelnut-ricotta sauce, was absolutely delicious, my favorite of everything I tasted. My pricey ($31, the highest-ticket dish on the menu) ciupin alla Genovese, "the original cioppino," was full of mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, and chunks of fish, but rigorous examination (at table and on the leftovers at home) found none of the lobster or crab promised; I also liked the grilled Acme bread more than the saffron tomato broth I dipped it in. (Palio's Web site claims that the restaurant features different regions of Italy according to the season, but this wasn't apparent to me from the menu.)

Italian Charm: The glamorous part of Palio d'Asti, complete with horsey murals.
James Sanders
Italian Charm: The glamorous part of Palio d'Asti, complete with horsey murals.

Location Info


Palio D'Asti

640 Sacramento St.
San Francisco, CA 94111

Category: Restaurant > Fine Dining

Region: Union Square/ Financial District


Risotto with prosciutto and peas $19

Baked gnocchi with goat sugo $19

Mustard-crusted rack of veal $33

Lamb sausages with polenta $29

Espresso panna cotta $8.50

Pistachio semifreddo $8.50

Chocolate truffles $1 each


Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and for dinner from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult during day, easier at night

Muni: 1, 10, 15

Noise level: moderate to high

640 Sacramento (at Montgomery)

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The amazing desserts were in the same league as the superb veal and the excellent artisanal sausages: a witty, teardrop-shaped, two-layered espresso panna cotta on a slice of almond brioche, an outstanding pistachio semifreddo topped with candied citrus peel, and a fresh rhubarb tart. As we drove away, I said, "That was much better than I expected." And then a reality check: "I liked it," my father said, "but I liked that little Italian place on Union Street more."

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