As I stare down at the thick slice of what looks like foie gras on top of a filet mignon with black truffle, I hesitate momentarily. Although my 20-year stint as a vegetarian ended nearly a decade ago, foie gras isn’t something I typically choose to eat. And while this foie gras is made from daikon radish, not liver, in the dim restaurant light it looks remarkably like the real thing. The dish, named Rossini Acquerello (pictured right), is a vegan take on the carnivorous French dish tournedos Rossini and is one of the most ambitious at La Jolla’s Ambrogio by Acquerello. Whatever your stance on foie gras, this exceptional faux gras is made from marinated daikon, roasted and caramelized to bring out the umami flavor and served on top of eggplant from Fresno Evergreen Farms with a miso broth and black truffle for a decadent vegan dish. It’s one of the highlights of the seven-course vegetarian tasting menu.
With the goal of transforming how San Diego thinks of Italian food, Ambrogio by Acquerello is a culinary collaboration between local restaurant group Ambrogio15 (with locations in Pacific Beach, Del Mar, and Little Italy) and Milan’s Michelin-starred Acquerello. To showcase their modern Italian cuisine, they have opted for two signature tasting menus: Dancing with the Stars is the meat option, while the vegetarian tasting menu, A Walk in the Garden, can be prepared vegan by request. An abbreviated four-course tasting menu is also offered Tuesday through Thursday with vegetarian and omnivorous options. Available wine pairings come from small Italian vineyards, with a focus on natural and biodynamic wines.
Chef Silvio Salmoiraghi and the Acquerello team (chef Choi, chef Davide, and gastronome Paolo Tucci) rotate between Acquerello in Milan and Fay Avenue’s Ambrogio by Acquerello, making this a true partnership.
Chef Salmoiraghi began his career at Joia, Italy’s first Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant. He opened his own restaurant Acquerello in Milan in 2008, which ranks among the best in the country. While neither Acquerello nor Ambrogio by Acquerello is exclusively vegetarian, chef Salmoiraghi has approached vegan and vegetarian dishes with the same passion as the rest of the menu. He shares that since he started working at Joia in 1993, vegetarian and vegan cuisine has undergone a remarkable evolution: “At Acquerello, we strive to create vegetarian dishes that are based mainly on the concept of balance and taste. First, we study carefully the harmony and alchemy of contrasting flavors that are signature to most popular meat dishes. Afterwards, we channel the power of vegetables to make dishes that will guide the customer through an entirely new journey, based on our respect for nature and our quest for culinary pleasure.”
The menu at Ambrogio by Acquerello focuses on the established dishes at Acquerello with alterations to highlight local ingredients and sourcing from local farms such as Fresh Origins in San Marcos. When Giacomo Pizzigoni and Andrea Burrone combined their love of San Diego with their Milanese heritage to create Ambrogio15, they sought to expand the perspective of pizza in the county. Now, they hope to redefine what modern Italian cuisine means in San Diego as well.
This article was originally published in issue 72.