Finding a Florence connection here in San Diego

Florence, Italy, is truly an immortal, unforgettable, richly endowed Tuscan city.It’s true, San Diego is no match for Florence’s culture, with priceless
works by DaVinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and the Renaissance. However there is a link to the two cities and it’s a culinary one.
In 1978, the theater district at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence was blessed with a charming Tuscan-inspired restaurant called Acqua Al2, (pronounced ‘ah-qwa-all-doo-eh’).
An intimate masterpiece of dining, it proved to be an Italian artist’s haven for Florentine fine food and wine connoisseurs.
Fast forward to the late 1990s and 25-year-old Martin Gonzalez, world traveler and chef, is so taken by what he sees and feels at Acqua Al2 that he must open his own San Diego location. After extensive training and education into traditional Italian cooking in Florence, Martin opened the second location of Acqua Al2 in San Diego’s Gaslamp District in 2000.
Food items are prepared as they would be in the original Florence restaurant, with fresh baked bread, Insalata ( salads), Primi ( rice & pasta dishes), Secondi ( steak, seafood and other entrees), and homemade Dolci (desserts). Assagios are sample portions of each menu item. For instance, Assagio di Primi is a sampling of five Italian pasta dishes. The restaurant’s signature white plates, shown on the wall in the photo, are signed by special guests who have dined.
My wine menu recommendations include Banfi Rose Regale, a gorgeous sparkling wine with a pairing that compliments appetizers and desserts; and Aglianico Rubrato 2005 from Feudi San Gregorio, Campania Italy, that enhances the full flavor of a steak. If pasta is a must on your menu selection, I suggest you try the Rigatoni alle Melanzane that features a tomato eggplant sauce, brilliantly blended with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
Acqua Al2 has been conducting occasional classes that have been successful and two others are scheduled. April 1 will be a white wine class; then May 6, a Spirits Tasting will be held. Times are 6:30 to 8 p.m. and cost $15 per person. Hot appetizers are included as a well as a gift bag. Contact the restaurant at (619) 230-0382 to RSVP. Get the full story on this distinctive Italian dining establishment at www.acquaal2.com.

Next generation decanting
Serving red wine takes on a higher dimension when the wine is decanted. Simply put, decanting is the process of pouring the wine from its original bottle into another glass container with a wide opening. The wine sits while several things happen, all good, to enhance its taste. Sediment is allowed to float to the bottom so that the tart tastes aren’t influencing your drink. Next, the wine is allowed to breathe and mature, developing the maximum taste sensation. Then there is the softening of the tannins, a taste characteristic of the grape skins that can be harsh to the palate, especially in earthly, high profile reds like Cabernet, Zinfandel, Shiraz and most Italian and French wines. If decanting is something you want to explore, hold the wine in the decanter for at least an hour before serving, to get the most benefit from this process.
A next-generation decanter meeting with popularity is the V-1 Decanter, one that comes with a vacuum stopper and a hand pump, to preserve any leftover wine. This is a first for a decanter. Its price is about $80 and it holds two bottles of wine
with a “dimple” that makes for easy pouring. See www.mtrokane.com for details.
Aerators are growing in sales as an inexpensive and quick fix. These are 6-inch-tall devices that pour wine through a vinturi-like capsule and in just as long as it takes to pour the wine, you have an oxygen-enriched drink for the fullest flavor. There are two to choose from: the Vinturi Wine Aerator and a later version called the Respirer, with a frosted look and a glass shaped reservoir. Both are about $35. You can compare them at www.wineenthusiast.com, then hit Decanters and Aerators.

Wine Bytes

— San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Road has an all-French Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone Valley tasting from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 28. The cost is only $10. Call (858) 586-9463 for details.
— In Escondido, Holiday Wine Cellar holds its monthly Blind Tasting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 30, featuring five Sauvignon Blancs from around the world. The cost is just $5 per person. Find out more at (760) 745-1200.
— Banfi Wines from Italy takes center stage at Olivetto Café on Washington Street in San Diego from 6 to 9 p.m. March 30. The five-course dinner is included for $75. RSVP at (619) 220-8222. The Banfi Summus Estate Red is featured with the main entrée.
— On April 1, enjoy 3rd Corner Encinitas Saracina Wine Dinner and John Fetzer who had the big Fetzer Winery. His new venture is Saracina from Mendocino. Enjoy a four-course dinner with John and his wines for $59.95. RSVP at (760) 942-2104.
— A Meet the Winemaker dinner is featured at Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo starting at 6:30 p.m. April 1. The winery’s own Rossi Rizzo guides diners. Hosted by Café Merlot and the winery. Call for more at (858) 592-7785.
— Experience six food- and wine-filled days in Arizona at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival April 14 through April 19. Fabulous food, festivities, cooking demonstrations and headlined by the Great Arizona Picnic on Saturday and Sunday.
Visit www.scottsdaleculinaryfestival.org for the full story and tickets.

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