While it may be physically impossible to bring a Florentine trattoria to San Diego, Chef and Owner Martin Gonzalez has come remarkably close. Acqua Al 2 is the sister restaurant of the original Acqua Al 2, located on the Via della Vigna Vecchia in Florence. Using the same menu, recipes, and cooking techniques, Acqua Al 2 offers authentic Tuscan-style dining right in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp district. The charming ambiance hints of old world Italy, while the aromatic and flavorful dishes exude authenticity. Anyone considering an escape to Italy should first pay a visit to this local favorite.Read More ...
Acqua Al 2, pronounced ‘ah-qwa-all-doo-eh,’ is not just a traditional Italian restaurant: it is an authentic Italian restaurant. No other Italian restaurant in San Diego can say it has a sister restaurant in Florence, Italy. The original Acqua Al 2, located on Via della Vigna vecchia in the historic theater district Piazza della Signoria in Italy, opened its doors in 1978 and quickly became one of Florence’s most celebrated trattorias. The identical San Diego location was one of the first restaurants to open in San Diego’s Gaslamp District in September of 2000, and has managed to stay true to the Northern Italian cuisine and culture it inherited.
Upon arriving for dinner at Acqua AL 2, located on the Harbor End of 5th Avenue, we noticed the characteristically European ambiance that radiated from every inch of this genuine trattoria. We opted to sit on the street-side patio, but the restaurant does offer diverse seating options. The large bar, which is home to the restaurant’s Thursday night Italian style happy hour, Apertivo, is chic with dark wood and bottles of wine displayed high on shelves. If a romantic Italian dinner is more your style, Acqua Al 2 also has a sectional dining room that provides a more intimate setting. Just like its Italian counterpart, the restaurant walls are adorned with white plates signed by regular guests and celebrities.
Our outdoor table was bright, colorful and precisely situated for people-watching. The outside patio wall was a bright and cheerful yellow, while our table top was decorated with yellow napkins, blue glasses and a lively menu of red, blue and yellow.
The staff of Acqua Al 2 is accommodating to say the least. We were immediately offered sparkling water and some Italian bread, served in a paper bag, which gave off a tantalizing aroma. Each and every colorful table has its own bottle of oil and vinegar to compliment the warm bread and a side plate for easy dipping. As we enjoyed a nibble or two of our bread, I glanced over Acqua Al 2’s extensive wine list. Heavy on red wines, the restaurant offers predominately Italian and California wines but is not without a sprinkling of French, Mexican, Australian, Spanish and Chilean varietals.
We decided to ask our knowledgeable server, Amber, which wines she suggested, and not only did she happily answer our question, but she made several dinner recommendations while she gave us a delightful menu presentation. She suggested that we try the “specialita della casa,” which she assured us, genuinely duplicates a true Northern Italian dinner. And, since she once lived in Florence, we took her word for it. She explained that the restaurant is known, here and in Italy, for its Assaggio menu or tasting menu. For a mere $54, diners are offered the Assaggio di Primi, a tasting of five selections from the restaurants first course menu, Assaggio di Secondi, a sampling of three selections from the second course menu and Assaggio di Dolci, a tasting of four desserts, coffee and a glass of the house red wine. All selections are chef’s choice and can be, and often are, dramatically different from day to day.
Amber informed us that the menu was designed to promote an interactive dining experience, an experience where dishes are shared and conversations abundant, all while enjoying a great glass of wine in an intimate setting. The menus for Acqua Al 2, in Florence and in San Diego, are identical with the exception of a few seafood dishes, which Florence does not have since they are not a coastal community. We gladly accepted Amber’s suggestion, which peaked our curiosity with its mysterious “chef’s choice” dishes, and placed our dining satisfaction into the capable hands of Chef Martin Gonzalez.
We began with a glass of the house red wine, a Sangiovese Cabernet and Merlot blend. This lingering, fragrant wine would prove to be an elegant match to our upcoming feast. A moment later we were presented with the beginning of our meal, the first dish of our Assaggio di Primi: Maccheroni alla Vodka. This delicate pink pasta was served, as each of our first course selections would be, on a small white plate placed gently between my guest and I. We each enjoyed the penne pasta mixed with a creamy milk and vodka sauce that contained just a hint of tomato.
Next, we sampled the enticing Fusilli Cord agli Spinaci, which is corkscrew pasta in a pale green spinach and parmesan cheese sauce. This was a delicate dish with subtle flavors and a creamy texture.
Our third sample was Farfalline alla Zucca, bowtie pasta with Italian zucchini, garlic and a fragrant, fresh rosemary sauce accompanied by a touch of parmesan cheese. The zucchini was hot and juicy while the pink, almost orange sauce had clean, crisp flavors.
As our samples continued arriving, the flavors grew more robust and the sauces more potent. Our next dish, Rigatoni alle Melanzane, quickly became one of my favorites and, as our server informed us has always been Chef Martin’s favorite as well. This tube shaped pasta was appropriately al dente and the rich tomato and eggplant sauce contained pure flavors, while the sizeable pieces of eggplant remained tender.
Our final sample from the Assaggio di Primo was Fusilli Lunghi alia Fiacheraia, long fusilli pasta in a zesty tomato sauce. Our final pasta dish proved to be my dining partner’s favorite as he is always looking for a little zing in his pasta sauce. The sauce effortlessly delivered the zing he desired without being overwhelmingly intense.
Without delay our server brought our Assaggio di Secondi, the sampling of three chef selected entrees. Chef Martin chose to delight us with the Filetto al Aceto Balsamico (filet mignon topped with a balsamic vinegar glaze), Con Trofiletto alia Griglia (a New York steak, grilled and served on a bed of arugula) and Fileno al Mirtilio (a decadent looking filet topped with a blueberry sauce).
I immediately delved into the Fileno al Mirtilio: the unlikely pair of filet mignon and blueberry was so pleasing I found myself forgetting that I was supposed to share. The steak was tender and impeccably cooked; the sweetness of the blueberries was cut by the smoky flavor of the filet. The dish was not nearly as sweet as I had expected: in fact, the two components melded together so well they appeared to be a natural pair.
The next selection was the Con Trofiletto alia Griglia which was drizzled with a light olive oil, garnished with large ripe grape tomatoes, quartered lemon wedges and placed amid a bed of arugula. This New York steak was a superb cut of beef and prepared precisely as I had wished it to be. I added a spritz of the lemon to my steak and arugula and enjoyed a properly bitter tasting salad of sorts.
The Filetto al Aceto Balsamico proved to be another tender and succulent filet, this time generously topped with a sweet, thick and flavorful balsamic glaze. The glaze proved to be the sweetest of the sauces that accompanied our steaks and was so rich and robust that it quite simply drenched the tender cut of beef in flavor.
Our final plate was a generous sampling of Acqua Al 2 desserts, or Assaggio di Dolci. We were presented with Tiramisu, Pannacotta, Cheesecake and Torta di Cioccolatta (Flourless Chocolate Cake). Each was elegantly presented with a drizzling of chocolate whimsically embellishing the crisp white plate and fresh fruit situated in the center of our Assaggio di Dolci. The Tiramisu was creamy and the espresso dipped ladyfingers presented a great accompaniment to the coffee that was part of the Specialiti della Casa menu. The Pannacotta was indulgent and served with a dollop of strawberry coulis. The Flourless Chocolate Cake was dense and incredibly moist with a whisper of powdered sugar and chocolate sauce. Last, but certainly not least, was the cheesecake with blueberry sauce. The walnut crust crumbled right into the ricotta cheesecake, allowing for a gratifying spoonful every time.
While my dining partner and I sat and discussed our dinner, it occurred to us that Acqua Al 2 was a great date restaurant. The specialiti della casa certainly did promote sharing, while the hustle and bustle of 5th Avenue offers plenty to discuss if an unexpected lull in conversation should occur. By this time the patio had the heat lamps going and we were comfortable, satisfied and content. It was abundantly clear to us that Acqua Al 2 served up an authentic Italian meal, not simply because of the food, but because the culture and ambiance that make Florence one of the most beautiful places in the world is sincerely transplanted into San Diego’s Gaslamp District. Authenticity can at times be hard to find, but Acqua Al 2 strives to deliver it every night. Buon Appetito!
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Blueberry Filet was excellent.
My wife and I had a great evening at the Acqua! The service and quality of food was supreme. Our waiter did a fabulous job with his recommendations based on our needs. Would strongly recommend this restaurant for any evening!
I read the reviews for the restaurant and was very pleased that they were accurate. The service was outstanding. Our waiter thought of everything for our party of 10. He went out of his way to help make the evening enjoyable for all. The food was excellent. We will definitely return when visiting the downtown area.
Best Italian Food I've had in a long time.
Fantastic food, incredible staff, perfect evening. We will return and hope to visit in Italy!
What a find. We had an exceptional meal. Friendly and helpful service add to a wonderful dining experience. Many unusual items to pick from. We'll be back. Art and Marcia Wible
We were surprised by the authentic Italian food. Most Italian restaurants in SoCal are either serving old style Italian dishes such as lasagna and spaghetti with meatballs or have some kind of American versions of Italian food. At Acqua Al 2, you can tell the menu is identical with the Florence location and the food was great. Service was friendly and efficient. The live music on Wednesday night was a nice surprise. We will be back for sure.
Great location. We sat outide on the patio and loved the people watching. Great food! Waiters were very nice and attentive. Restaurant clean and very nice.
The reservation was made on a whim through the internet and we were bringing clients for dinner. Having never been to San Diego, never eaten here before, and not really knowing what to expect, the experience was exceptional. The food, the presentation, the service, the wine...... it was all great. Will go back again on my next visit.
Great little resturant. Food was excellent and the setting relaxing.
Our waiter Aleis was knowledgeable and patient, had answers for all our questions. And the food itself was exquisite. Also if you're a beer lover like me ask for the italian beer its a pretty good choice.
personalized service!!! the food was great as well as the wine. the place is very cozy!!!
In making my reservation for 6 on the internet I was asked for a credit card. As I wasn't sure if my out of town friends would arrive in time for the 8:30 reservation I didn't continue the process. My friends did arrive at my condo about 8 PM and 25 minutes later Acqua called to say they were holding a table for 6 if I would like to dine there. I figured they must be hurting for business but when we got there the place was jammed (Saturday Night). The food,service and ambiance was excellant. As my condo (The Mark) is only a block away we will be dining at the Acqua often
A pleasant restaurant. Not too noisy. Good service. Will return if in San Diego again
i had a great time at Acqua Al 2 - the food was great; perfect flavoring and cook times. drinks are STRONG :) nice waiter, ambiance is cozy yet fun and sophisticated.
Allan, our waiter, took impeccably care of us. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals, all four of us having different entrées, but the star was the filet mignon!
Great food/service/selection Pricey (based on our choices) Ambiance may be better on busier nights
Thanks to Amy and the staff at Acqua Al 2 for providing special service during my recent visit to San Diego! I was on my own for dinner one evening and happened upon Acqua Al 2. Amy took the time to explain the menu offerings and the origins of the restaurant, inviting me to stop back. Well, I returned, and was happy I did. A bag of toasted bread preceded by a fabulous oven-roasted aroma arrived at my table just after I was seated! I ordered a glass of red wine, and the waiter helped me choose a salad and one of the gnocchi selections. The staff's attention was always just right - and Amy stopped back to check on me and thoughtfully recommended a vodka and limoncello for my sore throat, and not sure if it was the vodka or the lemon and sugar, but all was better after the drink! The food was simple and authentic - a lovely experience, overall.
Food was ok. Very small portions but tasty. Definitely not a value restaurant. Everything ala carte. Service was satisfactory since you had to ask for every little thing. I was stunned when I got the bill and there was $3 for every refill of iced tea and no one disclosed refills were full price. Almost $20 for iced tea for 2 people (and they used the same glass each refill). When I brought it up management, they snubbed their noses and said it is policy deal with it basically.