After nearly 30 years in the Financial District, Palio D’Asti is changing with the times. The business closed its massive, 200-seat dining room in June for an extensive remodel, an effort to catch up with the shifting demands of downtown diners — while still honoring its traditions and long-time staff. In December, the restaurant reopens at 640 Sacramento to greet loyal customers — and hopefully new ones — as Palio.
“It lasted thirty years before it was time to say, ‘we need to switch it around a little bit,’” says Martino DiGrande, who joined the 1990-opened restaurant in 2006 and took over as owner in 2012. DiGrande knows a thing or two about shifting dining traditions: An SF native, he grew up in his father’s restaurant, DiGrande’s, in the Sunset District.
The Palio remodel addresses some longstanding issues with the space — it’s a pre-1906 building — and updates its atmosphere and layout for today’s crowd. A much larger bar with seating for 24 has been added, rotated to face out onto Sacramento Street, and an expanded lounge area, with room for 50, has been installed. ANV Architects designed the new space.
“It was set up in 1990 for the way people dined in 1990,” DiGrande explains. That meant a small bar and lots of dining room space for the big FiDi lunch rush: Bankers and lawyers on long client luncheons.
“Now people dine a lot differently — the bankers and the lawyers don’t have the expense accounts they did, and the tech folks have moved in. They’re not trying to impress clients, or break the bank: They just want to come in, have a nice meal, maybe at the bar, maybe in a more relaxed atmosphere, and get back to work.”
However, some aspects of Palio, like its open exhibition kitchen, were well ahead of the times and won’t change at all. Longtime executive chefs and brothers Mauricio and Jose Alberto Martinez, who have worked at Palio since it opened, are still at the helm, as is pasta chef Eva Perez.
Classic dishes like pappardelle with wild boar ragu will remain on the menu alongside new items, and lunch menu additions include options like a porchetta sandwich. No longer tied in name to the city of Asti, the new Palio will emphasize cuisine from many Italian regions. Customers can also expect seven wood-fired pizza options and beverages from Shirley Brooks and Matt Grippo include two Amaro-based cocktails on draft.
“I’ve joked that, before we closed [for the remodel], we we’re doing way too many retirement parties,” says DiGrande. In his early days, it was all parties for new hires — and that’s what DiGrande would like to see Palio get back to.
Stay tuned for an exact opening date as Palio prepares its return. The restaurant just started taking reservations for holiday events in their revamped private dining rooms.
When Palio reopens, lunch hours will be 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and dinner Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with the lounge open 11:00 a.m. onward and happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.