SPQR (San Francisco, CA)
1911 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
Dining date: 12/28/11
SPQR is a neighborhood restaurant in the Lower Pacific Heights area of San Francisco. A sister restaurant to also-notable A16, the cuisine is “Italian-inspired;” that is, Italian food based on seasonal, local produce. It’s sort of a merge of Italian and Californian cuisines.
The chef is Matthew Accarrino, who left his chef de cuisine post at Craft Los Angeles in 2009 to take the helm at SPQR. He has an impressive pedigree, having worked in the restaurants of Charlie Palmer, Rick Moonen, Thomas Keller, and of course Tom Colicchio. More recently, he won first place at the SF edition of the pork-centric Cochon 555 contest in June.
This was my final evening in San Francisco. My flight was at 8:45, ample time for an early dinner, so we decided to squeeze in one last family meal here (they had an available 5:30 reservation). The restaurant’s been on my list for a while but I had yet to visit. Of the whole family, only my mother had been and she had a positive experience.
We ordered two appetizers to share, a few pastas and two mains.
raw hawaiian jack, wine grape, sea bean, opal basil vinegar, caviar lime
The fish here was a little chewy, not as tender as expected. Mild flavors. Texturally, I thought the fried shallot rings were almost overwhelming in this dish.
pig ear and pork belly, california citrus, fennel agrodolce, calabrian chili
This dish was also texturally rich but in a more positive way. I enjoyed the chewy pig ears and the crispy pork belly, while the citrus (clementines!) was integral in providing a fresh acidity to cut through the richness. The fruit and arugula did a really good job in balancing out this plate.
mustard cappelini, guinea hen ragu, savoy cabbage, mimolette cheese
I thought this was a good pasta. I liked the depth of the ragu, while the cheese added some extra richness. A good amount of savoy cabbage helped to lighten the dish a bit, and I thought the flavors worked well together. I didn’t get too much mustard flavor in the pasta though.
buckwheat spaghetti, suckling pig, bacon, raisin, rapini, sarvecchio cheese
I found this pasta to have a strong pork flavor (both from the suckling pig and bacon) with a rich heartiness from the cheese. The rapini was key in adding a countering bitterness. I thought the soba-like buckwheat pasta was a fun change of pace.
smoked fettucine, sea urchin, smoked bacon, quail egg
As expected, this was a very rich dish…maybe overly so. The sauce was rich and creamy with uni mixed into the sauce to add body and a fresh sea flavor, while bacon and egg added an even heartier flavor. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t really any smoke flavor in the pasta.
mezze maniche, beef brisket, pumpkin, garlic-oregano breadcrumb
This was an excellent dish with a rich ragu and tender pieces of brisket scattered throughout. It had a wonderful savory depth of flavor, and wasn’t smothered in cheese like the other pastas. The breadcrumbs were a nice touch too, adding just a little bit of delicate texture. Pretty delish!
stuffed veal breast, alpine potato, quince, prune, braised chestnut
My brother went for this stuffed veal breast. I sneaked a bite, and found the stuffing to impart a really nice herbal flavor to the veal. The meat was cooked pretty well, too.
bacon wrapped rabbit saddle, white bean, fennel, apricot
My dad opted for this rabbit saddle – beautifully plated, but unfortunately I thought the smokiness of the bacon overwhelmed the milder rabbit flavor. Still, the meat was quite juicy…no doubt in some way aided by the bacon fat.
After the entrees and while pondering whether there was time for dessert, I got a text saying my flight was cancelled. Not delayed, cancelled. Dammit. It made the dessert decision much easier though.
tiramisu, marsala, espresso coffee, mascarpone, cocoa
bay leaf panna cotta, apple, roasted grape, whipped honey
I liked the tiramisu but I like any decently made one. There was nothing that separated this one from others, but it was enjoyable. The panna cotta was creamy and sweet, fairly light. However, I thought the whole grapes totally overpowered whenever it was part of the spoonful.
I thought SPQR was good, but there were a lot of small issues that prevented it from being great. It may have been just what we ordered, but I found the pastas to be overly rich and cheesy. In all, the meal was somewhat unmemorable, perhaps partially because my tastebuds were spoiled from previous meals during the trip (Saison was the night before). Aside from the food, service was efficient and quite accommodating; the food was slightly expedited so that we could fit the meal in and get me to the airport on time.
I’ve been wanting to try this place, but maybe I’ll shift it a couple notches down if it isn’t *great*.
Yeah, I think there are a number of more exciting places to try at the moment.
It’s a damn shame that the pasta descriptions were so misleading! I would’ve totally ordered the smoky pasta and mustard pasta too.
And yay for bay leaf panna cotta. I had some in Seattle and really liked it 🙂
Would’ve fallen into the trap too! It’s an interesting concept, an herbal panna cotta…I like it.
Ok nevermind…you’ve been!