Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Fab Food for the Visiting Foodie: A Cheat Sheet of Options: Pt. 1... My First Tastes of SPQR

Okay, one of your snarky, picky, Greenmarket-going, H&H bagel-eating, Frank Bruni-reading, ssam-scarfing, Zagat-toting, fans of David Chang from (where else?) Manhattan is coming to what they (trying to be clever but missing by a mile) refer to as Fog City.

You're a proud San Franciscan, even if it is only your adopted home, and you want to show this philistine, .... oops, I mean very good friend, the best San Francisco has to offer by way of comestibles: where do you start?

Step right this way, ladies & gentleman, I'll take you through a quick tour of a few of my favorite hot spots, old & new, that will have any visitor wondering how they could ship their belongings out here without having to head back to that dingy, old city by the East River to collect them. This will be part one of a series of posts that take dead aim at their intended target: the visiting foodie. Please secure your seatbelts, stow your tray tables & have your seats in their locked and upright positions... here we go:

The Bay Area is rife with regional Italian restaurants. Abbondanza doesn't even begin to accurately modify the amount of restaurants with nods to that thigh high boot along the Mediterranean. While Manhattan boasts my new chef crush, the very hot import named Fabio Trabocchi & , of course, the stalwart stallion of all things Italian, Mario Batali, we here in Frisco (as the obnoxious, I mean... clever, eastcoaster refers to our fair gotham) have a few aces up our own metropolitan sleeves: namely Nate Appleman and his SPQR, a casual Roman-style osteria, with spot on delectable dishes like the fried brussel sprouts; so nutty & succulent, I almost cried when the last crispy sprout was gone.

Ditto for the expertly dressed salad of radicchio, almonds & meaty fried sunchoke which was so fleshy & voluptuous that I initially mistook the chokes for hunks of tender guanciale; the supremes of tangerine made the dish complete bringing all the elements into a harmonious balance. Dishes like these could convert the most voracious carnivore into a life-long veggie eater.

Other dishes also hit the spot like the classic mozzarella en carrozza with sweet little cow's milk bocconcini coated in a savory crumb crust and its accompaniment of a marinara sauce with just a hint of fiery chili flakes offered a nice balance between sweetness & acidity to cut through the richness of the fried mozzarella.
The fresh ricotta with crostini & olio nuovo is sweet, creamy & served at the perfect just slightly below room temperature.
Housemade sausage does pork right with a crisp, caramelized crust and juicy, fennel-inflected interior. The hubby likes his sausage a little leaner with fewer bread crumbs; but, even though I tend to agree with him, to me, it is still a good example of Appleman's charcuterie wizardry, a skill for which the 26 year old has rapidly gained national recognition.
The delicate lobster brodo with plump tender rock shrimp, rapini & toothsome ceci beans, all anointed with a few drops of the fruitiest olive oil, was the kind of dish you fantasize about when you imagine an evening tryst with a handsome Roman at his favorite little osteria. The bay scallops & cauliflower with rapini & olives was another lustily satisfying dish that was light on the tongue but somehow soulful and rich with it's perfect measure of earthy cauliflower and sweet meaty scallops. YUM YUM.

The housemade pastas are very basic but well-executed. My only quibble may have been with the carbonara which was beautifully light (thank God no cream just rich unctuous egg yolks which caressed the pasta with their golden goodness) but the sauce may have needed the slightly more assertive pancetta flavor instead of the nuanced house-cured guanciale. The Amatriciana however had all the flavor & fire you'd expect in the dish.

The griddled ricotta cake with crema fresca & bitter orange sang it's way on my tongue and through my throat. A masterful dessert made all the better because of its purity and simplicity.

Wines run from Italy's North to South, East to West in their origin with interesting varietals as well as the more classic blue chips.

The room is somehow both spare & luxe with heavy brown velvet draperies at the entrance, dark wood wainscoting & floors, marble counters (for both the bar & chef's table), tastefully matted & framed lithographs with a few whimsical subjects, utilitarian dark wooden furnishings and a staff of female servers who are professional but ever so slightly aloof. In all fairness, however, it's a tough assignment being a cute young woman in a trendy restaurant. It's a fine line they must draw that male servers probably never need to concern themselves with; i.e. being friendly & helpful without seeming like they're being too flirtatious which can alienate certain green-eyed monsters in the guise of female diners & overexcite their male companions. It's an unfair disadvantage but these are everyday realities that female waitstaff contend with; so, as I said, the young attractive female servers I encountered both times I visited with my husband were very efficient but a wee bit distant. While I both understand and sympathize with their plight, it is a bit off-putting in a casual neighborhood setting, no matter how uber-hot it's meant to be.

All in all, SPQR is a great experience, especially if you sit at the bar and order a few nibbles while you wait for your table (no reservations are accepted). I plan to more fully review this restaurant after a few additional visits & give you further details on the menu, prices, etc. (only been twice now for dinner, too many things to try & I am watching my weight these days) but I implore you to go & take your visiting foodie. They won't be disappointed and neither will you. This I will tell you now: be sure to go with someone who likes sharing because there are many wonderful small dishes to try and the organization, pricing, as well as the generous portions of the menu, encourages selfless eating.

1911 Fillmore St. (between Pine & Bush)

Gotta go! Headed back there for brunch tomorrow, I'll be going to bed tonight with visions of griddle cakes dancing in my head... yaay!

(to be continued with other restaurants on my must eat now list...)

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