When in San Francisco, SPQR
An unassuming emperor reigns over the culinary empire that is San Francisco’s SPQR. He stands at the mouth of the buzzing open kitchen that faces the 7-seat chef’s bar, placidly positioning yellow flower buds atop a shard of crispy chicken skin. His precision is surgical. The effect is plated art and what is better than art one can eat? The emperor is none other than five-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef: West, Matthew Accarino, the gastronomic force that led the restaurant to Michelin star distinction for four consecutive years since 2013.
The vibe at SPQR — an acronym for Senatus Populusque Romanum (The Senate and the People of Rome) — is deliberately far from patrician. Still, the atmosphere is elevated and distinguished and it is in attaining this balance that the Fillmore district eatery truly excels. Accarino’s Italian-inspired American fare is dished out in a modern and masculine space that lacks any air of antiquity. In fact, so accessible is the ambiance that the prosciutto slicing machine is planted, like a proud cherry-red monument, outside the kitchen space and right in the dining room. Rows of wine bottles line the wall from what appears to be floor to ceiling; if this leads you surmise that wine is as serious an edict as food is at SPQR, you are right!
Owner ShelleyLindgren, a sommelier, also serves as wine director. With her penchant for seeking out Italian wines made with arcane grapes, expect to have your taste buds both titillated and educated. Try the Ciliegiolo, a little-known Tuscan variety — commonly a component of blends like Chianti — to complement the buttery and supple Alaskan king crab served with cauliflower risotto and enriched by the light sourness of green apple. The milk-braised buffalo with velvety burrata is another stand out, but the toast of the house is undoubtedly the pasta: tripe ragout may not be music to the ears, but it is magic to the palate when paired with basil rigatoni and topped with a crunchy garlic breadcrumb.
They say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Well, when in San Francisco too, it seems, the right thing to do is as the Romans do, and the place to do it is at SPQR.