In my last article, written not too long ago, I asked enduring question, “SPQR u seriously this good?” and six months later I’m happy to report, SPQR is seriously this good. I know it has been a short time since I last reviewed this restaurant, but because I believe that it is truly a shining example of culinary innovation and refined, modern cuisine in the Bay Area, it’s hard to avoid talking about it. What has led me to place this restaurant amongst this country’s finest? Chef Accarrino’s unique approach to cooking, the philosophy behind the food he serves, is the primary reason for my complete and utter infatuation with SPQR.
What exactly is his approach? While many who partake in the food dialogue are focused on product-driven or seasonally-driven menus, Chef Accarrino defines his cuisine as “ingredient-driven.” Hmm ingredient-driven huh? Could you elaborate on that?
To explain, product-driven menus will change with the season – the arrival of fava beans at the market generally means that they will be featured in fixed restaurant dishes for the next couple of months. “Ingredient” driven menus take a different approach. For example, while tomatoes may be a summer treat, tomatoes reach maturity at all different stages of the growing seasons, which means they must be consumed in various harvests, shapes, and sizes throughout the summer to ensure quality.
This impacts the kitchen. While Chef Accarrino may be inspired by summer squash, that exact ingredient (with the same dimensions, color, or taste) is likely to have evolved later in the season, or be unavailable the next week. In this way, Chef Accarrino doesn’t think in terms of “products” or “seasons,” but rather he thinks in terms of “ingredients,” and must thus alter the menu to correspond to the ever-evolving products.
Before I start describing the food, I have a couple of confessions, which, while a bit embarrassing, will help me make my following point. The first confession is that I’m not a huge fan of lamb. I know I know, it’s almost blasphemous, but it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it and can certainly appreciate a good rack or loin, but it’s rarely a menu selection that’s guaranteed to blow me away. The second confession is that I generally dislike artichoke. This one goes even further – unlike lamb, there have been very few occasions where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed an artichoke dish.
My point? Matt Accarrino turned two ingredients that I generally frown upon into one of my all-time favorite dishes from SPQR (and trust me, I’ve tried a lot). The lamb belly ($14) cooked sous-vide and made into a roulade had an intense depth of flavor and extremely tender texture, and when paired with baby artichoke, artichoke puree, carrot, walnut, and truffle vinaigrette it became absolutely mouthwatering.
If you were lucky enough to visit SPQR during the winter, you may have come across what I’ve referred to as my favorite pasta dish ever: the chestnut nicchi. Despite its popularity, the seasons changed, and thus the pastas changed. Not knowing if I’d ever experience such a magical dish again, I recently happened upon one of Chef Accarrino’s summer specialties: Corn Agnolotti ($18) with golden chanterelles, pecorino, and Umbrian summer truffle. The truffle is wonderfully subtle, enhancing the sweetness of the corn without overwhelming the dish with its strong, earthy flavor. This pasta is so good that I literally got angry; I honestly started shouting (a bit too loudly), “This pasta is so good, it’s dumb.” The fact that this food writer was left without any real words, but only angry statements about how “dumb” this dish was, is a true testament to its caliber.
Other recent highlights have been the veal sweetbreads, farm ‘egg in a hole’ with seasonal mushrooms, beef cheek pyramids, squid ink linguini, lamb and apricot stuffed gnocchi, the cabbage ‘con lardo,’ and the game terrine (layers of suckling pig, rabbit, and foie gras) served at brunch.
As much as I’d love to provide details about every amazing dish that I’ve tried in the last two months, I have to be honest – by the time you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that everything I’ve talked about in this article is no longer on the menu. But guess what? It doesn’t matter.
The point that I want to make is that Chef Accarrino has the experience and the vision to make any dish he decides to serve incredible. He’s worked under culinary masters, Colicchio and Keller to name a couple, and while he has taken that caliber of technique to his own kitchen, he’s distanced himself from their culinary perspectives and emerged with his own vision. The effort and technique put into seemingly simple dishes is purposefully underplayed, and Accarrino’s unique take on food, in terms of flavor and composition, is able to take center stage.
What the hell does that mean? It means that Chef Accarrino is doing cuisine that no one else is doing, and no matter what he puts on the ever-evolving menu, it’s sure to impress.
Rather than tying all of your hopes for a good meal up in one of the aforementioned dishes, treat your dining experience as something that is unique, with a plethora of excellent dishes that are only available on that particular night. If, when you arrive, your preference has disappeared from the menu, a new one will materialize to fill that void. Having dined at SPQR seven times in the last few months, I can say that no matter what plates are laid in front of me, I have always been amazed with the final product, and there’s no doubt that, whatever the dish is, you will be left thoroughly satisfied.
1911 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115