I almost hate to say this, but I think my quest to find Italian to rival Delfina has come to an end. Ahhhh the many years of hopelessly searching finally led me to the doorstep of SPQR (pronounced "spa-khrrrrr"- no that's a complete lie). Actually, because the entrance is so nondescript, I walked by the place 2 times (in the rain) before realizing it was what I was searching for.
The atmosphere is a perfect example of what I think of when I think neighborhood resto - cozy, dimly-lit, dark wood, and very cramped. Because we were walk-ins, we had to wait for a seat at the bar (8-10 seats, I believe). The problem is that there is absolutely nowhere to stand comfortably while waiting, so people end up forming a row behind bar diners, eagerly waiting to pounce when someone's check arrives. Picture a pack of lions circling a helpless baby gazelle. A patron eating at the bar (whose head was roughly 6 inches away from us) told us that they've seen people try to out-maneuver their competition (i.e. shank them) for seats, and that it can get pretty ugly. What I'm trying to say is make a reservation.
Apparently a couple of months ago the executive chef changed, along with much on the menu. I'm not sure how it was before the change, but what they offer on the menu now literally made me giddy. It also took us a good 15 minutes to make our selections. Maybe god was rewarding us for trying somewhat daring choices (sweetbreads are little nuggets of heaven, and who knew stomach lining could be so delicious?), but everything we ordered was beautifully plated, perfectly cooked, and well-seasoned. I didn't use salt once, which, for me, is somewhat astounding.
So what did we have? We started with the fried TRIPE with pickled vegetables and a spicy mayonnaise, and the BURRATA with peperonata, watercress & aged balsamic. Both were incredible - the pickled vegetables added a touch of sweetness which complimented the spicy mayo perfectly, and the burrata was fresh and not overpowered by the accompaniments. We followed this with the CHESTNUT NICCHI with spigarello (a type of green) and burnt orange sauce - possibly the best pasta dish I've had in San Francisco this year. I thought the burnt orange would overpower the rest of the dish, but it was subtle and blended perfectly with the brown butter. It's the type of dish that you have to stop for - put down your fork and savor. The VEAL SWEETBREADS were everything you would want them to be, and dessert is not something you should skip - the RICOTTA BAVARESE (cheesecake) is a must-try.
Oh, and ask for bread - their imported olive oil from Italy is so good that I almost started drinking it.
Everything about my experience was exceptional - the food, the service, the wine. My meal was so good that not only do I want to go back this week to see if we just ordered well, or if everything on the menu is on-point (hmmm just need to find a boy to take me...), I also asked for a gift certificate for xmas. I've never asked for a gift certificate for dining. Ever.
Oh, I'll be back my friend. I'll be back.
1911 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115