My New Favorite Place to Rome (SPQR -- San Francisco, CA)
Once my parts of the book (pre-orders go on sale November 1st in case you were wondering -- I know, I'm shameless) were out of my hands, I needed about a week to get my bearings. I also needed that week to stuff as much as I could down my pie hole, because Diner #3 is pretty hungry these days.
Jon and I found ourselves in some classes last week. Basically the gist of the classes was to teach us how not to kill Diner #3 once we bring him home. After 3 hours of class on Tuesday, I thought my stomach might eat itself. It was then that I had the realization that a) when I was at A16 the previous week I learned SPQR was opening on Saturday and b) we were right around the corner from SPQR, which happened to still be open because they are not pussies like the rest of this town (honestly, if I ever lose my mind and open a restaurant, it's going to be open all night).
At this point it was about 9:15 and the restaurant was PACKED. On a TUESDAY. We were optimistic but realistic. Since there are no reservations at SPQR, we knew we wouldn't lose the next free table to people who were better planners than us. What followed can only be described as dining nirvana.
First, we spotted Shelley, and if you've read what I have to say about A16, you know how I loves me some Shelley. I still don't understand how she is so awesome, but she is. I'd be hard pressed to find someone as knowledgeable as she is about wine, and plus, she's the nicest person on the planet. While we were catching up with Shelley and hearing all about her recent forays into parenthood, Chef Nate tapped us on the arm. So then we got to love on him, too. Fun fact: Nate's infant son shares a name with the soon-to-arrive Diner #3. We both have 3 syllable last names that begin with "A" so I think that might have something to do with it. But I digress...
We moved to the bar, where Jon started in on the tasty reds. I am now comfortable enough to try sips of his illicit beverages but the fucking heartburn that follows nips that right in the bud. The ever-thoughtful Shelley promptly delivered me a clementine Izze before I could request one. LOVE HER.
By this point a table was ready, so we snuggled in for the eats. The antipasti section, divided into hot, cold and fried, offers tasty nibbles for $7 each, 3 for $18 or 5 for $28. We went for 3: The mozzarella in carroza with anchovies, the roasted Friarelli peppers and the stracciatella (Roman egg drop soup). Fun fact #2: Italians really like the word stracciatella as it is also the name for chocolate chip gelato.
What showed up at our table, however, were all the aforementioned dishes plus: white beans with a pork soffrito and grilled pecorino with roasted peppers. The interesting thing about that, besides the fact that we were getting spoiled rotten, was that the beans ended up being my favorite antipasti, while Jon was cuckoo for the grilled pecorino. The beans were comforting, tasty, meaty and cooked absolutely perfectly. And really, how can you argue with a slab of melty pecorino?
This is not to say that what we actually ordered was at all shabby. The peppers, covered in chunks of salt and served with lemon wedges disappeared as soon as they hit the table and the soup was simple but perfect. The mozzarella was a hit as well, but we couldn't finish it and still think about having room for our soon-to-arrive pastas.
By the time we finished the antipasti, I believe Jon was approaching his 3rd glass of wine. I was approaching very jealous.
Our server, a recent transplant from Milwaukee, was a sweet as can be. I give her mad brownie points for being so discreet with the plates we couldn't quite finish. She would stack the finished plates on top of the ones that still had unfinished items and then whisk them past the kitchen. We were trying to save room but didn't want to appear ungrateful for our gifties, which sweet server from Milwaukee facilitated very nicely.
We know our limits (sometimes) so we had opted to skip the entrees portion. Instead, we both ordered pasta. The pasta menu is fucking brilliant. For four of the pasta preps, you have the option of spaghetti or penne. Since Jon was going with the carbonara, and I opted for the ever simple aglio e olio, and we both went with spaghetti as our noodle.
I like my spaghetti al dente, which often gets lost in a homemade pasta. Not so at SPQR. The noodles were not pansy-ass in any way -- they were toothsome yet still retained a homemade feel. Well played, SPQR.
The carbonara was creamy and piggy and rich. My aglio e olio, however, was a star. So simple, but so right. I don't know what they do to their garlic to make it not revisit me for the next 24 hours but I love them for it. Jon took one taste and said it reminded him of the spaghetti with clams we had in Venice (one of our top 5 meals ever), except with out the clams.
Now here is why I have the best husband in the whole fucking world: He asked Shelley to ask Nate if they'd ever consider doing it with clams. I, being the smug little bitch that I am, tried to tell him it was the wrong region of Italy, that they'd never do it, blah, blah, blah. I suck mostly.
Nate thought it was brilliant. In fact, he said he's going to put it on the menu as an option for that pasta. So when you go to SPQR and you see some clams, you have my rockstar husband to thank for it.
Despite being very full, we tried to hop back on the pony for some dessert. This meant dessert wine for Jon (I think he had about 5 glasses of wine all told). It meant glaring looks of jealousy for me.
We opted for the Torino di Riso, a little wedge of what is essentially congealed rice pudding, with pistachios and something else that I can't remember because I was rubbing my face in it. We were crazy full at this point, but continued to gorge ourselves because it was so good and also, we have no self control.
We were eagerly looking forward to returning to SPQR, all the while thanking the heavens that we would not have to put any more food in our gullets because there was officially no room at the inn.
Too bad Nate then plopped down a plate on our table with a declaration of "panino" and left us to try to shovel one last item into our craws.
The panino is indeed a sandwich. A sandwich of condensed milk and pears with chocolate shavings and salt on top. Very, very delicious. Also the last thing you want to try to eat when you are already full, because there is no way you can finish it and then you feel guilty and sad because you know you'll want the rest of it tomorrow.
Before we summoned the forklift to get me out of the chair, we needed to pay our bill. Let me begin by saying that this was the most ridiculous bill I've ever seen. Besides the previously mentioned comped items, there were several "omitted" items and additional discounts. It got to the point where Jon and I had to employ advanced math techniques in order to figure out how to tip our lovely server (Where is Mathra when you need him?). Their generosity was nothing short of astounding. As if I didn't already love them too fucking much.
Still, had we paid for every last sip and nibble I'd be just as anxious to return to SPQR as I am after having received the royal treatment. Each little bite we ate was nothing short of excellent, not to mention the fact that their staff fucking rules on any day of the week and the atmosphere is fun, casual and hip-in-a-not-nauseating-way.
Should I go missing, you know where to find me.
"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
-- La Rochefoucauld