SPQR since Daniel's departure - Not up to snuff?
- Carrie 218 Mar 6, 2008 09:47 AM
I ate at SPQR three or four times while Daniel was at the helm. I have eaten at SPQR three times since Daniel left.
I have to say, they are quickly on a down-hill slide... Because of multiple accolades, the place is swamped but as I always dine solo, I have been able to find a seat at the bar anytime I go. That said, my most recent visit included brussel sprouts that were not only over-fried, but horrifically over-salted. My salads were over-dressed. And the sweetbreads were soggy as though they were not served immediately . I didn't get bread served until the third of my three-course tasting menu. The pasta was over-cooked and hardly al dente.
I am sooooooo sad....
Can't wait to figure out where chef Daniel will land next and follow his career. I am reticent on returning to SPQR despite my adulations.
re: Robert Lauriston
No, Robert -- it is not a tasting menu; they offer the left-hand side of the menu appetizers as $7.00 each, three for $18, and five for $28. Dining alone, I usually get the three appetizers which I erroneously referred to as a three-course tasting menu because it is what it is for me; designed by me and my three-course dinner.
I have been going there about twice a month since November and have not noticed a decline. If anything, the food has gotten better in my opinion since Nate Appleman is spending more time there. For example, the entrees were not good until recently and the pastas had a tendency to be very overdone. I had the first really al dente pasta there last week--spaghtetti cacio e pepe. Before that, I told the staff there that there pastas were mushy. With respect to entrees, the saltimbocca I had was much better now, more tender, not rubbery, and better seasoned. Everything else, particularly the apps, have stayed the course in my opinion. I normally sit at the chefs bar, and one thing I have noticed of late is that the cooks seem happier. Before, I noticed the bald chef that left, yelling 4 letter words to the cooks in plain earshot of customers, that made feel uncomfortable and bad for the staff.
re: Amy G
I haven't noticed a taste or service change either. In fact, I was rather grumpy right after Daniel left and was in a bad mood because they had changed the tuna conserva dish (swapped the celery for puntarelle) and said something to the waitress before I'd even tasted it. As soon as I put it in my mouth, though, I told her to forget everything I'd said ... the salad was as good, if not better.
The biggest change, for me, was that the panino dessert was removed from the menu when he left. But I heard from the staff that it may return.
I am a huge fan of what Daniel was doing at SPQR, but have happily returned 3 times since and been satisfied.
re: Amy G
I've been here a few times, I think they've always had a bit of a free hand with the salt.
And the bald headed guy you mention was very much there, as of last Friday. He is certainly not the cooks' favourite.
The moment he would go in the rear, they would mutter expletives under their breath. Very uncomfortable indeed !
Carrie, I’ve always appreciated your articulate and insightful posts; however, I feel very strongly that in this situation you’re putting more weight on circumstance than reality. All restaurants have the occasional off night. This is certainly unfortunate for you, but this is the unfortunate truth of the restaurant world. The restaurant is filled with extremely competent employees - one person leaving is certainly not going to cause this place to go downhill. Quite to the contrary, I have had nothing but absolutely positive experiences every time I have been to SPQR: I have been many times since its opening, and certainly a number of times since Daniel’s departure. My meals at SQPR have been incredibly consistent.
I would definitely agree with Amy G’s comments about the mood of the staff. Everyone seems happier and more focused. Perhaps this is purely circumstantial as well; however, if the antics Amy witnessed were at all common place, Daniel’s departure could actually be a positive for the future of the restaurant. Just food for thought.
I would definitely give SPQR another chance. I’m particularly partial to their brunch – I believe it to be one of the best in the city.
re: Robert Lauriston
It just goes to show -- three consistently bad visits and three consistently good visits STILL shows INCONSISTENCIES and *that* is not a good thing...
I'm certainly not willing to give up on SPQR. It is in my neighborhood and more often than not, all I want to eat is a small plate or two and this place is great for that. I'm sure I will be back, I'm just hoping they notice the problems that I and others have mentioned and fix those problems.
re: Robert Lauriston
I never go on weekends (I actually never go to any local restaurants on the weekend) and my visits tend to be anywhere from right when they open at 5:30 to late at night -- but always during the week.
And mine has not been the only discouraging report. Others have had over-salted brussels sprouts and mediocre pasta.
re: Carrie 218
I loved the brussels sprouts, but thought they were so salty that some people would surely complain.
I don't think their pastas were ever consistently good. The one really unsuccessful dish I had there was a baked lasagne casserole in mid-November: watery sauce, overcooked pasta, undersalted. I loved the flavor of the rigatoni alla carbonara, but totally understood other people's complaints about the texture being wrong due to the guanciale being in strips instead of diced.
I had a perfect meal when Nate was in the kitchen. My next visit, on his night off was less so. All said it was one near miss after many very very good meals. Anything with pig on the appetizer menu is usually excellent.
Just returned from out first (and last) experience at SPQR. The service was great, the waitstaff knowledgeable, but Carrie hit the nail on the head: the brussel sprouts were virtually unpalatable with the amount of salt added to them. The lamb burger was similarly over salted and had the consistency of old oatmeal. The cannelloni with pork and ricotta was tasty but nothing particularly noteworthy. The Trombette with long cooked broccoli romanesco and ricotta salata was bland and uninspired. The chocolate dessert with pepperoncini, though, was really good as was the antipasto grilled pecorino with endive, radicchio and capers. SPQR is rather inexpensively priced but in this instance I'm afraid we got what we paid for.
Another dinner, another very successful evening. Clearly we're talking about a matter of taste. Our party of 4 dove in: chicory salad, fresh ricotta with crostini, brussels sprouts, calamari, cellini beans with pork soffritto, sausage with fennel, bocconcini, and the sweetbreads. Not a single miss. For what it's worth, we happen to love the sprouts, btw: wonderfully caramelized, perfectly soft centers with enough super crispy leaves, the hint of lemon, and salty like a potato chip. Some people like salt... some people don't: it's a personal choice. I think they're divine... and I can guarantee I'd have been eating my veggies had I had sprouts like that as a child.
For mains, there was a carbonara *did not try, though I've had the dish numerous times in the past*, two lamb burgers (very tasty), and the fried young chicken. The chicken is a new dish and it seems like they're still working on making it a consistent dish. It initially came out and I immediately noted the chicken was underdone - it was whisked away with apologies abundant. When it came back the second time, the meat was juicy, the skin very crispy (a non-coated fry), a lil' salt and a hit of fresh lemon juice. I'll forgive the initial "oops": the final result was tasty.
I also had the new chocolate/pepper parfait/mousse: it is definitely my new favorite SPQR dessert. A must try if you love the pairing of chocolate and spice.
Add in two carafes of wine (I couldn't drink, I'm on an antibiotic), a glass of dessert wine, a rice pudding, and two sodas... and the total was $190 plus tip. It's hard to get that much food, that big of a bang for the buck, at many other SF restaurants. Yet another reason why I love this place.
Reporting on a first visit... I've spent the last 6 years looking for an Italian restaurant in the Bay Area that offers the same range of veg antipasti as Lupa in NYC, and SPQR has by far the best selection I've seen. I'm not a vegetarian - I'm a veg-loving omnivore who could be vegetarian... if you let me have a little pig now and then... and maybe some duck... but anyway, I'm always on the lookout for excellent veg dishes. I went with a vegetarian (and fellow Lupa-aficionado) friend and ordered 5 antipasti for lunch.
Sunchoke, radicchio, almond, parsley, and tangerine salad
Roasted carrots with farro, mint and Calabrian chiles
Brussel sprouts with garlic, capers, lemon and parsley
Sweetbreads with celery, garlic, lemon and oregano
Anson Mills polenta with braised chicories and pecorino
Almond granita with espresso foam
The first three dishes were completely dominated by lemon, despite the very different flavor profiles suggested by the menu descriptions. This was the most disappointing in the carrot dish - we both love the combination of chili and mint - and all I tasted was lemon and parsley (Priya thinks she found a mint leaf). I did enjoy the texture of the sunchoke, and would have loved the brussel sprouts, had they been just a bit less tart. These would have been ok as accompaniments to, say, fatty meat secondi, but there was way too much unbalanced acid for them to stand alone. The sweetbreads were better balanced, with the lemon just cutting the richness of the meat, without dominating, and the polenta was, thankfully, rich and buttery and cheesy. The texture of the granita was remarkably fine, but the flavor was a little too subtle to stand up to the espresso crema.
Overall, the food was good enough (and the menu choices interesting enough) that I will definitely go back and try more dishes. I might even give the much-maligned pasta a shot. Service was outstanding - our server gave spot-on recs for wine, and thankfully steered us away from our original plan of ordering 8 antipasti (we were pretty stuffed by the end).
1) Brussel sprouts
1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
I never got this place. People line up like they're giving away free cars. The food is good, but it's a second-rate sister to A-16.
With or without Daniel, this place has never lived up to the hype.
Three of us stumbled (quite literally, had no idea this place was tucked into Fillmore St) into SPQR yesterday for a light lunch.
We decided to split 5 antipasti and ordered:
pork sausage with fennel
ricotta with crostini
All in all, it was good, not great. The wait staff appears very green to me, and oh so casual, how cute. Not.
The space is nice, but it lacks a little soul, or maybe that's the vibe one finds at 2:30pm on a Tuesday, could just be me. Our waitress was nice, just a little detached.
The dishes are pretty, but some were chipped, which is just sloppy.
The best thing was the ricotta. It was very creamy and soft, with the perfect drizzle of olive oil and a little black pepper. I had trouble sharing this, wanted to lick it off the plate.
Unfortunately, the dishes that actually required cooking were less successful.
The calamari was fine, fried fish-yum. The lemon slices were burnt to a bitter crisp though, and when we asked for more, as ours left a bitter taste in our mouths, we got, 'oh, well, yes, lemons can be bitter...' Wtf, I ask you?
And our replacement lemons, were, hello, burnt as well in the center. These also must have been slid into already cooling oil as well, because they were incredibly greasy and equally inedible. Sweet.
The artichokes were fine, the bread crumb topping was a bit jarring to chew on, and I usually will devour a baby artichoke, these were just okay. Meh.
Pork sausage, very salty, but everyone else at the table seemed to like it. The fennel ragout was another stand out for me. Very nice fennel flavor.
Mozzarella bocconcini were okay. Again, fried food-yum. These closely resembled mozz. sticks as they cooled, and they lost their breading when you tore into them. Tomato sauce on the side, whatev.
One glass of white from southern Italy and one glass of rosato, the only one they have. Both were decidedly unchilled. I like my whites not too cold, so not a huge issue, but seriously, no chill on them, AT ALL. This would have bothered me more if I'd been drinking the rose.
Actually, what would have really bothered me is if I'd ordered the ice tea, since it never actually arrived to the table. Once we mentioned this, the waitress was apologetic, end of story.
Didn't try any desserts, and we were all pretty satiated, for better or for worse.
I would go back again to try all the things I couldn't order this time (the sweetbreads, the chicken livers, the pasta with tuna), especially since I often find myself in that neighborhood.
But, hey, someone tell the owners at A-16 they need a better babysitter!