SPQR: Honoring The Senate and Roman People in San Francisco

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Restaurant Sign San Francisco

SPQR references Roman traditions, but relies on California ingredients.

Nate Appleman is my kind of chef. He’s incredibly talented. He and Wine Director Shelley Lindgren already own A16, a rock-solid Marina district Italian restaurant. More important, he’s supremely committed to pork products. The heavily tattooed chef handcrafts salumi, making sure no hog morsel goes to waste. In April, Chef Ben Ford invited Appleman to Los Angeles to participate in a “head to tail” eating event at Ford’s Filling Station. Sadly, I was unable to attend. Happily, my family helped me make amends at SPQR, Appleman and Lindgren’s latest San Francisco venture.

Appleman named his Fillmore restaurant for the historic Latin phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus (“The Senate and the Roman People”), which appears on manhole covers in Rome. According to our waitress, Emily F., Chris Behr is Nate Appleman’s #2 in command, heading SPQR’s kitchen on a full-time basis. The menu changes daily. There are no reservations, so arrive early.

Restaurant San Francisco

The space is fairly plain, with vintage Italian posters on the walls.

We started with a bottle of 2003 Romeo Colli Piacentini, which had some decent spice.

Emily said we should order at least one dish from each category, but we took her recommendations and doubled or tripled them.

Italian Food San Francisco

Fried Cauliflower looked dry, but the browned florets remained moist with help from olive oil. To complete the flavor profile, chunks were tossed with garlic chips, parsley, capers and lemon juice.

Salad San Francisco

Wild arugula salad contained sweet black Mission fig slivers, peaches, red onion, croutons and ricotta salata wisps.

Italian Food San Francisco

A succulent, ultra-juicy house-made pork sausage patty browned on the grill and joined a “salsa” of sweet roasted corn kernels, cuts of green tomato and crunchy radish.

Italian Food San Francisco

Fried Local sardines came with chunky mashed tondani beans (similar to white beans), cucumbers and pickled onions. The sardines contained whisper-thin bones that didn’t impede swallowing. A squeeze of lemon helped cut the fish’s oceanic tang.

Italian Food San Francisco

Our first Antipasti Grande – Lamb cacciatore ($18) – was basically juicy browned chunks of lamb tossed with rosemary, garlic and white wine. This dish was recently lauded in the Bon Appetit Restaurant Issue, for good reason.

Italian Food San Francisco

Heritage pork porterhouse ($19) co-starred frisée, hazelnuts and lemon. Emily revealed that the pig was fed up to 2.5 pounds of plums per day, imparting sweet flavor to the browned bone-in chop.

Pasta San Francisco

It was no surprise that SPQR features house-made pasta. We started with Cannelloni ($15) of beef sausage, ricotta, kale and pecorino. This was basically like Italian enchiladas, only with pasta sheets instead of tortillas. The sauce was vivid, naturally sweet.

Pasta San Francisco

Perfectly cooked Rigatoni Amatriciana ($14) arrived tossed with guanciale (cuts of pork jowl, similar to bacon), tomatoes, red onions, Pecorino and spicy chilies.

Dessert San Francisco

Riso budino with apricots and pistachios ($7.50) amounted to a creamy, terrific rice pudding made with the precision of a fine risotto. Crunchy crumbled pistachio biscotti chunks added to the texture.

Dessert San Francisco

Sweet honey granita paired well with tart blackberries, candied fennel and tangy ricotta ($7.50) was our second dessert. I could have done without candied fennel, which didn’t quite achieve “candied” status.

Dessert San Francisco

Chocolate panna cotta with cocoa nibs and cherries ($7.50) was an incredible, bittersweet chocolate pudding with explosively sweet cherries and tart cocoa nibs.

Appleman is a busy man who isn’t satisfied with two top-flight Italian restaurants. According to Emily, he’s 6-8 months away from opening Urbano, which will be located in the Dogpatch neighborhood, near Potrero Hill. There’s little doubt that it will be crowded from day one, and there’s even less doubt that I’ll eat there as soon as possible.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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