Here we are, technically one month and some-odd days after Matthew Accarrino took over the kitchen at Fillmore Street's high-profile SPQR after stints at Per Se and Craft LA. So, in our first installment of One Month In, we cull thoughts on the restaurant's relaunch from the kitchen's new main man. Let’s get into it.
So, one month in. How's it been? You know I knew I’d be facing some challenges when I moved here with a smaller kitchen and staff than I’m used to working with. What moves did you make when you came in? We made some changes to some of the equipment, bought a new stove, convection oven and adjusted the prep kitchen upstairs so that it runs a little more smoothly. We had a few weeks of soul-searching as people got up to speed with a new way of working. I knew where I wanted to go with SPQR and it took a little time to get everyone to see where I was coming from. We are feeling the rewards of all the training now as things are starting to gel and I feel very happy with where we’ve gotten in such a short amount of time and that we are busy and have so many repeat customers.
Let's talk personal stuff first. What drew you to SPQR? Were you wanting to come up to SF? When I was in LA, I would come up to San Francisco a lot to visit the farms I used in my cooking. I wanted to meet the people behind my food. Everyone in the chef community talks about Northern California produce and how great it is. When I was in New York, I heard about it. When I was in LA, I was close enough that I would source certain things from the Bay Area. It’s exciting to finally be here and to experience first hand that the hype of San Francisco products is true.
You’ve cooked in New York and Los Angeles. How does the SF dining public differ? The thing about the San Francisco diner is that they’ve been surrounded by the farm-to-table style of cooking and great produce for a long time. They are very well educated and there is no passing inferior products off on them. Farmers are almost celebrities here and I don’t know anyone cooking with bad products. Is there any comparison you can make between your food at SPQR and your food at one of the other places you’ve worked? Even when I worked for Tom, I did a lot of pasta, because I love it. When I got to SPQR, there was a $7,000 pasta making machine sitting here for me to play with. We’ve had a lot of fun with housemade pasta. Here more than anywhere else I’ve worked, I can follow where the products and inspiration take me. If you’re running the kitchen at French Laundry for Thomas Keller, you’ve got to make oysters and pearls; If you’re running Craft you need braised short ribs and gnocchi. The funnest part for me here is that I don’t have those things that have to be here. It’s liberating and exciting that I can be inspired by the great products we have here in San Francisco.
Given the whole Nate thing and the 3.5 stars, you haven't exactly been thrown into an easy situation. How have you walked the line between doing your own thing and fitting in to the "old" SPQR? I got here a week before the restaurant closed in September and Nate was long gone. I know Nate because I’ve met him a few times, but I don’t know him that well. I don't know what happened before I got here, and I don’t care. We closed and when we re-opened it sort of became clear that this was a new chapter. Shelley was bold to approach the situation as the closing of a successful restaurant and the opening of a new restaurant where we are going to do something totally different. We’re still casual and small, but the menu sections are different and we’ve transformed from regional Roman cuisine to new Italian cooking, an all-encompassing seasonal Italian restaurant with California inspiration. So you didn’t even look at the old menu before you started? Not really, the first week we had brussel sprouts and cauliflower because they were big hits before, but I took them off. I didn’t really know about the restaurant before I moved up here. I was excited to run a small operation with a tight crew.
Given his blog post earlier this week, Mr. Bauer's been in, right? I think he’s been in once? I don’t know, I guess people in this town know what he looks like? I feel like all the critics look like Frank Bruni (laughing). But no, I don’t know what Bauer looks like ... Listen, we cook the best we can all the time. No one’s trying to deliver on one person. Tom Sietsema was in here shortly after we opened and I didn’t know. I guess he tweeted about his experience, and it was positive. Shelly told me that several of our customers had read Tom’s tweets. I don’t know what he looks like either and we didn’t hear he was in here until after he was gone. So do you know what Bauer ordered when he was in? No idea.
Where do you want to be a year from now? I haven’t been able to get out as much as I want to. A lot of awesome sommeliers, bartenders, restaurateurs and chefs have come in to SPQR to introduce themselves, but I haven’t been able to go out and see what they’re doing in San Francisco. Maybe it’s a blessing, but I feel like I’m operating in a vacuum because I haven’t gotten to experience the scene here yet. I’m looking forward to being a part of the community, getting to know the city and making this little restaurant the best it can be.
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