SPQR is showcasing ten highly productive years with a menu of greatest hits and wine pairings served over a ten-day span. After all, the intimate neighborhood restaurant on Fillmore Street could hardly accommodate all its fans in just one evening without a serious fire code violation. The festivities started Friday, September 22nd, and last through Sunday, October 1.
“When you’ve always got your head down working, you suddenly look up, and you’re surprised that it’s been ten years,” says wine director and co-owner Shelley Lindgren, who opened SPQR in 2007 after founding sister restaurant A16. Now, it’s time for a moment of reflection.
Through the anniversary menu, a snapshot of dishes over a decade, diners can return to the SPQR of 2014, when it was all about chef Matthew Accarrino’s bone marrow sformatino, or the SPQR of 2012, when his smoked fettuccine with bacon, sea urchin and quail egg first joined the menu. That’s a dish regulars will recognize: Accarrino, who is a four time semi-finalist for James Beard’s Best Chef West award, can hardly take it off his menu.
“Chefs hate the term ‘signature dish,’” says Accarrino. “It implies that somehow we’re willing to be confined. But the reality is, a signature dish isn’t what the chef says it is. It’s what the customers say it is. That smoked fettuccine, I can’t even remember putting it on the menu, but it just took.”
On the other hand, elements of SPQR’s food have changed a great deal, a story the anniversary menu tells dish by dish. The restaurant’s whole animal focus, for example, has gone from foreground to background.
“We still absolutely have as much of a whole animal program as we ever did,” Accarrino clarifies, “[But] over the years, the food’s gotten simpler and lighter. That doesn’t mean I’m not still frying pig ears, but now, maybe they’re more of a garnish than the main dish.”
Lindgren’s wine program, meanwhile, has deepened with the decade, winning her impressive laurels like the James Beard Award for Best Wine Service in 2015. Changes to the wine list are partly reflections of the increasing bounty that’s available to her, Lindgren says.
“The Bay Area has such great local small importers of incredible Italian producers, so we’re really lucky to get these microproducers that we can pour by the glass. It’s a real luxury.”
For oenophiles, she puts it this way: “We have allocations of Frappato from Sicily — you get allocated Burgundy and Barolo, but nowadays, we’re getting allocated Frappato. That’s just a sign of the times.”
The times will keep on changing — time’s relentless like that, says Accarrino. Looking toward the future of SPQR, he asked sous chefs Jake Lucas and Miles Ake to create new dishes for the anniversary menu to accompany the past favorites.
“That’s what keeps it exciting,” the chef says. “A restaurant is a project that’s never finished.”