In our first post about SPQR, we mentioned that we were amazed how, with every visit, the food from Chef Matthew Accarrino just kept getting better and better. In a subsequent post we related that we try to dine there as much as we can; however, it had become much more difficult to get a reservation since they were awarded a prestigious Michelin star. We have been back a few times since, and the menu continues to change; however, it’s been about seven months since we last filed a dispatch, so now would be a good time to check in on SPQR’s evolution.
We have noticed that menu prices have been creeping up: antipasti now hovers around $15-$19, pastas range from $20-$23 and secondi (main dishes) are now around $35. However, we have also noticed that the food is increasingly elevated with premium ingredients such as summer truffles, trout roe caviar and wagyu beef. The dishes themselves are much more elaborate, befitting a Michelin-starred establishment, but still affordable given other restaurants of the same caliber. It’s easy to follow how Chef Accarino’s food has evolved by clicking through our previous posts. Owner-Wine Director Shelly Lindgren’s Southern-Italian wine menu remains focused on the region, while new offerings are rotated in frequently.
We had eaten a bowl of the roasted friarelli peppers at our recent dinner at A16 in Oakland, so we were curious to see what Chef Accarino would do with the sweet peppers in the antipasto dish of Chili Cured Trout and Roe, Friarelli Pepper, Anise Hyssop, Peach Ice and Buckwheat. The pieces of buckwheat-coated cured fish and its eggs were chili-tinged but not spicy and paired perfectly with the friarelli. The peach ice and the hyssop (mint herb relative) offered refreshing interludes between bites of chili and pepper:
The Guinea Hen Terrina, Raisin, Marsala Gelatina, Liver Mousse and Challah antipasti was rich and decadent. The hen terrine was layered with a thin coating of the gelatin and sat atop a raisin reduction sauce. We spread the excellent liver mouse over the toasted challah soldiers and appreciated the contrasts of the chicken preps. The celery leaf and grape slices salad helped cut the richness, but we could have easily eaten more of this dish:
We really love the wine program at SPQR, as it allows us to indulge in our favorite Southern Italian varietals and explore and discover new wines. Where else can you find Etna Bianco available by the half bottle? Etna Rosso is one of our go-to Sicilian reds, but how would the volcanic soil and cool elevation treat white varietals? And what grapes are found on the slopes of Europe’s largest active volcano? SPQR has it covered: Ante from I Custodi is a blend of 70% Carricante, Minnella and Grecanico, balancing acidity and minerality with a surprising complexity.
We stayed on the island of Sicily with a carafe of Cerasuolo de Vittoria, a wine we were familiar with but from a producer we were not: Gulfi Organic Wines. This blend of Nero D’Avola and Frappato grapes is delicious on its own but, like most Italian wine, is best enjoyed with food. Gulfi is a rising star, winning praise for their devotion to the terroir, and a welcome addition to SPQR’s excellent lineup:
We moved on to pastas and always gravitate towards anything with shaved truffles, so naturally we chose the thick-cut house-made Papardelle with a broccoli and aged cheese crema sauce, simply topped with parmesan cheese and a generous amount of aromatic ridge-sliced black truffles. In Italy shaved truffles are typically an up-charge, but these tubers were included in the reasonable price of $23. The cheese fonduta was rich and mingled well with the pasta and truffle:
When available, we highly recommend ordering whatever lasagne preparation is offered. What they make here is no ordinary lasagne – each prep requires 16 layers of alternating pasta and sauce. The current Pork and Beet Lasagna, Beet Pesto, Blood Sausage and ‘Red Things’ was bloody great with inclusion of the offal sausage in the pork ragù, tempered by the lightly pickled beets and the sweet beet pesto. This artistically beautiful plate literally tasted as good as it looks and would make a great Valentine dish:
Service is always first-rate, and even though we skipped dessert (that lasagne beet ‘cake’ was as good as any dessert), SPQR aways presents a final sweet bite with the check. This time around it was house-made chocolate marshmallows:
In a recent post about Tribune Tavern, where original SPQR Sous Chef Huw Thornton now presides over the kitchen, we had reminisced about how SPQR started out with rustic roots. The food today is significantly more refined and continues to evolve with a constantly changing menu. We are already looking forward to what comes next from the imagination of Chef Accarino.
SPQR Just Keeps Getting Better and Better (Jul. 9, 2012)
Southern Italian Fare at A16 (Nov. 13, 2012)
Plan Ahead and Make Reservations at SPQR (Jan. 14, 2013)
A16 Rockridge’s Fried Montanara Pizza is Worth Crossing the Bridge For (Jul. 31, 2013)
No News is Good News at Tribune Tavern (Aug. 14, 2013)