Dining in San Francisco; The Moss Room and SPQR

by formerchef on April 11, 2009

On our trip to San Francisco, we visited the California Academy of Sciences and had lunch at the museum’s fine dining restaurant, the Moss Room. That night we had dinner at SPQR. Both meals were on a Sunday in early April.

sf09mossroomThe Moss Room

After seeing the Planetarium show at the museum, we decide spur of the moment to see if we can get into the Moss Room (http://www.themossroom.com) for lunch. The restaurant is full and we don’t have reservations, but a table for two opens up as we are standing there. There is also an cafeteria filled with interesting choices but D really wants a “nice meal” and we are on vacation, right?

 

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The restaurant is downstairs and a bit dark with the only natural light coming from windows topping a staircase on the far side of the room. There’s a bar, a smallish dining room, and a glassed in room with a “communal” table.

Keeping with the “sustainable” theme of the museum, no bottled water is offered, just a carafe of water to fill our glasses. The wine list separates the wines by the glass into “organic”, “sustainable” and “biodynamic” and I order a glass of organic Easton Zinfandel. D orders a Liberty Ale and we ponder the menu.


For a starter, we share “country style pork terrine with house made pickles, fruit mostarda and frisee” ($11). For my main I order “Duck Confit and Heirloom Chicory Salad with a poached farm egg, bacon and piment d’ espellet” ($16). It’s excellent and very satisfying with a perfectly poached egg, the smokiness of the bacon and yummy duck confit.

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D orders the “Moroccan Lamb Kefta with cous cous, cucumbers and yogurt” ($18). The Kefta is a lamb sausage which appears house-made and has great flavor. Happy and satisfied, we skip dessert and head back upstairs to explore more of the museum. Lunch for two, before tax and tip is $58.

SPQR

sf09spqrcardThe restaurant is on Fillmore St. which is two bus rides from the hotel for us. But we’re fortunate, and don’t have to wait long for either bus. We walk down the street a couple of blocks to SPQR (http://www.spqrsf.com ).

The restaurant is full, but the host tells us there are two seats at the “chef’s counter” in the back and asks if we’d like to sit there. Would we? Of course!

The restaurant is a narrow space, filled with small tables, close together. There is a short bar in the middle with seating and another bar along the kitchen’s hot line near the back which is where we sit. It’s dimly lit where we’re sitting, so I’m not really able to take photos.

Our server is a wonderful woman named Natasha whose passion and knowledge of the food and wine absolutely enhances our meal. Again, no bottled water is offered, just a nice looking small carafe placed on the bar. This is something I notice in every restaurant in San Francisco and I wish we would follow the trend in Los Angeles.

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Natasha walks us through the wines by the glass list which is lengthy and 100% Italian. I’m shocked that I only recognize a few of the wine producers; there are a lot of unusual selections. Almost everything is offered in s 3oz taste, full glass and 375ml carafe. D opts to start with the Ferrari Brut Rose and I get the Calabrian Wine Flight which is 4 2oz pours, 2 white, 2 red for $15. D later gets a glass of Campanian red to go with the rest of his meal.

The menu is small, but packed with interesting choices. It’s set up with an “Antipasti” page divided into three sections (Cold, Hot, and Fried). All choices are $8 each or 3 for $21. We chose one from each section; Tuna conserva with puntarelle, garlic, anchovy and mojama (cold), Jones Farm Rabbit with carrots, frisee, mustard and pancetta (hot), and Brussels Sprouts with garlic, parsley, capers and lemon (fried). They were all good, but the rabbit salad was my favorite. In general, I don’t like brussels sprouts, but cooked this way, crispy with a ton of fried garlic and lemon, what’s not to love? I’d even order them again.

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Every month, the menu celebrates the food of a different region of Italy. This month was Calabria, as evidenced by my wine flight and the rabbit dish. All of the pastas are made in house so we each order one. I have the Amatriciana and D orders the Carbonara. My pasta is very good, but D’s dish is the star of the night. It could not have been more perfect.

sf09spqr3While waiting for our dishes to arrive, sitting at the the chef’s bar gives us the opportunity to watch the cooks in action.
There’s the sous chef, standing on the outside of the line calling the orders and pick-ups. There’s the young woman working the fryer and cold plates. There are two guys cooking the pastas and hot dishes and everyone is sharing a space about 8 feet long.
I am impressed by how calm and organized they all are given how busy the restaurant is. There’s no shouting, no missed orders, only one extra plate made by mistake. One of the guys is also training a newbie; the young kid is hesitant and unsure, but the trainer is patient. I’m also surprised they are all dressed in street clothes; t-shirts, jeans, lots of tattoos and a white apron seem to be the standard uniform. But the food coming out of the little space is impressive.

For dessert, D orders a little grapefruit sorbet and we call it a night. Dinner for two (apps, pastas, wines, sorbet) before tax and tip is about $90. We take the bus back toward the hotel and four loud teenagers get on, obviously drunk. The bus driver goes about two blocks and then pulls over and kicks them off the bus. The passengers applaud. Our second bus is not running so we have to walk about 10 blocks back to the hotel.

For more on the museum and the other things we did in San Francisco, please see my web site: http://www.wired2theworld.com

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