So this is what happens when two Portlanders down in Oakland go the wrong direction on the 580, turn around and promptly miss their intended exit, and then somehow end up in the 3-person carpool lane that buzzes freely around the Bay bridge toll booths. Luckily no one noticed....we hope! Although we were in sis-in-law Jane's car, so who cares? Okay, we did, but later Jane didn't seem too concerned. Anyway, the point being, when life throws you a curve instead of a fastball, you'd better be ready to hit it. Of course when that curve leads you into downtown San Francisco at lunchtime, the strike zone expands exponentially.
Our first thought was to go to the Ferry Building for a plate of Hog Island Oysters and time to ponder our options. So we wheel down Embarcadero, find a parking spot, and discover that in "The City" they charge....for 20 minutes of meter time....one dollar. Now I don't have a problem with the amount. But unless I'm going to the laundromat, which thankfully I don't have to do, I don't usually have rolls of quarters rolling around in my car. In any event, since we had about 30 cents between us, it was time for Plan B. We didn't really have a plan b, but I had always wanted to check out A-16, a SF hotspot known for the their Italian cooking that celebrates the Campania region and a place that has been at the top of my to-eat-in-SF list for a long time. Sadly they didn't do lunch on Monday. But their new-ish sister restaurant SPQR, which was on SF Chronicle food guy Michael Bauer's Top 100 list, did. So after quick trip up and over Broadway, a quick left on Fillmore (thank you iPhone maps!), and we were walking in with much anticipation to SPQR's cozy dining room. SPQR moves the food a little bit north of A-16, centering their culinary inspiration to the areas around Rome. We settled at the bar, nabbed a couple of glasses of wine, and started in. They have an extensive antipasti list at SPQR, broken out in to "Cold", "Hot", and "Fried" sections. The charge is $8 each, or $21 for three. Since it would have been fiscally irresponsible not to take advantage of the discount, and because so many delicious sounding things were calling to us, we settled on one choice each from the three different sections. All were wonderful. From the Cold section w had the Tuna Conserva with puntarelle, garlic anchovy, and mojama. A deliciously fresh, balanced, and crisp salad. I'd never had nor heard of puntarelle greens, a member of the chicory family, and they were delicious, with great crunch and texture. To go along with that we added from the Hot section the House-made Pork Sausage Patty with heavenly lentils with pickled onions and a mustard aioli. Does pork ever disappoint? Not here, not now! And for our Fried choice, their Sweet Potatoes with pancetta, fried chiles, and pecorino were fantastic. Lightly parboiled sweets, then quickly fried to crisp the outside as a perfect counterpoint to their soft interiors...yum!
At this point w was already making her "I'm getting full" comments, but with some very enticing entrée choices staring at us she gamely manned up and we soldiered, happily I might add, on. She chose the Fettucine with sardines, currants, fennel, and breadcrumbs, while I picked the Anson Mills Polenta with salt cod, potato, olives, tomato, and chiles. w's pasta was inspired, surprisingly rich for such a simple preparation, and set off off by the addition of the seasoned bread crumbs. My polenta was equally satisfying, the salt cod in a semi-spicy sauce where all the flavors played so well together. Like all really good Italian restaurants, the dishes at SPQR are simple with few ingredients, the individual components being allowed to shine through and strut their stuff. After all that we foolishly skipped dessert, because as I have since read pastry chef Jane Tseng's Almond Milk Granita with espresso cream is the stuff of legend. Trust me when I say next time I will make it mine! I'm sure the dinners are equally satisfying, but on a Monday afternoon, the uncrowded dining room and warm service was such a pleasant place to indulge we couldn't have ended up in a better spot.