Spruce


Pic from Spruce--mine sucked.

Excuse me while I finish polishing my shoes, ironing my shirt, and applying my favorite Dior red lipstick (yes, the bastards have discontinued the color already). Newsflash: there is a new restaurant in San Francisco that you'll actually want to spiff up a little for, and there's nary a tasting menu in sight. In the rampant jean-ification of our city (and no, it doesn't matter if they cost you $250), I find it refreshing to have the opportunity to get a little gussied up to go out to dine, and yet it's not for some $$$$$ dégustation dining experience.

People were waiting months, no, years, for ~SPRUCE~ to open up in a former 1930s-auto barn in Presidio Heights. If I were to classify the restaurant as a car now, I'd say it's a Jaguar all the way. Classic and refined, with fab upholstery, some vroom under the hood, a snazzy sound system, and a custom travel bar in the trunk.

The entire project spells ka-ching: there's a cozy library room with a fireplace in the front, a Carrara marble bar inside flanked by a pair of commanding modern paintings, a vaulted industrial ceiling, sexy lighting, lots of saddle leather. Even the limestone at the entrance is reclaimed from a French church. And this is just the first impression--wait until you crack that tome of a wine list open.

You might need to while away a little time at the bar until your table is ready since people tend to want to linger in the dining room (blame it on the charming loveseats). Then again, the bar is a worthy destination in and of itself. While I find the bar chairs a little cumbersome for the oft-crowded space, I sure do like 'em when it's my heinie that's planted in one of them. There are some additional tables tucked in the bar area, total HQ for canoodling and slightly tipsy couples.

The glimmering top shelf, bottom shelf, and everything in between here is a thing of beauty--if you're a fan of spirits, swing on by for an evening of sipping (but don't forget your credit card). Spruce even got to choose their own barrel of aged bourbon ("One Barrel Whiskey") from the Old Rip Van Winkle distillery--try finding that anywhere.

The overall look of the well-appointed dining room is a bit WASP-y for my taste (the designer is Stephen Brady of Williams-Sonoma Home), but it's definitely comfortable, mixing in luxe touches like mohair, fine linens, and nubby faux ostrich-skin leather upholstery on chairs I could sit in for hours. The funky charcoal pictures on the wall add some personality, as does the iPod-fueled music, ranging from David Gray to Stan Getz jazzy numbers to some rockier tracks. My favorite time here is the early evening, when the light is still streaming through the skylight--it's dreamy.

Executive chef Mark Sullivan has made his way north from the much-adored Village Pub in Woodside, another upscale restaurant in the Bacchus Management Group portfolio. Sullivan's menu is definitely seasonally driven, and balances a relaxed Cal-Med sensibility (chicken, shelling beans, gnocchi) with refined Frenchie elements, like gastriques, foie gras, and a bordelaise sauce. High-end meets hearty/rustic by way of refined, I'd say, with nothing too outré. Perhaps the concept is best encapsulated in the duality of the duck fat fries…

Some starters that stood out to me were the refreshing watermelon and arugula salad with cured sardines ($10), which felt like a cousin to the watermelon salad I dug at Fatty Crab in New York, balancing salty with sweet; and the foie gras ($18), smooth and decadent. I tried the spearmint and harvest greens ravioli ($13) twice, and perhaps it's my Italian upbringing that makes me want more of a creamy filling and less greens and pasta from these nouveau-style pillows.

Whenever I see boudin blanc, I order it. (Even if I'm just out for dessert.) A very supple boudin blanc is on the bar menu ($10), but you can also order it in the dining room, and you should. Heck, order it to-go too--it's my favorite thing on the menu. I need to do a taste test between Spruce's and Terzo's to determine which one has my heart--it might be a draw.

Other standouts on the bar menu include an array of house-cured charcuterie, and a perfectly formed burger ($12), with a smooth yet fluffy texture, and cooked to a sublime medium rare. Juicy! Meaty! Meow! Yes, I loved it. Damn that burger.

Just the other night I ordered it to-go over the phone, parked out front, and trotted into the adjacent café to pick it up. I thought I'd only eat half of it when I got it home. Uh, no. Sorry, that did not happen. All my will dissolved by the second bite. And hello remoulade with the meaty fries--I felt like I was in Europe.

Small detail: the kitchen is really into pickling, from the pickled zucchini and onions that come with the burger to the sauerkraut with the boudin blanc. The restaurant gets so much produce from their SMIP Ranch that it forces the kitchen to deal with seasonal overflow cleverly (so if they're sending you home with a clump of radishes, now you know why).

Spruce's take-out café menu is designed for these nights when you want to eat well at home, but aren't quite up for cooking something fab. My interlude with my take-out burger was integral to one of my treasured single girl nights at home, when I pop open a 375ml bottle of something red and call it a petite party. (This particular night my partner in 375ml crime was the ripe and cherry-riffic Dry Creek Vineyard 2004 Heritage Zinfandel--man, I need a case of the stuff.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… I have been poured some fantastic wines on each visit. The number of wines by the glass and half-bottle makes you want to try, try, try, and spend, spend, spend. Old World heaven (release the rieslings!), and some mighty fine West Coast choices too. You won't believe the wine storage area in the back, it's about as sexy as the window of Costume National, Prada, and Agent Provocateur all rolled into one. How much is that bubbly in the window? The one with the waggley tail? Yes, it will make you covet. I'd say someone is gunning for a Michelin star next year.

Ah, yes, to the mains. One friend had the Maine lobster ($36), buttery bites that were cooked perfectly (hallelujah), with tender gnocchi. I enjoyed the albacore ($28) on one visit, but wasn't completely sold on the accompanying chanterelles and corn as the holy trinity for this dish.

The slow-roasted beef short rib ($27) didn't rock me--I appreciate the amount of work that goes into it, but the texture was almost like a glorified pot roast; I did like the pairing of the kicky horseradish soubise, a clever spin on a classic sauce you don't see on many menus. The charred pork tenderloin ($26) with a slab of crispy pork belly is the ultimate way to pork out, served on a homey bed of shelling beans.

There are nine mains in all, a selection that covers the lighter (broiled sea bass and tabbouleh) to the indulgent (duck breast and foie gras). Sullivan's style is more about being satisfying than showy. So while some of the dishes might not make me say, "whoa, hold the phone, like, wow!" many make me say, "mmmm, that's really nice."

Care for some sweets, sweetie? You know I had to have the brandied cherry soda float (all desserts $9), elegantly poured tableside like some other presentations here (you'll also flirt with amuses, and palate-cleansing intermezzos, too). The white chocolate dessert is enough to make me reconsider white chocolate all together, and I now see it as something that can actually have merit--the fluffy marshmallow-sized dollops of white chocolate crème paired with a hazelnut cake and creamy coffee ice cream was irresistible.

Speaking of irresistible, there is some mighty fine-looking staff here (there is actually a flotilla of wait staff), starting with some hotties in the kitchen (be sure to take a look through a window on the way to the ladies room), to the lads behind the bar, and working the floor. Oh, and in the café. And the valets are cute. Talk about cougar heaven.

I liked observing the overall service style, treading the line between professional yet unstuffy. A lot of things here are about that balance of being nice, but not too too here: the food, the style, the vibe… The restaurant whispers, "indulge, but have fun doing it."

The crowd is mostly a mix of the moneyed, from architect types to homo patrol to size-two fillies in shift dresses giggling with their boyfriends in finance, with a smattering of industry folks and the date-less and some characters hanging out at the swank bar.

Spruce is an optimal place for a business lunch during the week, an early dinner with the parents, and of course, date night. Trying to score a reservation in the next month? I'd say let Table Stalker hunt one for you.

I have to hand it to the folks behind this project--to open an establishment of this caliber shows a particular vision, commitment, and a real love of restaurants (and yes, access to some serious funds). I've said before, it's the most important restaurant opening in the City this year, and I look forward to seeing it evolve. Spruce is going to fit into the dining scene here like a favorite cashmere sweater. It's important to have a gracious restaurant where you can also play backgammon. I'm already plotting my next visit to the bar for more bourbon and boudin blanc.

Spruce
3640 Sacramento St.
Cross: Spruce St.
San Francisco, CA 94118

415-931-5100
website

Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm
Nightly 5pm-10pm

Apps $9-$18
Entrées $22-$36
Desserts $9

Related Articles

Stars Sighted

3640 Sacramento St. San Francisco
(at Spruce St.)
415-931-5100
sprucesf.com
$$$$
Mark Sullivan, chef

Cuisine

  • American (Contemporary)
  • American (Traditional)

Features

  • Bar Dining
  • Fireplace
  • Fine Dining
  • Good for Groups
  • Lunch
  • Private Dining Room
  • Wine List
  • Bar