from Spruce—mine sucked.
3640 Sacramento St.
Cross: Spruce St.
San Francisco, CA 94118
30, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.