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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SPQR Reopens Tomorrow. Read What New Chef Matt Accarrino Has to Say About Cooking in San Francisco

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 3:31 PM

Accarrino: Likes to forage.
  • Accarrino: Likes to forage.
We got to talk with SPQR's new chef Matthew Accarrino on the eve of the much-anticipated reopening of the restaurant, after a two-week closure during which the owners redid the kitchen, remodeled the front of the 50-seat house, and instituted a new policy -- SPQR is now taking reservations!

Accarrino has somehow managed to cram an amazing amount of work into 32 years: cooking in New Jersey, Chicago, and New Orleans before graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America and earning a BA in Hospitality Management from Fairleigh Dickinson University; a stint at Michelin-rated Antonello Colonna restaurant in Italy; and working in such famed New York restaurants as Metrazur, Olives, Oceana, RM, and as opening sous chef at Thomas Keller's Per Se, before joining Tom Colicchio and wending his way through Colicchio's Craftbar, Craftsteak, and Craft, ending up as chef de cuisine at Craft Los Angeles, which brought him to the West Coast.

"That was sort of a twist of fate that helped bring me to Northern California," Accarino told SFoodie, "I was using so many great products. I found a lot of them came from up here, and I came up to visit farms, and go to the great showroom at Le Sanctuaire, and on vacation."

He left Craft with no particular idea of what was next. "I happened to be up in San Francisco the same weekend Nate left, and a friend suggested I get in touch with Shelley [Lindgren, co-owner of A16 and SPQR]. It was serendipitous -- I met her that weekend, and that first time I think we talked for four hours. She's a great person with a great knowledge of wine, service, and hospitality. And they've been wonderful with the re-model -- it's the smallest kitchen I've maybe ever worked in, that's the challenge, trying to make everything fit."

Accarino cooked a seven-course test dinner for Shelley and her crew, and several of the dishes -- a ricotta ravioli topped with lamb's quarters, quail stuffed with pecorino and dates, and veal sweetbreads served atop a wild fennel soffrito -- have found their way onto the new menu, which also features a wide array of spuntini (or snacks), antipasti, and a new list of pasta fatta in casa (house made). He cites his take on gnocchi as one of his signature pastas: "I really like the traditional gnocchi, semolina polenta with pecorino, that they punch out. I do it my own way, I make a semolina dough I can poach in water, that I serve with a quick tomato sauce." Accarino enjoys sourcing the ingredients himself, dealing with small farmers.

And he's always loved to forage. "I love finding miner's lettuce, chickweed, wild fennel, bronze fennel -- I think all that stuff is amazing, most of it isn't cultivated. I had a forager at Craft in L.A. -- we're great friends now -- she shared secrets, like, 'This is the place for watercress.' With wild fennel, I'll cut the entire stalk. I use the stem to skewer the sweetbreads, the flowers and the buds to make the sofrito for the dish, and I use the pollen with honey I use for the sheep's ricotta fritters! I love the mustard flowers you see everywhere here -- they have such short shelf life. I've used them as garnishes for pasta, and they go on salads, with their mild mustard flavor. It's being aware of what's around you, and being around people passionate about the food they grow, and the food they eat. That's why I moved to Northern California."

And to Pacific Heights, only half-a-mile from SPQR. "I learned when I worked with Thomas Keller that living close to your job is important when it means as much to you as it does to me. I like to be here, I love to be in the restaurant. I care about feeding people and getting it right."

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Meredith Brody


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