Saturday, February 13, 2010


I'm thinking about service today - specifically, the kind you get in a restaurant. My sister, Melissa, and I went to SPQR in San Francisco. The food was exceptional. I had my first taste of sunchoke and was dazzled. I also ate 2/3 of a serrano, as part of our fritto misto, and was singed.
The service was awesome. And I mean that in the true sense of the word, not in the California slang sense. When I started doing Yelp! reviews I focused on the food, but am coming around to believe in my core that the service and atmosphere are also vital pieces of the whole. I know, duh. If the food borders on the divine, but the staff is clearly from Hades, I am not going back. I recall the Green Cat, now gone, in Capitol Hill, Seattle. I loved their food, but was greeted by such hostility that I refused to go back AND I told everyone else not to go.

So, SPQR. My sister and I sat at the bar. Normally, I don't like to do this because my legs feel funny when they have to dangle on bar seats. I also dislike sitting so close to others, and what do I do with my jacket? In this particular case, I was only next to Mel because we were at the very end of the bar. This meant my knees bumped the water station and I had to maneuver my drink around the bartender's pile of napkins. I was okay with that because I had a hook for my jacket! What I was NOT okay with was the gal behind me who was having a drink while waiting for a table. She sneezed in my general direction, several times, and the direction of the water pitchers, THEN put her glass in front of me and asked the bartender to watch it for her. I gave my very best over the shoulder sneer, then made a motion with my elbow to knock her glass over. My sister admonished me. The bartender smiled and revealed that she was thinking, "I doubt they want your drink in front of their faces." More points for the bartender.

I also don't like sitting at bars because the bartender usually has divided attention: she has to pour for the restaurant and play server to all these stools. But the SPQR bartender gets kudos because she pulled it off adroitly. Mel and I sat; down came the cocktail napkins and the menus, and out came the greeting. Melissa and I pored over our choices, reading descriptions to one another. Then Mel drops the bomb: "What do you like?" to the bartender. Now, I was a server in a former life and I was bad at it. I, at best, was indifferent toward my customers; at worst, I had outright contempt for them. I hated the above question because I felt that it wasted my time. Now, however, I expect a server to be able to answer it with aplomb, and most definitely not with something contrite like, "Oh! Everything!" This bartender pointed to four dishes and explained exactly what she liked about them, using a different adjective or analogy for each. Melissa then asked after one specific dish and got more adjectives. Same thing when we wanted to order a glass of wine: "Are you thinking red? Do you like light or full-bodied?" Then she described her favorites, likened one to "a pinot, but with more depth." I was impressed. Mel and I ordered two different glasses and oohed and mmmed our way through each. I think I can honestly say that was the best glass of red I have ever had. And, no, tragically, I don't remember the name.

Mel and I shared the aforementioned fritto misto, rationing our wine. Our primi arrived: hers - sweet potato ravioli; mine - sunchoke tortellini. Hers was delicious. She not only liked it, but also finished it! I think sweet potato (and the ever-popular butterut squash) in pasta can be too sweet, but this dish was nicely balanced with the butter sauce and cheese. My dish was sublime. There were Brussels sprout leaves - 5 of them - and a few toasted hazelnuts which, although pretty, were also intentional ans complemented the pasta. And sunchoke! Sunchoke is like an artichoke and ricotta had a baby together. Brown butter is all you need.

But back to the service. The bartender worked her bar expertly, she checked in with us, she cleared plates at appropriate times, set out new silverware after the appetizers, constantly refreshed waters. She was on fire. I looked around the room and noticed that one guy's job was to look at all the plates, add garnish here and there, wipe clean, and then send out. What? He never moved from a 1x1 square of space. The expediters and servers came to his station to take the plates to the tables. I also noticed not one, but three gals in the kitchen! I am tired of seeing nothing but men on the line and it was nice to see my gender representing! Also, the hostess was lovely when she sat us AND followed us out to say goodnight - something all nice restaurants should definitely do.

The complete package, this place.


  1. Poor service can really ruin a good meal. Glad to hear you had a great meal and a great time.

  2. It really can, can't it. Thanks for the comment.