SPQR: How do I love thee? Let me count the Wines.

 When a restaurant names itself after a relatively obscure acronym like SPQR, which stands for Senatus Populesque Romanus (“The People and Senate of Rome”), you know to expect something different.   After checking the place out I can say SPQR is not only unique, it is a beautiful re-interpretation of Italy.  In the same instant both reverential of Italian tradition and creatively Californian.  And a swoon-worthy wine list you must see to believe.

The meal started with a few perfectly fried green beans and a heavenly saffron aioli.  Then came the little chicken liver pate and its delicious fig compote creation.

These are not strictly traditional Italian dishes- they’re much more than that.  SPQR’s menu represents a beautiful interpretation of Italian cuisine, driven by local ingredients and re-worked by the mind of an incredibly talented and creative chef.  Thank you, Matthew Accarino- you are positively inspired!  This is the heart and soul of Italy- the use of what is available, what is good, whatever is fresh- and the simple transformation of ingredients into the palpable feeling of comfort and home.

Check out this citrus- cured Kampachi.  The clear beads were crisp little beads of finger lime, echoed texturally by the congealed grape spheres.  Talk about fresh and vibrant.

This is so wrong it’s right.  Fresh tagliatelle Carbonara with sea urchin.  Why, why did you do it?  I never would have guessed I would enjoy pork fat mingling with my uni.  Now I can’t stop thinking about it!  Perfectly cooked quail eggs- is that a bit of truffled salt on top?  Seriously?

Pretty much one of the best wines ever.

 Obviously the food is amazing.  The wine program however, is positively transcendent.  For an Italian Wine Geek like I am this is the pinnacle of oenological playgrounds.    Grosjean’s Petit Arvine by the glass, right next to my favorite Valtellina producer Mamete Prevostini’s Sasella?  Am I dreaming?

We found a very interesting Langhe Bianco by Ettore Germano on the list- 100% Riesling.  In the land of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, aren’t you curious what kind of potential there might be in those same soils for Riesling?

Ettore Germano (right) and his family on the remarkable soil of their vineyards.

The 100% Riesling Herzu is a game-changing wine- the kind that makes you re-think any pre-conceived notions about Italy.  It’s one of those wines that reminds you- no matter how much you know, you’ll never know everything about Italy wine.  The 2009 was in its infancy when we tried it- showing all kids of bright acidity and sparkly salty minerals.  The nose was a little bit petrol and a lot of apricots and dried flowers.  Remarkably versatile, it paired well with everything we ordered.  As the wine warmed up I began to see a little more of that oily fruit and structure.  I would love to taste this again in about 20 years.

Is there an image that more clearly screams “Piemonte”?

Ettore Germano is the third generation of his family to grow grapes.  His Riesling was an experiment started in 1995, and from what we tasted, it was a stunning success.  I wasn’t surprised to see that this wine is imported by Oliver McCrum– one of my favorite West Coast importers.  Rule of thumb: if a wine has Olver McCrum’s name on the back label- buy it!

The woman responsible for the SPQR wine program is Shelley Lindgren.  Shelley has been pioneering Italian wine programs for years in the Bay Area, beginning with another gem of a restaurant, A16.  Her wine lists are unique because they are truly handcrafted, and curated in every sense of the word.  I have met few people more interested in truly understanding the soul of a wine or the artistry of wine making in Italy.  Her passion for Italian wine is contagious, which is apparent especially in the wine-conscious attitude of the staff.  Everyone who touched our table that night had something to say about the wine we were drinking, or a wine we should consider from the list.  Considering how esoteric the wine list can be, this is pretty impressive.

Here’s the best thing about this restaurant: SPQR is an opportunity to experience a little piece of Italy in Calfornia.  For under $15 you can try a glass of wine from Umbria or Lazio.  For under $20 you can taste a dish inspired by the same regions, expressed through local ingredients. Simple, approachable and just plain delicious.  Italo-philes Unite!

Two (highly satisfied) Italian Wine Geeks.