Spork, San Francisco

Although I had been intrigued to visit Spork for quite some time, it was by accident that I ended up dining there last week. Unable to get to Farina, due to the San Francisco pride parade, we found ourselves trying our luck for a walk-in spot at the trendy Mission district restaurant. Surprisingly, there was one table open– for a good reason, as we’d later find out.

In the small dining room, orange is the signature color. Present from a pervasive neon light to small details like decaf (orange) coffee decanters used to refill glasses of water.

Fiberglass chairs, vinyl booths, pegboard partitions and scattered designer toys evoke the image of a Japanese version of a Jetsons’ diner. On the walls, oversized hands from a 1952 roadside billboard. In stark contrast with the gentrified interior, graffiti tags scribbled on the outside windows serve as reminders that you are in the Mission.

Above the kitchen door, the only thing left from the old tenant that inspired Spork’s story. There it hangs, portraying the proud colonel’s visage, boldly printed in black and white over a bright red background. Next to him, the words behind the acronym: Kentucky Fried Chicken. Like a Pan Am logo, the sign seems to carry a nostalgic coolness that adds to the retro-futuristic atmosphere.

Service is friendly and casual but sometimes dismissive. Dishes are delivered to the table with the same lack of ceremony that they are bused away. The hip wait staff parades around in dark gray uniform accented by a fashion-forward waist apron reminiscent of a manga superhero utility belt. Our table, definitely the worst in the house, was long forgotten behind a thick wall of standing patrons waiting for their call.

The menu

The ever-changing menu offers a selection of revisited American classics prepared with fresh local ingredients. The choices are appetizing. A welcoming mix of comfort food with fine dining inventiveness. But for a place named after the folk/spoon combo introduced by KFC, it’s surprising fried chicken is not an option.

The meal

You’ll find some familiar flavors in the chef’s preparations. Bruce Bin has cooked in many San Francisco restaurants including Delfina, Bix and Slow Club. His dishes highlight natural ingredients and simple yet inventive preparations.

As a starter, it’s hard to resist the smell of warm bread served with whipped butter. Freshly baked, sweet and soft.

Among that night’s appetizers, a couple peaked our interest. First, Hand-stretched mozzarella – organic shaved squash, chopped olives, fava beans, organic olive oil. The dish is well balanced in texture and flavor. The shaved squash brings a nice crispiness that contrasts the fresh semi-soft cheese. Accentuating the flavors, the saltiness of the black olives and a pleasant acidity in the dressing.

Second, Strawberries with goat cheese croquette –organic coastal strawberries marinated in aged sherry, warm goat cheese fritter, wild arugula, toasted almonds. The crispy croquette is filled with luscious creamy goat cheese and served over peak season strawberries that are sweet and fragrant.

It is in the entrées that comfort food comes to life. The two meats I tried were of great quality and served in generous portions. Flavors were subtle though, giving the impression of under seasoning.

One example is the Milk-braised eden farms boneless pork chop, griddled apricot, mashed potatoes, whole grain mustard soubise sauce. The milk braising does wonders to make the meat extremely tender and juicy but doesn’t do much for its taste. This is a very filling dish but it lacks the mouth-watering flavor I was hoping for on such a beautiful cut of pork.

The same is true for The tasty steak, griddled all natural american kobe steak, yukon potato puree, glazed carrots, horseradish cream, aged balsamic. Although the perfectly cooked meat was served on a well-balanced dish, I was expecting less subtle flavors. The horseradish cream was the only thing on the plate I could rely on for a stronger taste.

The dessert menu includes American classics like Root beer float, Strawberry cobbler as well as curiously named items like Pot brownie, and Donut power–light and fluffy beignets with cinnamon sugar. Unlike other beignets in which the dough is airy and moist inside, Spork’s version is hollow. They are indeed light and fluffy although a bit on the dry side. Spruce cleverly serves theirs with crème anglaise and preserves.

In short

Spork’s atmosphere is hip yet understated. An original, modern rendition of the American diner. The fare is a sophisticated version of comfort food classics but is sometimes too subtle in flavor. In all honesty, I wanted to like Spork a lot more than I actually did. Even so, this is a place I recommend trying out and even going back for a second try. I probably will.

Spork is at 1058 Valencia Street
Online reservations

No comments: