Step inside Spruce in San Francisco to be cocooned in plushness.
Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the otherwise dimly-lit, 70-seat restaurant create an intimate ambiance of drama and mystery. So much so that the chocolate mohair walls look almost black in the evening, all the better to showcase the eye-catching, over-sized charcoal sketches of whimsical figures, including a torso draped in an Adidas sweatshirt and the the backside of a bald man clad in a natty suit.
The six-year-old restaurant, with its hammerhead banquettes and faux ostrich chairs, is all about glam. Indeed, it makes you want to have an excuse to, err, spruce up just to go there.
Recently, I was invited to be a guest at the restaurant, part of the Bacchus Management Group of restaurants that also includes the Village Pub in Woodside, Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto, Cafe des Amis in San Francisco, and Pizza Antica locations throughout the Bay Area.
Chef de Cuisine John Madriaga has a deft touch with local ingredients, especially vegetables, not surprisingly since he cooked at Manresa in Los Gatos and apprenticed at Copenhagen’s famed Noma. He also has access to SMIP Ranch, the Santa Cruz Mountains farm that supplies produce to all the Bacchus restaurants.
Warm slices of cranberry bread arrive at the table with butter. But not just any butter, but whipped honey-pepper butter that’s pretty hard not to slather on generously.
Next, an amuse of tiny, airy gougeres flavored with nutty tasting Gruyere.
I opted for the special appetizer ($14) that evening of hedgehog mushrooms, Tokyo turnips and kohlrabi puree — all topped with a runny farm egg. Puncture the yolk and let it run out into the savory but delicate broth. Baby mustard greens add a sharp bite. The tiny turnips are wonderfully sweet. What I really appreciated were the greens still attached to them, which had been crisped up for added contrast.
My husband’s veal sweetbreads ($21) also got topped with a runny egg. The crisp sweetbreads were arrayed over greens strewn with bacon bits for a rich and substantial first course.
The chef sent out beautiful seared scallops ($19) dotted with aged balsamic, smoky black garlic puree, creamy butternut squash puree and caramelized cipollini onions. The accompaniments played up the natural sweetness of the large scallop.
My husband chose grilled Bavette steak ($30), one of the most popular mains on the menu. The lean steak, cooked to a nice medium-rare, boasted a big beefy flavor. Spuds cooked decadently in duck fat completed this luxe version of meat and potatoes.
A thick filet of sturgeon ($36) was roasted, then lavishly napped in a rich, creamy black truffle sauce. With a fish this dense and meaty, you need a sauce that can stand up to it. This one did and then some. I only wish I could drizzle black truffle sauce on more things in my life because it would surely make just about anything better.
Parsnips seem to be the new darling ingredient of pastry chefs come winter. It’s not hard to see why, though, with the root vegetable’s inherent sweet, vanilla notes so attractive in desserts.
Here, it starred in pieces of fluffy, torn cake arranged artfully in a row on a plate with a quenelle of coffee ice cream, Hosui pear gelee and shards of fresh pear ($10). I loved the nutty flavor of the cake, which was amplified by the roasty note of the ice cream.
But we weren’t done just yet.
The final treat? Teeny, one-bite, perfectly torched s’more cubes.
Because Spruce may be luxe in looks, but it never loses its sense of playfulness.