I have to say, I was shocked and amazed to hear that Chez Spencer was celebrating its 5th anniversary this year. This unlikely and upscale French restaurant is located on 14th St. near the Best Buy, tucked away from the street by a garden, then a dining patio, and finally in a fairly industrial building that appears to have been a warehouse.
The amazement I had about it being around for five years came from a few things. First of all, it's an excellent restaurant all around and I only heard about it for the first time about a year and a half ago. I prefer to blame that on their inept PR rather than admit that I just wasn't paying attention. More importantly, the interior is quite hip and I don't believe it's the least bit outdated. If you were putting together a fine French restaurant in a converted warehouse this year, it might look a lot like Chez Spencer. And lastly, both their food and their service still have that extra effort and edge you typically see at a restaurant that's aggressively trying to make a positive name for itself on the SF scene.
Let's be clear though, that while the food is very good, it's not cheap. They offer a six-course tasting menu for $80 that looks like way too much food to me. We opted for the a la carte menu which is designed to be three courses with entrees in the high $20s and low $30s. Our dining highlights included a smoked duck breast for a second course and the venison entree. The venison was a "Pan Seared Venison Tenderloin" with juniper berry-peppercorn jus. The meat was sliced very thin and appeared to be nearly carpaccio-like in its rareness, but when tasted it was clearly cooked through and not at all gamey. One theory we discussed is that it may be cured for days with a salt rub. Whatever the process, the result was amazing and some of the best meat I've ever had.
Also of note are the martinis. They have a nice specialty cocktail list, of which one option is their special martini. It's served in a tumbler that is mostly filled by one, single giant round ice cube. The ice is so big that it barely melts yet keeps your martini very cold. It's a very nice touch and something very unique. Beyond cocktails, the wine list is very French and has good options, though I'm a bit sick of restaurants pulling the old $30-corkage-fee move. However our group brought one bottle and purchased another nice one and they waived the corkage, so at least they're not unreasonable.
All in all, Chez Spencer gets a big thumbs up from me. It's a great place for a date, to meet friends, or even do a civilized family dinner. I'll be back.