Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Spork: As Useful as the Name Suggests

Spork is a relatively new eatery on Valencia near 21st St. It's been high on my list to try for the whole two months it's been open. Unfortunately, until last night, I've had a severe mental block from actually entering the doors. While Spork seems to have the right combination of interesting, well-priced cuisine, a fun wine list, and a hip, alluring vibe, the problem has been that I wasn't able to get past the memory of a KFC being in the same location a mere six months ago. While KFC might be an erstwhile guilty pleasure (especially the biscuits), I could not imagine that the layers of reconstituted chicken and grease could possibly be gone from the walls. It turns out that I was considerably overdue making my first Spork visit, and KFC remnants are a distant memory.

The interior of Spork is very tastefully conceived and manages to be both modern and comfortable. My wife particularly likes the server uniforms, which I found to be a peculiar-yet-noteworthy observation. The tables and booths are spread out in diner-like fashion, yet I can see that it would still have a very lively buzz on crowded nights.

The menu is that undefinable cuisine that seems to be ever-growing in popularity, with a bit of Italian, some California/New American, and shades of Asian/Japanese. For instance, our starters were a yellowtail sash
imi with a Japanese citrus custard and wasabi vinegar, while the other was a gnocchi gratin with fennel sausage. It was an odd mix that worked well. The flavors aren't the least bit delicate, but in this case it keeps the meal interesting. And at the low price point ($13-$18 for entrees), that's the approach that makes the most sense and they execute it well.

The mix of entrees is also quite interesting. They offer a steak and an "inside-out burger," as well as a pasta dish, "mussels and pork with a spork," and a seabass. Our very nice hipster waiter steered us toward the mussels and the seabass and we weren't disappointed. The sweet corn and shitakes that came with the seabass was a highlight, while we did note that the broth for the mussels could've used more time on the stove.

Overall, my feeling leavin
g Spork is that it covers a niche that has been generally underserved in San Francisco: interesting, tasty entrees in the mid-$10s in an atmosphere that feels new, lively and vibrant. I had a hard time thinking of restaurants that were similar in that basic description, Chow and Street being two, though the comparison with both is very loose. Regardless, KFC is a distant memory.

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