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Q&A with Shelley Lindgren: Wine Director, Restaurateur & Author

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Shelley Lindgren. Photo credit: Frankie Frankeny
Shelley Lindgren. Photo credit: Frankie Frankeny

Shelley Lindgren is a Bay Area success story: owner of the vastly popular A16 and SPQR restaurants, sommelier, wine director and cookbook author. A second A16 will open in Rockridge this year and Lindgren and owner Victoria Libin had this to share about the upcoming new outpost:

"We are very excited to announce the opening of A16 Rockridge, slated for early 2013 in the former Hudson restaurant space at 5356 College Avenue. We’d also like to officially welcome Rocky Maselli as the new A16 Rockridge Executive Chef... we are looking forward to seeing Rocky’s own interpretations of this cuisine, focusing on his family roots in Puglia, a coastal region of Italy. Guests can expect to see a menu with an emphasis on seafood as well as some southern Italian favorites including burrata, meatballs, and pizza. Shelley Lindgren’s role will include the creation of a Southern Italian-inspired wine program as well as collaboration on the launch of a cocktail program. The new cocktail menu will feature carefully crafted Italian aperitivos, amaros, and digestivos specially brought from Italy, including Rucolino -- a wild arugula amaro from Campania’s Island Ischia. The new space will feature an open kitchen with counter seating, bar seating as well as a private dining area. A16 Rockridge will work with San Francisco’s Cass Calder Smith of CCS Architecture to bring the vision for the location to life."

Lindgren grew up in the North Bay and champions interesting and lesser known “soulful” Southern Italian wines. She has worked as a wine educator and restaurant consultant and is married to Greg Lindgren, who is the co-owner of Rye, Rosewood, 15 Romolo, and Rye On the Road cocktail catering service in San Francisco.

SPQR book coverLindgren’s list of accomplishments is deep: a 2009 Gourmet magazine Educator Sommelier Award and the Golden Goblet by Women Chefs & Restaurateurs in the same year. She was voted the Best Wine Director by San Francisco Magazine, Best New Sommelier from Wine & Spirits, and made the cut for the Top Ten Sommeliers by Bloomberg Markets. Her first cookbook, A16 Food + Wine (Ten Speed Press, 2008) earned two IACP Cookbook Awards: Cookbook of the Year and The Julia Child Award. In 2010, Lindgren was awarded StarChefs.com's San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Restaurateur award. Bay Area Bites asked Lindgren about her her working life, accomplishments, latest SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine cookbook, and got the dish on her favorite wines and places to eat.

Bay Area Bites: How did the SPQR book project come about?

Lindgren: After collaborating on the A16 Food & Wine book together, Kate Leahy and I had been in touch with Ten Speed Press about tackling a companion project for SPQR. We landed on the conceit of Roman roads as a structural foundation and selected the main arteries of these ancient routes through central and northern Italy and organized the dishes and wines around them. In Italy, wine and food fits hand to glove and Chef Matthew Accarrino brought incredible knowledge on Italy, cooking, family heritage and a willingness to jump into research trips from the start. Soon we had a terrific way to tell the wonderful stories behind the food and wine of these regions. We just all wanted to do our best to not only translate our experience but also do justice to their greatness.


Bay Area Bites: Do you have any good stories from the book tour?

Lindgren: When Matthew and I have been together at book signings, often he’ll tell a story about a winery or winemaker we visited or I’ll remind him about a time we ate a particular dish or visited an artisan maker for prosciutto, cheese, vinegar, etc. Even though we had our own role in the book, they work complementary, very much how SPQR functions. It’s exciting to find wines that pair with his food and, between the book project and visiting winemakers, our entire team at SPQR has a plethora of stories and recommendations every night. We all have fun geeking out. And actually, just being there and spending so much time with the artisans was a remarkable experience for all of us. When you think about the traditions and the spirit of the people, not to mention the spectacular settings, the whole thing was magical. And the graciousness of our hosts all over the country, letting us into their homes and businesses to see their everyday lives and how they value and use these cherished traditions -- well, I’ll remember it forever. It also inspires me to come back and continue to raise our standards of hospitality.

Bay Area Bites: What are some of your favorite wines from the book?

Lindgren: I love to champion the lesser-known grapes because Italy is ripe with more than one can imagine. I love to hear things like a classic pairing for a particular Lambrusco is pumpkin, or to see wineries aging white wines for decades that still taste fresh. The focus on quality over quantity of Italian winemaking has elevated Italian wine so much in recent years and there is amazing pride in maintaining local tradition, which I admire. Italians don't need much to live a very rich lifestyle. Drinking wine and having complementary meals is really a backbone of Italian living.

Bay Area Bites: What are you most passionate about for wine and food these days?

Lindgren: These days a lot of natural wines are increasingly blowing my mind. There’s Cantine Giardino, 'Paski,' Coda di Volpe that goes with a range of sweet and salty salads like chicory lettuce, roasted pear butter, almond, goat cheddar and pink pepper vinaigrette, or puntarelle lettuce, marinated anchovy, radish, egg and fried pork skin. It’s also great with many of Matthew's pastas. One of the more classic pairings is an orange wine like the Rusticum with Matthew's signature smoked fettuccine, sea urchin, smoked bacon, and soft quail egg. Grapes like pelaverga, tezzelenghe, gewürztraminer, cesanese, and pigato are usually the kind of wines we'll pair with dishes by the glass at SPQR. It's a whole lot of fun.

Bay Area Bites: Who are your culinary and restaurant mentors?

Lindgren: Having spent the last 25 years in the Bay Area working in restaurants, I feel lucky to be inspired by so many people. Hubert Keller and the late Maurice Rouas took me under their wings at Fleur De Lys for most of the nineties. During that time, I honed my sommelier skills and realized I would be a restaurant professional as a career (I was about 25 when this decision was cemented). Then, Debbie Zachareas let me be a sommelier at Bacar and I learned a lot about managing as well, which proved invaluable as I kept studying wine, especially with my love of Italian wine. I was a real blank slate when starting to taste the wines of southern Italy and, fortunately, our timing with the opening A16 in 2004 was perfect when more and more gems from the Mezzogiorno were becoming available and in better quality. The south of Italy is paradise. Well actually, Italy is paradise.

Bay Area Bites: What are the best things about being a sommelier and restaurateur?

Lindgren: First of all, I love service. I love making people happy. But beyond that, I always envisioned a place where wine and food were in ideal balance with each other. Coming from fine dining, I really wanted to have elements of fine dining like the correct wine glass, the optimal temperature of wine, and friendly service that was professional yet fun, and I think we’ve achieved that. Whenever I walk into A16 or SPQR, I am excited to get to work and love seeing great teamwork and everyone’s true enthusiasm for food and wine. We are so lucky to work in the restaurant business in the Bay Area. There is always a process of evolution and adjustments to be made, which keeps us on our toes.

Bay Area Bites: And the worst?

Lindgren: Tough question because there’s plenty of ‘grosser than gross’ things to deal with whether it’s the plumbing needing to be fixed, etc... but, that’s part of the package deal. Restaurant work is not for the faint of heart. There is no resting on laurels. Every day we hit the restart button, and you need to work harder than the day before. Every person has their strength and weaknesses. When we first opened, I was definitely wearing too many hats and that was not sustainable. We learn as we grow and keep our chins up, even when there are difficult decisions to make sometimes.

Bay Area Bites: You are relatively young yet appear to be a success. What are the lessons you’ve learned on the way?

Lindgren: You grow a really thick skin in the restaurant business and learn how to prioritize and let a lot of things roll off your back. I have learned that if you work hard, love what you do, and keep forging ahead, you’ll succeed. Pretty soon it will be nine years since opening A16's doors. That seems impossible.

It's also important to understand that restaurants are a business and that there have to be checks and balances for the control of costs. Having a business partner like Victoria Libin and an amazing management team has been key. We’re able to focus on what we individually do best. One person cannot run a restaurant alone.

Bay Area Bites: Do you have any favorite Bay Area food/drink spots and if so what do you like to order when you go there?

Lindgren: I recently had a great meal at Kiss sushi. The junmai sake I had with the sashimi plate was heaven. Recently I had a great Campari drink at AQ. I always have fun going to the classics, like Zuni for chicken and oysters, Slanted Door for crab with cellophane noodles, and a good Veltliner from Prager or Jamek. I spend less time in bars now that I'm a mom but, being married to Greg, who is a partner in Rye, Rosewood, and 15 Romolo, I’m in on all the great innovations on that side of the business. I get to sneak into Nopa or Foreign Cinema, among others, every once in a while to say hello to friends and unwind with a glass of something.

Bay Area Bites: What are your wine recommendations for Valentine’s Day?

Lindgren: I like to think pink with bubbles offering a couple sparkling rose's by the glass. Being still chilly this time of year, decadent, velvety reds like Mourvèdre from producers like Pignol from the Bandol area of Southern France, classic chocolate-covered cherry flavored often found in Sicily's great Nero D'Avola grape such as Feudo Montoni's Vrucara express a wonderful depth of fruit and less astringent tannins from the sun's natural ripeness and withstanding the heat of the Mediterranean summers.

Related Information:

Twitter: @shelleylindgren, @mattaccarrino

Address: Map
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
Phone: (415) 771-2216
Twitter: @A16SF
Facebook: A16

Address: Map
1911 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 771-7779
Twitter: @SPQRfillmore
Facebook: SPQR

Recipe: Spaghetti with Shrimp and Tomato Passatina
From SPQR by Shelley Lindgren, Matthew Accarrino, and Kate Leahy (Ten Speed Press, October 2012)

Spaghetti with Shrimp and Tomato Passatina

serves 4 to 6

extra virgin olive oil
150 grams • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
12 grams • 3 garlic cloves, minced
150 grams • 1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
454 grams • 1 pound shell-on raw baby shrimp
kosher salt and black pepper
a pinch of dried red pepper flakes
115 grams • 1/2 cup white wine
240 grams • 11/2 cups canned tomatoes
50 grams • 4 breadsticks, like grissini, broken up
2 grams • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
340 grams • 12 ounces fresh spaghetti or dried

Heat a thin film of olive oil in a large, wide pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion and sweat until softened, 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sweat 1 to 2 minutes more until aromatic. Add the carrot and sweat until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn up the heat to medium-high, stir in the shrimp, and season with salt, pepper, and pepper flakes. Pour in the wine and bring to a simmer. Stir in the tomato and return to a simmer. Pour in 1 cup of water, lower the heat, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the shrimp are soft enough to break up with a wooden spoon if pressed. Stir the broken grissini pieces into the pot, remove from the heat, and stir in the parsley.

Place a food mill fitted with a coarse plate over a clean pot. In batches, pass the shrimp and broth through the food mill. You will have a coarse paste. (If it’s too dry to go through the food mill, stir in more water). Taste the shrimp paste and season with salt and pepper.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti for 4 minutes if using fresh, and as directed on the package if using dry. Drain the spaghetti, reserving a cup of pasta water, and return the spaghetti to the pasta pot.

Stir spoonfuls of the shrimp paste into the spaghetti until evenly coated, adding a few spoonfuls of water if the pasta looks dry, and simmer for one more minute before serving.


Spaghetti with Shrimp and Tomato Passatina

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