Occupation: Growth and Innovation Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Spork
Reviewed Spork: Friday, July 22, 2011
This is one of my favorite restaurants in the City. There’s something unique -- even cool -- about the space. It’s the former home of the Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Mission. Rather than gut the space, the owners decided to make it part of their story. If you look closely, you’ll notice that they used some of the pre-existing fixtures and design elements and blended it with modern influences to give the space a retro 1950s feel. And, of course, their name is inspired by the utensil that KFC popularized -- the spork.
The Spork story is really about juxtaposition -- playing off the history of a restaurant that was known for buckets and buckets and buckets of mass-produced fried chicken parts and using the ghost of that space to create a comfy restaurant serving modern, upscale comfort food with well balanced, delicious flavors and fresh local ingredients.
Shortly after being seated on the evening of our visit, our amazing server, Hillary brought over Spork’s always-gratis, now-famous, and super yummy pull-apart rolls. Always served as a conjoined trio of baked goodness, once pulled apart (as directed) they’re crispy on the top, dusted with salt crystals, soft on the inside and served with a side of whipped honey butter. Suggestion: inhale quickly.
That evening, we were celebrating a birthday and were a group of six, including both Spork veterans and some newbies. The size of our party meant that we had the chance to try a lot dishes on the menu. Yay! Our starters were all delicious, but I especially enjoyed the Cauliflower and Calamari Unite! The surprising duo is mixed with a bit of mint and lemon aioli -- an amazing combo of tastes and textures. The ahi poke served on top of crispy rice paper and topped with sesame oil and habanero vinaigrette is also wonderful.
When spying the menu for main entrees, you run across the In-Side-Out Burger, and that’s when you first get the sense that things are slightly askew at Spork -- but in a good way. This is Spork’s signature dish, and when I sampled it, I remembered why! It’s all the right ingredients working together -- two amazing beef patties surrounding a single hamburger bun, cheddar, lettuce, caramelized onions, and tomato. The house sauce puts it over the top. This is not a pick-up-with-your-hands burger, but after eating it, you won’t care.
I decided to go with the Steak Stroganoff. I love this dish, and it epitomizes what I love about Spork. When I go out to restaurants, I’m obsessed with discovering the perfect bite -- the marriage of ingredients, flavors and textures. That perfect bite of Spork’s Stroganoff, assembled carefully on your fork, includes Kobe bavette steak, gnocchi, wild mushrooms, aged balsamic and, what I think really makes the dish kick, the horseradish cream.
During our meal, we enjoyed a bottle of Zinfandel from Unti Vineyards. In addition to a great selection of local wines, they also have an extensive and amazing selection of bottled beer. Chocolate lovers should try their absolutely legal, but sinful Pot Brownie. Elvis Has Left the Building -- a warm peanut butter cup with bananas and vanilla gelato -- is newer, but quickly becoming popular.
In addition to the great food and generous portions, the staff, including at least a few Mission hipsters, is genuinely friendly and makes you feel welcome. I especially love that the Spork team is an ultra conscious bunch: they use local and seasonal ingredients, natural meats, and wild caught seafood whenever possible; they feature other neighborhood businesses like Four Barrel Coffee and Humphrey Slocombe ice cream; and they compost and recycle whatever they can -- even their cooking oil! All the elements come together at Spork, creating a stellar, way-above-the-pack, neighborhood restaurant, that is fun, hip and tasty!
Occupation: Tech Trainer & Support Specialist
Favorite Restaurant: The Peasant & The Pear
Reviewed Spork: Saturday, July 23, 2011
My friend, Michael, and I ate at Spork a few years ago, and we were anxious to revisit the restaurant and the surrounding area. Their website is easy to navigate and includes “The Story of Spork,” which tells its interesting story. I appreciate the restaurant’s concern for the environment (they only use peanut oil, which is recycled into biodiesel), as well as their neighborhood (they suggest a nearby -- and very affordable, by San Francisco standards -- parking lot in consideration of their neighbors). I made reservations easily for the time that we wished through OpenTable.
On our drive into San Francisco, we got stuck in traffic (our fault -- we really should have checked to see if the Giants were in town). We called to say that we would be about a half-hour late, and the hostess was very accommodating. When we arrived, she remembered us and was extremely cordial, seating us immediately. I was impressed with this, as we were late for our reservation and they appeared to be very busy. The atmosphere of the place was very hip and “energetic” (a term that OpenTable uses to rate the noise level).
Our server was personable and knowledgeable, and she, the hostess, and bus person were very attentive, making sure that our water glasses were always full (a dining pet-peeve of mine).
The restaurant offers a nice selection of beers -- so much so that we didn’t even look at the wine list!
The goat cheese croquette was coated in a panko crust and lightly fried, giving it a creamy, gooey consistency, and the salad with arugula, roasted peaches, and almonds offered a great contrast of tartness and crunch. The seared scallops were buttery, creamy and, although a little gritty, seared beautifully. When I ordered them, I asked the server what “togarashi” was, and she described this Asian spice perfectly (I’m a big fan of spicy!). The accompanying coconut rice was lovely, and the baby bok choy was nice and crunchy. I felt that all the portions were well-sized.
I don’t normally order dessert after a good meal, as they often disappoint. Not so at Spork: the desserts were to die for! The Pot Brownie was rich, yet not overly sweet. I loved the contrasting salty-and-sweet flavors of the Elvis Has Left The Building, and the house-made sauces were out of this world, especially the caramel sauce, which was a very welcomed surprise that I found hidden underneath the whole dessert. We had originally also ordered the After-School Special; however, our server mentioned that the three desserts may have been too much and, since it was very similar to the Elvis, suggested that we go with just the two. We very much appreciated this and, after enjoying the brownie and the Elvis, were glad that we had taken her suggestion.
Since the restaurant was quite busy, it appeared that the kitchen got a little backed-up, as we waited about a half hour after we were done with the appetizer for our entrees. When they did arrive, two were served together, and we had to wait for the third. As we left, I noticed that Spork is right next to The Marsh, which may have accounted for how busy they were, as well as for the fact that it seemed to empty out around show time. If I were to return, I would try to time my visit accordingly. We walked along Valencia Street after dinner, and noticed what a terrific job has been done in revitalizing this neighborhood.
Occupation: Sales Monkey
Favorite Restaurant: Ristorante Ideale
Reviewed Spork: Sunday, July 10, 2011
We made a reservation at Spork for 7:45 on Sunday evening. Amazingly, BART wasn’t checking our visas to enter the City; we got out of the 'burbs and into the Mission early. We weren’t sure what to do since we were there so early. We had our 16-year-old niece along with us, so bar hopping was out. (Wife says it’s bad form to make the kid stand by the light post while Uncle David and friends get all Hemingway’d before dinner.) Anyway…
We strolled from the BART station to Spork, apologized for being early, were warmly greeted, and seated immediately. Loved the atmosphere! Very cheeky, and well done. Only thing I regretted was not bringing my “Stingy Brim” along and adding a little ink for the night out. Definitely a hipster crowd, and nothing says hipster like this 56-year-old cat from Moraga! "Crowd" is the right word, too, because just as we got sat, Spork must have lit the “Free Food” light in the window. The place went from empty to slammed faster than Evelyn Wood could get thru the first chapter of a poorly written graphic novel. Once the joint got filled, it was loud, but the loudness seemed to fit in with the whole scene.
As busy as it was that night it leads me to the best part of the evening, (and there was a lot to like): Erin the Waitress. Without a doubt, Erin was one of the finest servers I’ve encountered in a long time. (And by long time, I mean longer than the average age of everyone in the restaurant other than those at our table.) Someone called in sick, and Erin got saddled with nine tables within 15 minutes of each other. Not only did she do a great job with us, she never let the other 8 tables down either. Her knowledge of the menu, its ingredients, the wine list, and the specials was much deeper than you’d expect given the casualness of Spork. She did a “proper” wine service with both of our bottles, and got into an esoteric conversation over the merits of Spanish white anchovies. She really was the best. I can’t think of ANY restaurant in the Bay Area that wouldn’t raise their level of service by cloning Erin!
Onto the food. All at our table appreciated that the menu didn’t take itself too seriously. This is a remodeled KFC after all. Thru all that, the twists that Chef puts into the food made everything look intriguing. Being brought some hot-from-the-oven pull-apart rolls with honey butter was a treat this Dough Boy isn’t allowed at home!
All of our appetizers were…well…appetizing! The addition of faro, peanuts, and mandarin oranges to the poke was a nice change from the norm. The goat cheese croquette was great. Sometimes a heavy hand can render the cheese greasy, but not here. The panko was snappy, and the addition of sautéed stone fruit to the balsamic reduction lit up the plate.
My favorite of this course and maybe the night: the crostini. How do the kids put it these days…OMG! Simple and inspired. A small toast of baguette smeared with avocado, a hint of citrus, a white anchovy, and a couple of thin slices of pickled red onion. Very, very tasty, and yes, we’ll be making it at our house on a regular basis.
Everyone enjoyed the entrees and portions were not skimpy. In true Check, Please! fashion, we passed and shared everything with all. There was no consensus as to a favorite, but there was a consensus as to what made everything so enjoyable: a few quality ingredients in each dish with a twist away from the usual.
The fried chicken was called, “fabulous, and even better with the white gravy.” The panko crust lightened up what some places can turn into a hot mess of chicken, flour, and grease. The white gravy was perfect, and the potatoes properly mashed. For the first time in the history of that building, chicken was served in a way to make a chicken proud.
Day Boat scallops were, (thank God), cooked perfectly medium rare, and set up well with the risotto underneath their tasty little bodies. In my mind, not much is better than a fresh scallop. These hit the mark.
Serving a slightly de-constructed beef stroganoff was inspired. The switch from the usual egg noodles to fluffy gnocchi pillows was a great touch. Putting down a big piece of grilled American Kobe as the beef part of the stroganoff was delightful. The reduction that surrounded the parts was big and bold.
The burger was a hit. The dressing on the bun was an homage to the fast food burgers no one my age will admit to liking. Hello, Kwik Way circa 1972! The smashed potato fries were clever, crispy, and tasty.
My griddled pork was a test to the skill of the kitchen. Few things get under my craw faster than a dried out piece of pork. When I ordered it, I made it clear to Erin that anymore finish than medium rare would not make me happy. The kitchen got the memo, and cooked these brined pieces of loin goodness just right. The patty pan squash was fresh, sweet, and tasty, the spinach cooked just right.
Desserts got a split vote. It was 3-2 against for the cinnamon beignets. The Pot Brownie went 4-1 for, but I think that 1 vote against was from my wife who was thinking there would be cannabis in the brownie. She was sorely disappointed. My niece loved the shake, and I loved being able to tell her to “Talk to your father” when she asked me how the restaurant could not know that “MILF Shake” on the menu was a misspelling.
The wine list was short, and well thought out. Prices were reasonable, and the selections were strong on obscure labels. Not many spots have Donkey and Goat on the menu, and we showed our appreciation for their thoughtfulness by drinking two bottles.
Now, after all this happy-happy: the one complaint we all agreed upon: food was slow and not consistently warm coming from the kitchen. I’m guessing that getting slammed on a Sunday is not normally in the plans at Spork, and the kitchen isn’t staffed for getting tossed into the weeds. The food throughout the place seemed to take a long time to get out of the kitchen. Some of our entrees were warm, some were lukewarm, and one was cold. Through all that though, the ingredients of the dishes shone, and there was skill in the kitchen. I don’t think Spork needed more skill to pull off the menu, just another body or two.
Would we go back? Unanimously, yes. The atmosphere and location were a kick. Something missing out our way are restaurants that embrace their sense of place. Spork had a lot of personality, a great view of itself, and, even with the delay getting all the entrees prepared at once, it was a fun evening out.