Spruce, San Francisco.

March 2019

A Michelin star is pretty well a guarantee (except in Japan) of a cut above ordinary little bistros, and a price to match. This was our last day in a short stay in San Francisco and it wasn’t easy to find places open on a Monday. This was the one we chose.

It’s up in a residential neighbourhood near the Golden Gate Presidio Park, which most people would be happy to call home. The entrance store front is a recessed and arched faux Spanish ecclesiastic narthex, and walking in with a reservation the welcome is casual almost to the point of nobody-home, but once they started paying attention we were quickly and nicely taken to a side-of-the-room seat in a modern high-ceilinged  room of indifferent style. Our server was an older middle-aged man, Jamaican I think, who gave the relaxed impression that we had arrived but don’t worry this was no particular big deal. We had read about the dishes and it looked like the famous hamburger and the duck confit were people’s favourites. We decided to share a gem lettuce salad with Gorgonzola to start, and I started in on the wine list.

Good Lord, they must have a significant clientele with more money than brains (or so much money that brains don’t matter): the wine list is in the league of three-star cathedrals we’ve been to in Europe, and of famous New York eateries. There are couple of five-figure bottles, dozens over $1000, and hundreds over $100. Way over my head, I had to scour to find anything worthwhile around 100 bucks. US. We settled for a Mercurey or another minor burgundy from Meo-Camuzet, a hotshot producer I have visited, but it turned out they didn’t have that one. The humourless sommelier lady, clearly bored with low-end pikers, offered us something comparable but inferior for the same price. It was ordinary burgundy at US$110.

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The hamburger however was a fabulous treat. It’s done with an English muffin, and the meat is served as ordered, in Robin’s case medium-rare. What a pleasure to have a burger patty crispy on the outside with an almost beef-tartare centre, beautifully tricked out with sauces and veg, with fries and a nice aïoli. My duck confit was full of flavour but a little over-cooked so that the exterior while crisp was a bit too chewy. It was surrounded by lovely nicely-done little vegetables.

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You get the Michelin high-class feel in this place, an older middle-aged ladies’ table down the way with a rich grandmother, some well-heeled-looking couples, and a few business groups with suits and ties. We were nicely treated and certainly felt the whole experience was a cut above ordinary, but the $300 Canadian might not have been quite justified. At this level of price and recognition, we’ve done better in lovely San Francisco before and would look to do so again. We are not at all interested in doing what some of Spruce’s customers must: spending in a restaurant hundreds and hundreds of dollars for high-class burgundy or bordeaux, under any circumstances (unless of course somebody else is paying…). 

Obviously successfully pretending to fancy, but the service, food, and feeling here were only so-so for the price, except for the hamburger.

Food 9.2/8.0, service 8.2 (variable, the sommelier would get a 4 in my opinion), ambience 8.5, peace and quiet 9.2, value 7.4.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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