A few days ago, Matthew Accarrino moved into an apartment in Pacific Heights, about a half-mile from his new job at SPQR. After two years as chef de cuisine at Craft in Los Angeles, with Craft in New York and Per Se on his resume before that, Accarrino quit in May and enjoyed a long-delayed chunk of leisure time during the spring and summer. But when Nate Appleman Suddenly left his post as head chef of A16 and SPQR in July, Accarrino happened to be visiting San Francisco and put in an application at the behest of a friend. After a trial dinner and a few lengthy conversations, he got the job as executive chef at SPQR. On Sept. 14, the restaurant will go dark for two weeks while Accarrino implements a new menu and the dining room gets a face-lift. The 31-year-old was unpacking boxes when we got him on the phone yesterday to talk about his plans for the restaurant and his path to Northern California.
What new influence will you bring that SPQR diners might find unique?
I think that Nate’s food was very rustic. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He does really rustic, soulful food. My background is very refined, technically precise. Even at Craft, what we’re doing is based on flawless technique… I’m hoping to bring that background together with really great California products and that soulful Italian cooking.
In what new direction will you take the menu?
I’ll broaden that a bit. It will be very seasonally driven and the menu will change often… There will be a snacks section across the top, then we’ll do a more traditional antipasti section with small salads, raw and marinated fish. Then there will be the pasta section. Fresh pasta is one of my true loves so you’ll see a lot of different filled pastas and noodles. Then some fish, and some meat.
What challenges do you expect in your new role?
SPQR is a super-small space. It’s a 50-seat restaurant that’s smaller than anything I’ve done in the last 10 years… That will be the biggest challenge if anything. The menu will need to be concise enough to be prepped properly, but it needs to be big enough so there’s enough variety that people are excited by it.
What brought you to California from New York?
When I worked for [Thomas] Keller and we opened Per Se in New York, all the guys from French Laundry came out to help. All they would ever talk about was, ‘this artichoke is good but you should see the ones we get in California…’ It was like everything was better in California. When I was working for Collichio he offered me the job in Los Angeles and it was like ‘ok, let me go see.’
You met your pastry chef girlfriend Catherine Schimenti at Per Se, and now she’s moving to San Francisco with you. What is she planning to do here?
She’s definitely going to continue being a pastry chef. I may recruit her for a couple of weeks. She’s the most amazing pastry chef I’ve ever worked with, but my opinion might be biased… I think she should open her own bakery, but it’s a matter of getting settled and finding what she wants to do.