The kitchen also handles a pair of problem children with considerable skill: black kale is sautéed to tenderness but not mushiness with broccolini, golden garlic slivers, and enough red chili flakes to make a real entrance, while Brussels sprouts are split like baby artichoke hearts and flash-fried with garlic, capers, parsley, and plenty of lemon to tame the cabbage beast.
The signature Roman pasta sauce is amatriciana, which is typically a combination of onions, tomatoes, smoked pancetta, and a suggestion of chile heat, and it is usually tossed with fat, hollow string pasta, either bucatini or perciatelli. SPQR's version ($12) uses red instead of yellow or white onion, substitutes guanciale (cured pork cheek) for the pancetta, and leaves you to choose either spaghetti or rigatoni (both housemade) as your pasta. Choose either: you will be happy. The sauce is intense but civilized. If you like your pasta sauces creamy, you're also likely to be happy with the carbonara sauce ($12), made with guanciale, crushed black peppercorns, and pecorino cheese. Like gelato, it draws its richness from egg yolks.
Since Italian food isn't known for its spiciness, I was struck by the heat of the kale and amatriciana dishes. But, duly struck, I was less surprised by the "spicy chocolate" dessert ($7.50), chocolate mousse studded with Calabrian chiles and presented in a hot-chocolate cup under a dapper cap of whipped cream. The chile effect was mild, not much more than a tingle, but it did enhance the chocolate maybe just through simple stimulation.
A similar enhancement: the spooning of sugared bitter-orange zest over a thick slice of ricotta torte ($7.50) with crema fresca. The torte and its cream shawl were rich but a little shy, while the zest on its own would have been too sharp. But together, they are a simple symphony.
The restaurant doesn't take reservations. So: expect big crowds, of friends and countrymen, if not Romans.
Dinner: Sun.Thurs., 5:3010 p.m.; Fri.Sat., 5:3011 p.m.
Lunch: Mon.Fri., 11:30 a.m.2:30 p.m.
Brunch: Sat.Sun., 10:30 a.m.2:30 p.m.
1911 Fillmore, SF
Beer and wine
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