Spork

Behold, a shiny spork
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Guardian photo by Rory McNamara

paulr@sfbg.com

Spork's sporks are surprisingly elegant utensils, considering that the word itself is lovably ugly, like a dog with a crumpled face, hopelessly short legs, and/or absurdly wrinkly skin — and considering that the thing itself, a spoon with a clipped mustache of fork tines, is no lovelier. The spork might be the apotheosis of Southern-fried American cheesiness; it's easy to picture one replacing the pitchfork in a redraw of Grant Wood's American Gothic, with Homer Simpson as the farmer. But if your spork is made of handsome stainless steel and has a nice weighty feel in your hand, you have probably drifted into Spork, a Mission restaurant that opened about a year ago in a tired Kentucky Fried Chicken space on Valencia, and you are almost certainly not Homer Simpson, though you might be ravenous.

The KFC was incongruous to the point of camp, and I never saw anybody in it despite my frequent visits to Valencia Cyclery across the street to have broken spokes replaced. Like the Days Inn near the symphony hall, it was a remnant of an earlier time and — in the case of KFC, a greasier one. The Sporkers (led by chef-owner Bruce Binn, whose distinguished vita includes stints at Delfina, Postrio, and Bix) are well aware of the past and, in a series of clever moves, have simultaneously embraced and distanced themselves from it. The interior decor of the restaurant incorporates bits of the previous occupant's design; the stump of an old venting hood has been turned into a handsome light fixture, while refrigerator cooling fans have been repositioned in a transom above an interior door. There are also plenty of booths along the window with a familiar fast-food angularity, but the color scheme — gray paint and blond wood — isn't one you'd be likely to find in any fast-food restaurant in the country.

Since the restaurant's mantra is "slow food in a fast food shell," we were not surprised to learn that the kitchen places a heavy emphasis on sustainability and locavorousness. All the seafood is wild and taken from well-managed fisheries; more than two-thirds of the restaurant's waste is recycled or composted; and used cooking oil gets turned into biodiesel. Like a child determined not to repeat a parent's mistakes, Spork corrects for the culinary sins of KFC about as much as it possibly can.

Yet Binn's food isn't at all precious or fussy. It's hearty and vivid — a glimpse of what all-American food might look like in a better world, or at least a better America. There's even a dish that comes with a spork: mussels and pork ($18), basically a plate of mussels steamed in an unnamed (but dark?) Belgian beer and plated with a slab of slow-roasted pork loin, some whole-wheat toasts dabbed with chipotle aïoli, and a substratum of asparagus. The spork in question is rather handsome; it's a stainless-steel spoon with the fork tines subtly shaved into the far end of the bowl, like a grille, and more decorative than useful.

For deals on a menu, it's hard to beat an item that costs $0. That's the charge — right there, in print! — for Spork's dinner roll, a tripartite, wonderfully soft bun sprinkled with crunchy sea salt and presented with a pat of whipped honey butter. They'll bring you more than one, too (as many as you want, probably), but one is plenty for two people and more than satisfies the daily white-flour quota. Softness does have its price.

Given the fresh tartness of strawberries, it's long surprised me that they aren't used more as tomato substitutes, particularly in the spring, when such tomatoes as we find around here are coming from distant locales we don't even want to know about.

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