Spruce is great club dining in Pacific Heights

When three Pacific Heights pals started asking me if I’d been to Spruce — two days after it opened — I knew something big was happening.

Anticipated for three years, Spruce finally started pouring Champagne and slicing foie gras two months ago in a haute Pacific Heights location — a cavernous yellow brick building that once had been a garage. Now a tony clubhouse done in rich browns and blacks, outfitted with thick white linens, Christofle silverware and towering walls of wine, the transformation is astonishing.

When I met my group one Thursday night, they were scrunched on a sofa at one end of a packed bar. Not one more body could fit into the “library,” a cool little living room furnished with black leather couches that opens onto the sidewalk. A dressy group was streaming into a private room at the back, for a hospital charity event. Every table in both the open dining area and the bar, separated by a noise-dampening paned glass wall, was full.

Stars, Jeremiah Tower’s once roaring clubhouse near the Civic Center, flashed to mind. Spruce has a similar vibe. It projects an aura of luxury and full service, yet still offers a hamburger and exemplary french fries — especially for those who want to pair it with a $300 cabernet.

Chef/partner Mark Sullivan keeps things relatively simple with a short menu inspired by local produce, much of which comes from the restaurant group’s own Peninsula farm. That night, yellow and orange heirloom tomatoes at the height of ripeness went into in a bright, perfectly balanced gazpacho ($9).

Shaved ribbons of raw zucchini worked surprisingly well in a parmesan-dusted salad accompanied by a ricotta-stuffed deep-fried squash blossom ($10). A thick slice of foie gras terrine ($18) was sweet, velvety and profound.

Foie gras also added an exciting layer of richness to a tender lacquered duck leg ($32) with a crackling crisp skin. Juicy grilled pork tenderloin ($25) showed off its natural pedigree in its vivid flavor set off by fresh succotash. Albacore ($28), nicely cooked rare, came with disappointingly overvinegared creamed corn with chanterelles.

After the meal, we could only nibble at a few shared desserts until warm house-baked palmiers ($9) hit the table. The hot, buttery, crunchy, palm-shaped puff pastry cookies glazed with burnt sugar instantly disappeared.

The wine tab easily mounts. Without a $24 flute of Henriot Champagne, a $54 bottle of Gruner Veltliner and an $84 bottle of Russian River pinot noir from a thick wine book not easily mastered in low light, the cost of the food so luxuriously presented is actually surprisingly reasonable.

I certainly felt that way after a late afternoon lunch about a month later. Light streamed in from a skylight gently illuminating comfy brown leather chairs and interesting black-and-white charcoal drawings mounted on faux horsehair walls. At 2:30 p.m. two women sat at the bar over a bottle of wine. Jazz played companionably. Two of us had the clubroom to ourselves and we got beautiful, attentive service.

Highlights were a hearty harvest salad ($10) starring three kinds of grilled onions and a juicy, medium rare bavette steak ($18)sliced over a warm bulgur salad scented with Moroccan spices.

Even with the big-time buzz, Spruce can feel like a neighborhood restaurant after all.

Spruce

Location:3640 Sacramento St., San Francisco

Contact: (415) 931-5100

Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner nightly 5 to 10 p.m.; bar menu served all day

Price range: Appetizers $9 to $18; main courses $26 to $35; lunch main courses $11 to $18

Recommended dishes: Harvest salad; Moroccan spiced bavette steak; gazpacho, rice pudding, lacquered duck, french fries

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted

Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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