Best Restaurant Reinvention - 2011
It's rare for a restaurant to survive a big transition without a name change and significant rebranding. But when Nate Appleman left SPQR to move to New York, his replacement, Matthew Accarrino, took the food in a radically different direction. Of course, the focus stayed nominally Italian, but Appleman's rustic Roman cuisine gave way to some of the city's most forward-thinking food — Wagyu beef tartare with smoked egg dressing, quail with burnt orange sauce, whole wheat bigoli with white bolognese and fennel pollen. (The relentlessly creative chef shakes it up constantly; by the time you read this, none of those dishes will be on the menu, though a rolled, roasted rabbit with dried fruit and mustard seems to linger, and thank god.) Accarrino takes whole-animal cooking even farther than his predecessor does, and it's not rare to see fried pig's ear, pheasant neck, and lamb belly show up on dishes. Buoyed by Shelley Lindgren's amazing wine list and a polished front-of-house staff, the extreme makeover has been a total success.