Open Monday through Saturday, 5:30p.m. to midnight. AE, MC, V. Reservations. Prices: Pastas $7.50, main courses average $10.50.
Let's start by talking about price, since that is the most interesting feature of Spencer's. Few restaurants in town are ambitious in their price structure, with fried mozzarella (light, crisp, deliciously fragile) at $4.50 and pastas (light, al dente, deliciously delicate) at $7.50. Some of the dishes are worth every exorbitant penny. Agnolotti, at nearly $1 each, are filled with spinach and chicken livers, sauced with a fine cream. The white and green paglia e fieno are fragrant with mushrooms. Cannelloni are admirably fragile.
Half the main dishes are veal, elaborated with brandy, mushrooms, truffles and wine, or simplified with butter and lemon. Veal scallops are grand: meaty, juicy, pale and properly cooked. And veal chop, thick and pole, grilled toa crisp surface and juicy interior with a robust oniony sauce, is an excellent $12.50 main course. Sea bass, too, is moist, tangy, aromatic, certainly worthy at $9.75.
But Spencer's is full of pitfalls. A $14.50 plate of shrimps reeked of iodine, and sat dumbly under irrelevant slices of ham. Lamb chops were nothing like the minu described them, and badly needed trimming; instead of being baked with berbs and bread crumbs, they were buried under and overbearing brown sauce amok with rosemary. One day the entrees were accompanied by spectacular crisp bundles of green beans wrapped in bacon. No such luck on another visit. One day the only dessert in the house was cremem caramel, and another day I wish it had been, for the $3.50 pastries were tough-skinned tarts of fluff and gelatin. And the wine list starts at $12 for wines that should be no more than $8.
A restaurant is, of course, more than food. At $30 a person you are paying for the surroundings and the service as well as the veal and green beans. Spencer's is up a flight of littered stairs, but the second impression revives your spirits, for inside the door is a lounge with deeply cushioned sofas and a working fireplace, a romantic place to linger over a drink. The dining room,about a dozen tables, is dimly lit and elegantly appointed with paintings in ornate frames and plexiglass room dividers etched with leaves. Fortunately, the room is dim, for the exposed edges andunfinished corners reveal the elegance as fraying One day the dining room is set with salmon-colored roses and gladioli; another day austerity must have hit the budget One day sevice was gregarious, attentive, festive. Another day the single waiter glared and snapped at us, correcting our pronunciation and refusing to consider our ordering a half-portion of posta as appetizer.
Spencers's has possibilities. The pastas and veal dishes can be memorable. But until the restaurant more consistently lives up to the expectations its prices encourage, it just reminds us that there is difference between a good restaurant and a restaurant with good food.