Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Return to Flour + Water in San Francisco

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

Perfecting Pasta for Dinner
2401 Harrison St. (at 20th), San Francisco
Mission District
PH: 415.826.7000
Dinner daily from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. (till midnight Thursday to Saturday)
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Original visit: July 2009

When I first visited the popular Flour + Water soon after it opened in the outskirts of the Mission District, I fell in love with its pasta even though more people went for the pizza. But now the pasta dishes have been getting their due, and the restaurant’s chef Thomas McNaughton goes around town leading pasta-making classes.

So when my friend David mentioned he had reservations (still pretty hard to come by) and was interested in its pasta tasting menu, I said yes faster than the shutter snaps in my camera.

We arrived for our early reservations at the restaurant, which looked pretty much the same since my last visit with its wooden furnishings and eclectic artwork. There was a steady crowd arriving soon after the doors open, which says a lot considering that we were eating on Monday night.

McNaughton’s summer pasta tasting menu is a six-course menu for $60 (wine pairing available for an additional $40). Everyone at the table has to order the tasting menu, which is brought out family style.

Dinner started off with an amuse that was both delectable and mesmerizing in appearance. This roasted candy striped fig was just slightly sweet from a glaze, but was flavored more by pickled mustard seeds and horseradish cream.

Our first pasta course was an eggplant and ricotta triangoli with cherry tomatoes and basil – classic flavors for the summer. I couldn’t really detect the eggplant flavor in the triangoli (which seemed like ravioli to me but I guess is named for its triangular shape). Still, I enjoyed the bright and bold flavors of the cherry tomatoes.

Next up was a squid ink chitarra with sea urchin (or uni) with cherry tomatoes, chili and mint. I like the dramatic black pasta from the squid ink, but both David and I commented on the distinctive smell of squid ink pasta. To me, it’s almost slightly funky, and it was clearly evident in Flour + Water’s version. David could barely detect the mint, and I commented on how odd it was to have back to back dishes featuring cherry tomatoes. I mean, I know it’s the summer ingredient, but mixing it up a bit makes a tasting menu more interesting.

Then we moved to some of the meatier courses, like this rabbit francobolli with chanterelles and fried sage. The pasta was another filled pasta but the shape was supposed to resemble a postage stamp. The filling was tasty although I’m not sure if anyone could identify the meat as rabbit. Both David and I agreed that the start of the dish was the beautifully prepared chanterelles.

This rigatoni with goat sausage, rabe, roasted peppers and oregano increased in flavor from the previous pasta dish, but I was starting to feel that the pasta dishes started to look the same, with family similar color and sauce.

Our final pasta dish turned out to be my favorite of the night. It was the sweetbread cannelloni with spigarello, savory and cippolinis. The baked cheese that created the cannelloni smelled wonderful, and I loved the bold flavors of the sweetbread filling. David thought it leaned toward the salty side, but I’m used to Italian dishes being a bit more salty.

We ended dinner with a nocciolata semifreddo, which actually looked like a pate when it arrived. Semifreddo is like an ice cream cake, although not as frozen. Flour + Water’s version was made from gelato and served with a grape and terragon granita with candied fennel puree. The semifreddo was nice and creamy, but I thought the hazelnuts inside were a bit too big with each bite. It probably would have been better as just a hint of hazelnut as opposed to the huge crunch of them inside. David felt this (and the fig, both non-pasta dishes) was his favorite dish of the night.

David needed to bring some dinner back to the wife (his trade-off for coming out to dinner with me) so he ordered a basic margherita pizza. I mentioned to David how I wasn’t that thrilled by the pizza the first time I dined here because the crust was soggy or chewy. So he lit me try a bit of the pizza, and the thin crust was way better than I remembered. It might be because a margherita has less topping, making it easier to crisp up the crust, but it definitely made me realize that when ordering pizzas at Flour + Water, the simpler the better.

I had a fun time seeing the progression of the pasta tasting menu, although I thought the progression was steady highs as opposed to creative leaps. David thought the place was a great neighborhood spot, but not much different than the many pasta and pizza spots opening around the Bay Area.

The people behind Flour + Water are actually planning a new restaurant nearby called Central Kitchen (which will also feature a salumeria), but I wonder if some of the new innovations should be tested at Flour + Water before branching out because it seems like while everything was great, there hasn’t been much change since the start.

Update experience (previously 3.75 stars): Bumped up to 4 stars with the perfected pizza making

Flour + Water on Urbanspoon


Cookie said...

That's a lotta pasta for 1 night! I've never had rabbit but my hubby had it for the first time in New Zealand last week and said it was a bit gamey. What's your opinion?

Hungry Dog said...

I have never been able to get in here but am even more curious now after reading your pasta rundown. Also, I happen to be starving at the moment...

foodhoe said...

ooh, me too, I'm hungry! that cannoli caught my eye, maybe it was the browned melted cheese... all that pasta and pizza too!

Single Guy Ben said...

Cookie, I've had rabbit in a variety of ways and it always tasted different. In general, though, I haven't found them too gamey and found them a rich source for sugo. The flavor is deeper than beef, and I personally like them grilled for the best texture.

Just for clarification, I didn't eat a full slice of the pizza, just half a slice. I mean, most of it was going home for David's wife. :)

Anonymous said...

are you still single? Do you use groupon or

Single Guy Ben said...

Anon, I don't use either groupon or Don't really see the value; sometimes they just force you to spend when you weren't planning to anyway.

Claudine Co said...

Ben, this dinner looks so awesome! My husband is a carb fiend - perhaps I'll try to a reservation for the pasta tasting menu before he does one of his half-marathons or long runs... I love the idea of a savoury-sweet fig appetizer... with horseradish! Want to try...

And I just had to laugh out loud when I saw that squid ink chittara and uni - I'm just about to post an item on a squid ink fettuccine I cooked the other day, with scallops and uni...

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog!
I was underwhelmed by Flour and Water to some degree. It was good -- but enough to warrant the amount of time it takes to get a reservation and the high prices/small portions? Personally, Zero Zero and Incanto had better homemade, fresh pasta, in my opinion.

Single Guy Ben said...

Claudine, keep in mine the pictures of the dishes show two servings (except the fig and dessert), so it might look a lot but not when you split it between two people. So not sure if your hubby will feel like he's filled up for a marathon, even a half marathon. ;-), I tend to agree. I like the food and the vibe, but it is a bit of work to get the reservations. Luckily, my friend David did all the heavy lifting so it didn't seem like a chore. But the pasta is pretty ideal, and similar to Incanto. (Haven't tried Zero Zero.)

Carolyn Jung said...

I had that experience with the pizza crust there, too -- kind of limp. Good to know maybe that was just an off-night. That sweetbread cannelloni looks too good to share. Hah.