Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flour, water and a pinch of alchemy.

On the Sunday night I spent in San Francisco, Faith, her friend Chrysanthe and I headed over to the Mission to pay a visit to one of the hottest restaurants in town, Flour and Water. Seriously. This place was hopping. We called early in the week to try for a reservation, but no luck. We lined up at 5:15 with about twenty other people, and the place was full from opening till, I assume, closing time at midnight. (Which is pretty late for San Francisco.)

Once we'd eaten our dinner, though, it was easy to see why everyone else wanted to eat there, too. It was one of the best meals I've had in a while, and I cannot wait to make a return trip. We started off with a pizza to share. Flour and Water is Italian, mostly, and heavily focused on pizza and pasta (hence the name). Faith had been the week before and couldn't stop thinking about the ramp and black trumpet pizza, so, naturally, we couldn't help but order it.

It was awesome. The crust was chewy, slightly crispy perfection. The pizza was topped with a pecorino, black trumpet mushrooms, chopped ramps (green and white parts) and a bright green ramp pesto. It was suitably stinky, the cheese was gooey, and the whole thing made me very, very happy.

We then moved on to appetizers. Faith ordered a side dish instead of a salad: roasted carrots with lemon, capers and very finely chopped chives. These were carrots taken to another level. They were roasted in butter, and were sweet without being cloying, tender but not mushy. The capers added a salty, briny note, and the chives freshened things up. All in all, a major hit.

My starter was a "salad" - Flour and Water likes to use the term loosely - of crispy lamb sweetbreads, arugula and artichokes. Artichokes aren't normally my favorite thing, but these were perfect with the sweetbreads. Lamb sweetbreads tend to be a bit creamier than their veal counterparts, and these were no exception. The bitterness of the arugula paired with the astringent flavor of the artichokes helped cut through the fat. Fantastic.

Next up, our pastas. The pastas were all made in-house, and were incredibly fresh. Mine was a tagliolini (a lighter fettucine, essentially) with chopped parsley rolled into the pasta itself. Tossed with the noodles (and with a copious amount of butter) were razor thin slices of asparagus and hand-pulled pieces of braised hen. I loved this. The pasta was impossibly light and delicate, but the sauce, despite its springy flavors, was rich and hearty. Rich flavors, light texture, pure deliciousness.

Faith ordered pici in a brothy pork ragu, which was also delicious. It was one of the lightest ragus I've tasted, free of cream or milk, and swimming in its own juices. Little bits of carrot and onion floated in the sauce, too, and meat itself was tender and deeply porky.

Finally, dessert. Oh, dessert. First up was a rhubarb tart, served with crème fraiche ice cream and fresh strawberries. It was fantastic, right down to the swirl of grassy olive oil on the plate. The pastry was rich with butter, and shattered a bit when cut with a fork. It paired beautifully with the tart rhubarb and sweet berries; rhubarb season has ended in California now, I think - it was great to be there while it was still on every menu.

Last, we had a chocolate budino, which is an Italian-style pudding. It was topped with coffee-flavored cream and a crucial, generous sprinkling of crunchy sea salt. I don't always go for the chocolate dessert, but I couldn't get enough of this one. The salt and coffee made it interesting - and it was pretty good with some of the crème fraiche ice cream from the tart plate. Yum.

Guys, I can't speak highly enough of this restaurant. It was a delicious meal. The service was great - attentive but not fawning, and very, very friendly. The room is warm and welcoming, with just the right amount of buzz. If you can get in, go. If you can't, go early and wait, like we did. It's worth it.

Flour and Water
2401 Harrison Street (at 20th Street)
San Francisco, California

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