I must preface this post with a disclaimer. I have relations with the proprietors of this restaurant. Albeit faint relations, but relations still. My good friend is an investor and as a result I have met, on numerous occasions, one of the owners. We have developed a mutual respect and he and I have long-awaited this review. It all started many months ago when I met Mr. Owner, the young, hipster businessman who had lured my naive friend into sinking some ducats into his impending restaurant venture. I was skeptical. Said investor had limited interest in food and [gasp] didn't eat pork. Though, said investor did join us on a two-week Italian food bonanza where he let down his piggy guard and savored the succulence of the swine. And said investor is on a relationship trajectory that requires he improve his food sensibilities.
Mr. Owner and I danced around each other at first. We are WAY to similar . There typically can only be one know-it-all, alpha male, obnoxious Hebrew in any situation. Me and he vied for the same spot and clashed on some salient points. Then we jumped in: "What's your opinion on Delfina?", "You don't like Conduit?!", "Who is making the best meatball?". My first impression was that his restaurant was either going to be a wild disaster or a wild success. For us personally, we discovered that it wasn't about the score, but the game that mattered. And we both like to play.
So, there it was. Months passed and decisions were made, most of which I admired and started thinking he might have a wild success. There was the chef decision - hiring a Quince alumni (brilliant move) and a pasta fanatic in Thomas McNaughton. I so respect this guy that I was anxious to see what he was going to cook up. Then they poached a Pizzaiolo, Jon Darsky, who is nuts for wood and heat. My kind of guy. And, they talk about the neighborhood and seasonality - all good in my book.
So, tonight was the night. Said investor and I sat down for the fated meal. He didn't want to come because he was afraid of my opinions - isn't that cute? I told him I would be on good behavior, at least during the meal. And frankly, we had so much conversation that I was able to eat and judge in my alternate-reality without giving away too many of my observations. Here it goes:
The restaurant is a nice size to be considered "neighborhoody". The decor is modern and clean, maybe lacking a little personality, which it tries to make up for in the paintings and light fixtures. But generally it feels like a warm, cozy and comfortable place to eat. There is a perpetual buzz at the front door, which is a great sign, but could get annoying when reservation crowds start to pile up deep. I would strongly suggest that they get the permits for outdoor seating, slap up some powerful heat lamps, even if the kitchen can't support the additional crowds. Give people a place to chill outside while they are waiting. It will make the place look hopping too, without feeling crammed.
The staff was friendly and somewhat unobtrusive. I fucked with said investor a little by playing my empty water glass test. I drink a lot of water and wanted to see if it would get noticed and filled. Sadly, it didn't until we asked. The food was delivered in perfect symphony so this small issue wasn't huge, but it is still something that should be covered. This obsession comes from my father, who would pull the same stunt everywhere we dined. It's in the blood of the restaurant family.
We started with a little gem salad. I love me some little gems. Nature's perfect little dwarf. The salad was a little saucy and could have used some big grains of salt (which we did see at dessert, so we know they are there). The combination of the lemon dressing and avocado wasn't anything to write home about. I'll have to try some of the other salads. Not bad, not great.
We then had a pizza margarita with buffalo mozzarella. I can say confidently that Flour and Water has one of the best crusts in the bay area. Perfect salt, crispy to chewy ratio, smokiness - good stuff. The sauce was not bad, but could have been a little sweeter and a little saltier. Maybe this is my preference, but in Italy it always seems a little sweeter. I think Ideale in North Beach has nailed the flavor I seek. Still, I'd put their pizza a step above Delfina and Nostra, and perhaps a little below Pizzaiolo and Picco, but damn close and maybe an equal after I taste other varieties....they were kicking out some good looking stuff. I typically use the margarita as a base to judge, but this one might really shine as an arugula and prosciutto because the crust is that good.
Then things got interesting......we ordered two types of pasta. A housemade garganelli, with guanciale and arugala and a mezza-luna with a zucchini, lemony tomato sauce. True to his Quince roots and his intensive Italy sojourn, Mr. McNaughton knows pasta. Splendid textures, balanced flavors - every bite was a treat (and much less expensive than Quince). I commented to said investor: "I couldn't make these at home", which is probably the best compliment I offer restaurants. Well done.
We ended with a cornmeal cake and vanilla-thyme ice cream (made especially for them by Humphry Slocombe) and a chocolate budino with coffee-scented whipped cream and that sea salt I mentioned earlier. Both were simple, clean and excellent flavors. The salt on the budino was a standout, as was the vanilla-thyme ice cream.
So, while interpretation leads to some criticisms, my first visit to Flour & Water was a great start and I look forward to returning, not only to sample the remaining items on this menu but to check it out as seasonality dictates changes and updates. And, judging by the buzz and the crowds, I believe Mr. Owner will have himself that wild success.