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Entries in SSan Francisco (2)

Friday
Nov042011

Flour + Water, San Francisco

I sat at the bar on a warm Wednesday evening in San Francisco. I’ve heard a lot about Flour+Water, a lot of good things. The only bad thing, the potential wait for a table; so I arrived when they opened for dinner service, 5:30. Only one thing interested me that night, the pasta tasting. There are no substitutions for the pasta tastings, only additions can be made. I made a single addition to Flour + Water’s Autumn Pasta Tasting, orrechiette with rapini.

As for wine notes, I paired a bottle (yes an entire bottle) of Rosato, 2010 Bisson, Ciliegiolo, Golfo del Tigullio DOC from Liguria with the entire meal, as I’d done in Italy several times over. In my humble opinion, Rosato pairs with practically everything. 

To start, Eggplant and treccione aformatino with crispy butter beans, cavolo nero and chili oil. The timbale or tortino, depending upon what classic or more recognized word you would like to use, was smoothly made. The eggplant when combined with the smoked cheese made for a pleasant and light starter. The timbale itself was light, near custard–like consistency, but lighter. The chili oil was unexpected for its heat, but welcome as its intent was to wake up the mouth. The fried butter beans were really good too and offered the crunchy contrast to the timbale.

 

First Pasta: Butternut squash tortelli, I expected this to taste good and considering I was in the kitchen at Parma in Fresno with Elena watching this very dish being made, complete with the amaretti cookie, this dish was no surprise for the season. The pasta was light, the filling tasted of the season, and the dish was simply presented and served. A solid start to the pasta tasting.

 

Second Pasta: Sunchoke and ricotta cappelletti, personally, the standout of the evening in terms of flavor and presentation. The pasta shape itself was perfect, standing up on the plate. Great texture, mouth-feel, and flavor in each of the bites. If they tripled the order, I wouldn’t have had any problems finishing it.

Third Pasta: Saffron lasagnette, probably the most challenging of the courses as I reflect on all of them. I happened to enjoy this dish, but I like shellfish and saffron. I can see where these strong flavors could be a challenge for others. Small circles of pasta were layered one on top of the other, with various seafood in between each layer. A béchamel-like sauce was also in between the layers of pasta to carry the flavor. The pasta itself was crispy along the edges. Lots of flavor here, but perhaps not a dish for everyone. I happened to like it.

 

Fourth Pasta: Horseradish leaf strozzapreti was a simple dish, perhaps less impactful than the previous lasagnette or nothing to make it pop like the others. Just not as memorable. It was good, just not the highlight of the night. (Sorry, no more pictures, they dimmed the lights)

Fifth Pasta (optional addition): Orrechiette, my personal addition to the tasting menu, was not traditional in the sense that the sauce the pasta was served in was creamy, rather than simply olive oil, chili, and greens. The dish seemed more American or perhaps more Tuscan than Puglian, with a creamier consistency to the sauce rather than the blunt force usually used in most orrecheitte dishes I ate in Puglia. Not once did I have this dish in Puglia as richly prepared as here. Is this good or bad? I still don’t know yet. I was often surprised at Michelin starred chefs in Puglia elevating a dish beyond their simple roots and this could classify as elevation, but I’m might need to eat it again to decide. 

Sixth Pasta: Pig heart caramelle, if you like offal, this dish is for you. As I happen to like pig heart, I loved this dish. It was the right way to end a tasting, with a bold flavor of offal. The pasta itself was the contrast, good texture to the edges and near paper thin in the middle. Well executed. 

Dessert Course: Olive oil and thyme cake. Normally I don’t even cover desserts, I either forget that I ate dessert, don’t take a picture, or just want chocolate. I’m making an exception because this cake reminded me of Italian breakfast in Puglia. The cake was savory and slightly sweet. The olive oil was present in both smell and flavor. It was simple and lovely and I could have eaten twice as much.

I am very pleased with my experience at Flour+ Water. Service was attentive and friendly. The pace of the tasting menu from the kitchen was wonderfully timed, and the food was above average at worst. I may have personal issues with orrechiette, but don’t let that stop you from ordering it if it’s on the menu. I bashed the strozzapreti a little, but if you compare it to other restaurants serving the same dish, I’d put money on F+W doing it better than most. I’d come back and I’d recommend that my readers visit.

Flour + Water on Urbanspoon

Friday
Jul222011

SPQR, San Francisco

SPQR is big-city Italian cuisine, the big cities of Italy that is. I could have easily been in Florence, Roma, and Bari respectively for each of my 3 courses.

My first course reminded me of Florence, a pate’ of chicken liver topped with a rhubarb marmelatta. Smooth and lovely fegato with the contrast of the marmelatta as the perfect foil. I can’t really say more because the dish was what it should be from the first sentence, chicken liver pate, no more no less. Simple and Italian.

My second course brought me to Milan or Rome, a big cosmopolitan city for Sformato or asparagus custard, with foraged mushrooms, fonduta, and more asparagus. Well prepared, lots of flavors, nearly an overload of flavor in each bite; which makes me know in my heart, that this dish wasn’t simple Italian, but cosmopolitan Roman in final presentation. Most  Italian restaurants, outside of many Michelin starred establishments, would have made the custard, presented the asparagus around the plate with a bit of the cheese or olive oil, that’s all. I was looking at some pictures of a few meals in Italy where only the timbale was present with no garnish. Simply having to explain all the elements leads me to believe that this wasn’t the straightforward Italian dish it was supposed to be, but rather a competitive Roman or Milan based restaurant competing for Michelin stars. Make no mistake, it was well executed and tasty, but not simple by any stretch.

My third dish reminded me of Bari and southern Italy, and what fond memories they are. A fettuccini pasta, with sea urchin, smoked bacon, and quail egg was simply delicious. The pasta was Italian al dente, each element stood on its own, yet complimented the other. This was real Italian food, not overwrought, but simple and flavorful. Some Italians may have incorporated the raw egg into the pasta sauce itself, rather than for decoration, I admit, perhaps even eliminated the bacon. But the key here was balance, nothing was overdone, nothing pretentious.

I’m pleased with my meal at SPQR and would like to return to Italy sooner, rather than later. I’m certainly happy that I live so close to San Francisco that I can have a choice of authentically Italian dishes and the reminder that comes with them.

SPQR on Urbanspoon