3560 18th St.
Cross: Guerrero St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
JANUARY 8, 2008 | SAN FRANCISCO Some
locals have said it took a lot of chutzpah (or as the Italians
would say it, "palle") to move into the Mission
and open a big sprawling Italian restaurant mere blocks away
from the long-standing beloved, Delfina. The unique look of ~FARINA~ (nope,
this was definitely NOT another rustic 49-seater) additionally
raised eyebrows. And there were tales of disgruntled neighbors,
gossip about valet parking politics (and paint maliciously splattered
on a few parked cars), and let's not even get started on
the ruckus surrounding the permits for the upcoming roof terrace.
that much buzz and chatter swirling around, you really
have to be on your game the second your doors swing open. Being
different, and splashy, sets up serious expectations (especially
in this town), almost encouraging people to hover about, gossip,
and critique, perhaps secretly waiting for you to trip in those
high heels of yours, or fail. Farina was totally our pop star
restaurant opening of 2007—the only thing missing was a
head shaving and coverage on PerezHilton.com.
don't have the whole story on all the various dramas,
who does, really? (Does anyone have the scandalous video? I kid.)
But no matter. Because from the moment Anna's Danish Cookies
went dark and the plywood went up, I was excitedly awaiting who
was going to take over the sunny corner on one of the best gourmet
streets in the city, our own little Hollywood Walk of Fame.
a restaurant scene moving more and more toward regional Italian
fare, and giving Tuscan food a breather, Farina's Ligurian
offerings have perfect timing. I dined at Farina a couple times
in the beginning months, but honestly wasn't enamored with
my experiences—even the highlighted focaccia wasn't quite there
yet, so I decided to sit back and wait a bit, let things iron
out. Italians like to look well pressed, so I was confident things
would get sorted. Based on my most recent meal at Farina, let's
just say that Zegna suit is ready to hit the runway.
is a spacious communal table, with two-tops that that are cleverly
made out of the former Anna's Danish Cookies sign that
line the towering front bay windows, plus there is casual
bar seating (there's a full bar) and some high tables,
while larger wood tables line the side wall for bigger groups.
The lighting fixtures are funky and eclectic, with hits of red
and playful shapes, while the white ceiling and tiles pop and
feel bakery appropriate. The furnishings mix industrial elements
and wood in an engaging way that makes me think of New York,
or London. It has personality. I adore the presence of all the
marble, almost sarcophagus heavy, enticing you to run your fingers
along them—and wow, some of the hulking and sculptured
pieces are actually sinks.
think a ringside seat on one of the red lollipop stools in
front of the busily working pasta and focaccia makers is where
it's at. You can smell the irresistible wafting of cheese
and bread baking, watch cooks pound out the carpaccio, and prep
the focaccia and pastas—it's quite mesmerizing, actually—much
more interesting than a visit to the Twinkie factory, and totally
builds your anticipation for your impending order.
about that focaccia: you really should take the focaccia di
Recco ($15) for a whirl. My fave was the one with prosciutto
($17), actually, Rovagnati ham, with crispy and curling edges
from the intense heat of the oven. These are not the thick
bready focaccias you are probably used to—instead, you get layers
of thin dough that's flaky and crackly, enclosing dollops
of melted stracchino cheese (a tangy Crescenza-like cow's
milk cheese, one of my favorites when I lived in Italy, and sadly
not one I see a lot of stateside). You can easily share an order
with two or three people.
chef Paolo Laboa has crafted a menu that is quite unlike anything
in the city—you'll find dishes he has painstakingly
researched, some dating back hundreds of years. The chilled Genovese
layered salad ($16) of seafood, potato, and vegetables was gorgeous
(admittedly prettier than its rather subtle flavors), looking
like something out of the film Marie Antoinette, or
an historical book on the Medici dining habits. (It's actually
from a 17th century recipe.)
truffle season, we indulged in the tortino of white truffle
($30), a delicate and oozing buttery little number that was
ideal for showing off a shaving of this year's rarity
of Piemontese truffle. The presentation of this dish was downright
after watching the staff churn out fresh pastas all night,
you start to understand the $17 price tag. Yes, it's a
scoch more than what you're used to paying around town,
but with one bite of the supple mandilli al pesto ($18), a tender
handkerchief pasta laced with the most fragrant and enchanting
pesto, you are impelled to open that wallet. Wide. It's
like it hypnotizes you or something.
capellacci ($17), hand-made ravioli of eggplant, summer squash,
and Brie had a perfect ratio of stuffing (an unusual one at
that) to pasta, which was almost crepe-like in its delicacy,
napped in a subtle thyme brown-butter sauce. The hard part
was there were five more pastas I wanted to try—it brought
up the same kind of indecision I get at a Batali establishment,
what to choose, what to choose...
Mains have a good representation of seafood (hello, Genova)—the
pan-roasted orata (dorade/$26) took me back to Italy, with its
fishy Mediterranean flavor and fattiness, served head-on in a
savory tomato broth. I just wanted a sharper knife to cut through
the slice of oily (in a good way) crostini resting underneath.
rack of venison ($29) was the essence of winter, with chestnuts,
black truffle, and glistening with a port reduction. It was a
real hunk of meat, and one that got better, and juicier, as you
cut closer to the bone. It's the kind of dish that begs
for a stellar wine pairing, which the list can definitely provide.
The helpful descriptions on the wine list keep it from being
intimidating, but feel free to ask questions and for guidance,
especially of Gabriele Originario, the manager. Oh, and one quick
thing about the mains: they are Euro a-la-carte style, baby,
and not plated with accompanying side dishes—you have to order those separately.
range from the bigne al cioccolato ($8), little ethereal puffs
with a custardy/pudding-like center, or the marron glace con
crema ($10), mascarpone cream infused with amaretto and served
with candied chestnuts. People are also losing it over the
sweet milk fritters ($9). The cheeses are also tempting—be sure
to ask what's available that night.
Service has piccolo missteps here and there, with instances
like servers leaving you alone for too long, or not explaining
dishes well (the menu will inspire a lot of questions), or I
had my coffee served without sugar. Nothing dramatic, but not
buttoned up like other establishments in this city that are running
at a parallel price point. Speaking of, the place definitely
draws a moneyed crowd, with lots of expensive eyewear, trios
of S*x in the City chicks, and well-groomed homos and
hipster couples, all in the mix. Oh, and the staff? Hot.
lot of thought and labor (and hello, money) went into this
place; there are so many details to take in. It's just
taken some time for it all to develop and be less self-conscious,
and begin meshing into the city's dining landscape. I think
people are realizing it's time to stop talking: let's