flour+water had been popular right out of the gate, spurred by a buzz going even before it opened - with Chef Thomas McNaughton boasting a resume listing La Folie, Quince and Gary Danko; a number of stages at Michelin-starred establishments in Europe, including an artisinal pasta apprenticeship: "...basically Tom and a bunch of old ladies with rolling pins..." according to David White, one of the partners at f+w.
DD and I have been jonesing to go back to flour+water but trying to get a decent online reservation in advance lately has been quite difficult. On 98% of my attempts, I've usually encountered nothing earlier before 10pm. Once in a while, if I looked out far enough, I’d spot a listing for 9:15 or 9:30pm. For a Tuesday or Wednesday. Sheesh! They opened in May of 2009, and 2 months thereafter garnered 3 stars from The Chronicle’s Michael Bauer. Accolades followed from the other local food press, and soon there was even a blurb in the New York Times. The restaurant purportedly holds back 1/2 of their seats for walk-ins, but we've been hesitant to try this tactic, not being from the immediate neighbourhood.
When I heard that longtime foodblogger friend Reid from OnoKineGrindz was going to be visiting San Francisco, I hastily snapped up tickets for one of their Dough Room Dinners (get on their mailing list to receive pings about these) for us.
In the space of a few hours, it seemed, all but one of their early seatings at 5:45 had sold out; we nabbed 3 for the 8:45pm session. For $175, we were promised an intimate 12-person 6-course Tomato-focused dinner with wine pairings from Chef Tom.
We met Reid and waited outside for a while. The staff was running late, and at 9pm on a Monday night, f+w was still crazy packed. We were given tomato cocktails while we waited: a light and lovely mixture of Tomato water, Aperol, Madeira, Vin Santo and Prosecco. (Lilting, well-balanced, not a hint of bitterness, despite the Aperol.)
Finally, we were led through the restaurant to a separate space in the back, up a flight of narrow, steep stairs, to the Dough Room - a room which is indeed used to make their pastas during the day, and cleared for occasional special dinners at night.
Twelve of us sat around a large rectangular table with a beautiful centerpiece of manzanita, barked in a dark burnt rust. Candles dotted the room and it seemed that not even the chefs had much light to work by. Chef Tom presided the entire time, prepping, plating, and announcing the courses as they were served.
First came a fish crudo light and lovely but more complex than the description on the menu seemed: every form of tomato that Chef McNaughton had procured from his purveyor that day had been distilled into some lovely tomato gel; cucumber and nectarines played counterpoint with colour and texture; briny sea beans and herbaeceous basil flowers dotted the dish.
Then came the unctuous slow-cooked egg served atop of a toasted farro and tomato salad made with 15 types of tomatoes. Parmesan rinds were fried to make the most addicting crisps, seconded only by the crunchy speck, rich and meaty. The dish also contained shreds of nepitella, an Italian herb that's like a cross between oregano and mint.
A bowl arrived filled with tiny sungold tomatoes and small tortellini that looked as orange as the berries. Chef noted that this dish was his play on a traditional Italian holiday dish made of rich meat broth and stuffed pasta. In this case tomato water was the base of the broth, made of green monster tomatoes. The tortellini were stuffed with house-made ricotta, just formed that morning.
The risottos are Dough-Room exclusives at flour+water. Chef will not put this dish on the menu because he strongly feels that risottos should cooked to order, 22 minutes exactly, piping hot from the pot. Another fantastic treatment - with Carnaroli rice aged for a year, a rich and creamy tomato sauce, tender foraged chanterelles and pine oil (made by steeping pine needles in evoo).
The meat course: an elevated pork and beans. Tender loin and crisp belly, served alongside 2 kinds of beans: shelling beans and some blades of Romano, draped with a rich sauce of reduced meat juices and tomato and probably other delicious-making things. Butter. Wine. Charred tomatoes - the simplest preparation of all dishes of the evening, also accompanied the pork.
Chef admitted his ambivalence towards the dessert, he indicated that the Sweet Treat tomatoes he used here were too one-dimensional, too cloying, with so little acid he was at a loss at first to figure out what to do with them. The rest of the dessert consisted of a fig leaf ice cream, chopped figs and nuts, and a corn puree pudding, cooked by warming over very low heat. I found the tomatoes just fine, and enjoyed the dessert very much.
We received small boxes of cherry cookies and the menus to take home, stamped "DR" for Dough Room. For a glimpse of the menu, you can take a peek here - it provides a listing of the wine pairings as well - I didn't focus on these much, as I didn't want to be drinking too much that evening.
Lovely evening, excellent food, with great service from Chef and staff.
I just realized that our first visit to f+w had been on August 29th, 2009. We returned exactly 2 years later, to the date, for this dinner. Very strange. I hope 2 years won't go by again before we return. We might try a walk-in at some point, and most definitely will aim to get to Central Kitchen, the new restaurant venture behind f+w's team.
2401 Harrison Street
San Francisco, CA 94110-2710