Flour + Water was packed from the open, for good reason. David Steele and David White, who previously owned Nua in North Beach, opened three months ago in the Mission. Their Italian restaurant has already vaulted to the front of the Bay Area pizza pack, but that’s not the only reason to visit. Chef Thomas McNaughton (Quince, Gary Danko) also makes fresh pasta every day, butchers his own animals and relies on farm-to-table ingredients. His menu changes on a nightly basis, so you’ll always find something new and exciting to order at Flour + Water.
Steele and White revamped a former taqueria, including a trippy back-wall mural, skeleton imagery (including this painting of a rat skeleton) and an indeterminate skull high on the kitchen wall. Up front you’ll find a communal table for walk-ins, of which there are plenty. Half the tables are earmarked for reservations, so you stand a fighting chance of getting a seat if you book ahead or line up before the doors open at 5:30.
Heirloom tomato & corn salad ($9) really captured the season, featuring sweet corn kernels, gorgeous green zebra tomatoes, a crisp disc of pancetta and a delicately fried ricotta-stuffed squash blossom. Completing the plate were decorative drizzles of basil oil, a vibrant red sauce and fried basil leaves. All of the summery flavors really gelled and this salad was a bargain.
Fried Monterey Bay Sardines ($8) were drizzled with salsa verde and plated with blistered cherry tomatoes and a summery herb-tossed cucumber salad. This was a good representation of the sardine, with a crisp skin, but not as good as the vanguard version at Pizzeria Delfina.
Margherita ($12) was a nearly ideal take of a classic, with vibrant tomato sauce, fresh basil leaves, a creamy melt of fior di latte and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The crust was crisp and blistered, but not dry in the least at any point. The center of the pizza was a little floppy, but the crust was so thin that was inevitable.
My father made a curious choice, ordering a Calamari ($16) pizza drizzled with aioli. Mayonnaise on pizza seemed like a bad idea. Then again, it was on the menu, so somebody at Flour + Water must have liked it. The crust was good, the rings of Monterey Bay squid were nice supple and the heirloom tomatoes were at peak freshness, but the pizza was too Spartan, even after tossed with basil and spicy arugula. The flavored mayo was strong and off-putting, even in a relatively small dose.
McNaughton produces four different pastas per day. In this case, that meant four fresh pastas. Bigoli ($15) was like a thick spaghetti with more bite, tossed with with fresh butter beans, zesty tomato sauce, onions and bits of guanciale (cured pork cheek), which imparted a nice smokiness.
Ravioli Dupio ($17) was a pasta special, ravioli with twin pockets, one with sweet corn puree, the other with braised pork shoulder, both bathed in butter sauce. They only produced 10 orders and sold out within minutes of opening, which was deserved.
Young chicken al mattone ($19) was one of the best I’ve eaten, seasoned with coriander, fennel, black peppercorn, chile flake and paprika. The bird was spicy and juicy, cooked under a brick in cast-iron skillet until crisp skinned, served with tangy salad of wild arugula, radish & early girl tomato.
McNaughton also makes dessert, and even incorporates Humphry Slocombe ice cream. I’m sure the desserts were good, but we were already committed to try Slocombe on- site, so we drove down Harrison Street.
A return trip to Flour + Water is all but guaranteed, but next time, keep the aioli away from my pizza.