There may be no city in the United States that exemplifies the ethos of food industry sustainability quite like San Francisco. The liberal-minded West Coast hub of tech innovation has long been a trailblazer in farm-to-table cuisine and creative food industry trends. It's easy to spotlight the sustainable initiatives at the newest restaurant on the block or praise the city's revered legacy businesses, but there's another type of restaurant that these days is easy to overlook: the new classic, which is exemplified by Flour + Water.
When Flour + Water opened on the corner of 20th St. and Harrison in 2009, it didn't take long for the city — and the rest of the country — to take notice. Notoriously picky longtime San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer gave a glowing three-star review, writing that "in every respect, there's more to Flour+Water than meets the eye." The same year, GQ named it to its list of best new restaurants in America, calling it "sneakily sophisticated, with remarkable ingredients and stunning layers of flavor that don't stray from easy-to-eat." In its opening year, the restaurant was so hip that they turned away Steve Jobs on a busy night.
Thirteen years later, that praise still rings true. The blocks around its location in the Mission were then considered out of the way by Bauer but are now filled with a dozen other incredible restaurants. And Flour + Water is still busy enough that tech royalty like Mark Zuckerberg might have trouble scoring a walk-in table.
In the year 2022, Flour + Water's sustainability initiatives seem downright old-fashioned. But what's now the industry standard has been part of the restaurant's DNA since opening.
The menu changes not just seasonally but weekly, based on what the chefs find at local farmer's markets. They emphasize using every part of the animal with their in-house butchering program. F+W also incorporates parts of ingredients that are typically discarded, like simmering cheese rinds for broth or using them for Parmesan-infused cultured butter. The menu always features a daily ricotta dish, and the restaurant uses whey byproducts in dressings and braised meats.
Flour + Water was also a trailblazer in its work toward lowering the food industry's overall carbon footprint. In 2016, F+W was a founding member of Zero Footprint, donating 1% of its sales to the non-profit organization, which gives grants to farmers to help them incorporate sustainable practices into their operations.
Flour + Water has set a standard for service that feels effortlessly cool without the pretension that typically comes with that label. Expect a server that you'd want to have a drink with afterward — and who would have a great recommendation for a not-too-funky bottle of natural wine.
It's hard to go wrong by starting with a loaf of sourdough from Josey Baker with a pat of Parmigiano Reggiano cultured butter. Although it was the tail end of the season, it's still a sin not to order a fresh tomato appetizer in California. Flour + Water's version is fantastically balanced, the acid of the tomato matched by creamy stracciatella, umami-packed black sesame, a bit of fried shallot for crunch, and rich fig leaf oil. The padron arancini is another fantastic app, one of the only fried items on the menu and an excellent contrast to the other more subtle dishes. The halibut crudo is also a winner, with melon, cucumber, avocado, and lemon verbena accenting the buttery white fish.
But the real reason to visit is obviously the pasta. Order a few different ones to share. The porcini rigatoni is one of the more straightforward dishes, but also incredibly satisfying, an eggy and buttery mushroom pasta brought to life by chives and black pepper. Squid ink is often a gimmick, but here it's an excellent match for their bucatini, with an octopus ragu, Calabrian chili crunch, and the same black sesame that made the tomato dish such a standout. The squash casonsel was the surprise of the night, small ravioli-like pockets of pasta bursting with fall flavors (50% of the menu is vegetarian, a fact that's easy to overlook). For a heartier dish, try the veal agnolotti, a cousin of tortellini from the Piedmont region.
Flour + Water is one of the rare San Francisco restaurants that is open seven days a week, but reservations via Resy are recommended even on weekdays. Should you forget, add your name to their waitlist and head down the street to either Trick Dog or True Laurel, two of the city's best cocktail bars. COVID cautious diners should know that the beautiful parklet that they built early in the pandemic has been removed, and there's now only indoor seating.
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