Braving the Line at Flour + Water, Plus a Sneak Peek of What’s to Come

A parfait of quince, crema and crunchy walnut crumbles at Flour + Water.

Practically from the first day it opened nearly three years ago, San Francisco’s Flour + Water restaurant has had droves of people lining up nightly to get inside.

Who can resist blistered Margherita pizzas and hand-made pork raviolini with chanterelles and thyme?

Not me, as I joined the throngs in line on this Mission District corner on a recent blustery evening to snag a seat at the bar on my own dime.

After all, it sure beat trying to drive home to the South Bay at the height of the rush-hour commute on a Friday night.

Instead of fighting highway traffic, I parked myself on a bar stool right next to the kitchen. It afforded a bird’s eye view of the cooks stretching pizza dough and assembling pasta dishes all under the scrutiny of a very judicious expediter, who took tweezers to plates to arrange microgreens just so before they were delivered to the dining room with his approval.

The view of the kitchen from my bar stool.

As I perused the menu, I knew I was going to order pasta. After all, I can’t pass up supple noodles of any sort, but especially ones made every day by hand in the restaurant’s famous upstairs “dough room,” which I got to see on an earlier visit.

In the "dough room'' with Chef Thomas McNaughton (right).

Just-made filled pasta dumplings.

Bow ties with bursts of bright color.

I started with a salad of cured steelhead trout ($12) that was a definite spot of brightness on that chilly, dark night. Roasted beets added sweetness, fresh horseradish a hit of fire and paper-thin slices of Persian lime bursts of citrusy refreshment.

Silky steelhead trout stars in this appetizer.

Tender cones of pasta with nubbins of rabbit sausage.

For my pasta course, I settled on the cappellacci dei briganti with rabbit sausage, cauliflower and chili ($17). Little triangular cones arrived on the plate with nicely seasoned nuggets of sausage and just enough spice to tickle the back of the throat.

Of course, I couldn’t leave without indulging in dessert, specifically Nocino crema ($8). The dark brown liqueur from Northern Italy is made from unripe green walnuts. Its slightly bittersweet flavor gave balance to the creamy mousse that crowned slices of poached quince. Salty, crunchy brown-butter walnut crumbles strewn on top made it all the more impossible to stop digging my spoon in again and again.

This spring, Flour + Water is expected to open its newest venture just a block away in what was a long-abandoned sausage factory. I had a chance to get a tour of the property that afternoon.

The refrigerator case at the soon-to-open Salumeria a block away.

Light fixtures at Salumeria fashioned from olive picking baskets.

The type of cured meats to be sold at Salumeria.

Chef-Proprietor Thomas McNaughton will debut two new businesses there: Salumeria, a real-deal Italian deli that will sell Flour + Water’s charcuterie, mustards, pickles, pastas and sauces; and Central Kitchen, a fine-dining restaurant with a casual setting, including a large, enclosed courtyard that brings the outdoors in.

A sample of what's to come at Central Kitchen -- turnip soup with crab and tempura turnip green...

...and a Central Kitchen canape of cracklin' chicken skin, chanterelle mushroom and apple.

Two other businesses also will be housed there: Trick Dog, a bar with late-night noshes by mixologists, the Bon Vivants; and The Parlour, a bakery-cafe by ice cream wizard, Humphry Slocombe. Both are expected to open in the near future.

Whether this portends shorter lines at Flour + Water is anyone’s guess. I’m betting it will just mean additional queues clamoring for more of McNaughton’s food.

(For more information on this exciting new project, see my story in Food Arts magazine.)

More Pasta Worth a Special Trip: Lunch at Michael Mina in San Francisco

And: Dinner at SPQR in San Francisco

And: Dinner at A16 in San Francisco

And: Bottega in Yountville

And: Donato Enoteca in Redwood City

Plus: Chef Thomas McNaughton’s San Francisco Demo

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