Annika, 20-something, and Mark, 70-something, are out to find the Mission’s most noteworthy noodles.
Hey Mark, what’s good?
The problem with hype is that few things ever live up to it. When it comes to food, hype becomes a whole other beast. Instagram deceives your friends with picturesque plates, leading them to drag you along halfway across the city for ice cream because the cone is intricately designed like a fish and it “looks cool.” Before you know it, you’re out $9 and have a soggy cone and sticky hand to show for it.
The hype disease worsens when you factor in time. If something is hyped for too long, it’s either because it rightfully earned the reputation, or because enough people won’t admit a storied establishment is subpar. So, when I decided to take my father to Flour + Water, a pasta spot revered and renowned for over a decade now, I worried the upscale eatery might fall short of expectations set by numerous reviews and coworkers. But I’m pleased to say: Flour + Water? Now that’s hype.
Everything went as others told me it would, and I mean everything. As the 2012 Eater article advised, I lined up at 5 p.m. sharp to snag a table sans reservation. Because we were eight minutes after five, we had to choose between eating outdoors or the communal table. Considering the unnaturally warm July day and my father’s birthday (whooo), we chose the former.
Let me just say: this could be the best pasta I’ve ever eaten in my life. Now, take that with a grain of salt, considering it’s coming from a young lady who has not dined around the world’s best pasta shops, nor even among the city’s best star-studded restaurants. But, picking apart the ornately designed, flavorful pasta dishes with my family, I felt like judge Tom Colicchio on Top Chef: viscerally aware I was experiencing some life-changing food.
The beef agnolotti dal plin was like an upscale Chef Boyardee, and I mean that as a compliment. My dad thinks Flour + Water is so out of the Chef’s league, I shouldn’t even compare the two. (He’s probably right, but what other notorious noodle feels so cozy?) I relished bursting warm bites of braised meat. The sauce tasted slightly spicy, and it swam in a stout bowl to show off its shape.
The cornmeal garganelli, my personal favorite, was presented on a flat plate to match its appearance. The ribbed noodles amplified the al dente texture, and I immediately thought of those flattened, decorative pennies you get from machines as a kid. The sweetness of the corn and spinach complemented the rich and tender rabbit; the dish tasted like summer. It made me rethink my life’s financial trajectory. Should I transfer to a more lucrative industry, marry rich, write a bestseller?
My family and I deserve zero credit for the dinner selection. When we asked for recommendations, our waiter confidently rattled off a detailed explanation of each dish, elaborating on its ingredients and cooking methods. Yep, he could curate the meal for us. And, despite being dressed in a printed, frat-boy-esque button-down, he couldn’t have been more refined or kind. Case in point: when it came time to serve the dessert, he didn’t dare loudly serenade my dad “Happy Birthday.” This ain’t your hometown Red Robin’s.
I won’t even speak about the other fantastic things we ate. Let’s just say I took a ton of photos and joined the furor on Instagram.
Annika! You went where?
Flour + Water yes, but isn’t F+W a pasta joint? Do you assume that noodles and pasta can be consumed and critiqued interchangeably?
Would you mix and merge the Tao Te Ching with The Divine Comedy?
Noodle journalism, a relatively new field, requires taste, but also precision. We would not want Facebook or Twitter to kick Mission Local off their platforms for spreading noodle misinformation and stirring the pot of communal confusion.
Though both noodles and pasta begin with flour and water, there are key differences including the kind of flour, the use of eggs, and salt. Noodles are usually long thin strips of dough rolled into ribbons, whereas, get this, there are around 300 forms of pasta. And the two provoke different gushes of sensory experience.
Therefore, should Flour + Water be considered a worthy candidate for NoodleMania?
I also went with family members. They were not celebrating anything but watching me puzzle this problem in my paraprofessional capacity as a neighborhood noodler.
When the waiter asked if we had any questions, we laughed. We had nothing but questions.
One thing I learned on this trip to F+W: the pasta pockets are the main attraction. They must be made by hand. But what hands!! Who has hands supple, daring, and nimble enough to create not just one, but hundreds of small intricately designed, shaped, and stuffed pockets every day? Each boiled to a perfect degree of al dente-ness.
New digs, new eats. Read:
The pasta pockets provide a novel interactive restaurant outing, where consumers don’t just come to eat, but to ogle, poke, bite, taste, think, share and comment (preferably in Italian).
My favorite dish was the beef agnolotti dal plin. Enclosed by a small, unprepossessing half-moon shaped pocket, was a mixture featuring shredded beef with horseradish. Though F+W seems to strive for ensemble effect, it was possible to pick out the beef and the horseradish. Each bite offered a distinct zing.
The cornmeal garganelli was the most noodle-ish dish, which had more to do with form than substance. It came with braised rabbit mixed in with parmesan and roasted corn with tomatillo and basil. The flavors blended and paired well with the garganelli, which is kind of a pointed penne.
We also ordered the pork fattisu. Fattisu (I looked it up) is a very small pocket with both ends twisted, mini-tootsie roll fashion. I cannot attest to the presence of pork, which was either absent or drowned out by the smoked peach mostarda. Despite the precious little fattisu (maybe too small), the dish failed to make a case for itself.
Finally, for vegetarian purposes, we shared the basil and corn cappelletti which comes with crescenza, summer squash soffritto and pesto. When I asked the waiter what it all meant, he looked at me like I had just arrived from Chico. I can tell you that the pasta came shaped like little green hats stuffed with a mash remarkable only in its utter blandality. We declined the offer of a box to take home the leftover hats.
Noodles or not, I would suggest Flour + Water supply an Italian-English dictionary along with their menu. They might also provide screens for patrons to watch the person/people making the various pasta pockets, which steal the show and belong in a Florentine museum. They are artists, all.
Flour + Water is located at 2401 Harrison St.
I find that F+W starts with what it’s possibly a good base and then proceeds to drown it in so many different overwrought flavors, the intention is lost.
Also, I’m all for modernizing cooking but agnolotti dal plin is a VERY traditional dish made with pork, veal and rabbit, rounded out but heavily buttered and parmed risotto and chard. If they were filled with beef, as tasty as they may have been, agnolotti dal plin they were not.