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More Italian Comes to the Mission

Farina's transformation of the 50s style “Anna’s Danish Cookies” bakery into an industrial/Italian apothecary-chic space is nothing short of amazing. The large, airy floorplan is divided into various distinct areas. Facing the street, where an old-timey red and white awning used to mark this residential block of 18th Street, are curved floor to ceiling windows with intimate tables for two; there are booth seats along the side; a large communal table; and two bars -- one with a line of bar stools that quickly fills up with diners. The vibe is energetic but not rambunctious.

From the day it opened, there has been a lot of buzz about Farina Focaccia and Cucina Italiana, a regionally focused Italian restaurant with specialties from Liguria and Genova. Upon opening, the restaurant endured an embarrassing booze-free period, which has since been rectified (to some neighbors' chagrin), and diners are now flocking to 18th Street's latest culinary hotspot. Farina joins its neighbors Delfina, Bi-Rite Creamery and Tartine as a destination where crowds routinely spill out onto the street.

We got off to a rocky start with the Prosciutto crudo di Parma e burrata con tartufo ($16). While the portion was generous and the burrata fresh and creamy, the prosciutto was too salty and sliced a bit too thick; the promised shaved black truffle was nowhere to be seen.

The calamari starter, however, was a nice change from the typical fried offering. It was braised in red wine (though not sautéed as described), and served with a bit of mashed potatoes. Though supposedly rosemary-scented, we didn’t perceive any rosemary in the puree. The dish could have used a bit of contrast, but the bottom-of-the-sea flavor of the tender calamari was satisfying.

Not to be missed are the Focaccia di Recco offerings ($15-17). Gooey Stracchino cheese is melted between layers of thin bread, in no way resembling the thick and doughy focaccia bread to which we’re accustomed. It is at the same time chewy, crispy and absolutely delicious. While the menu says it serves two, it could also easily serve three or four as a starter. Sadly, the regular bread served at our table was stale-tasting and bland, though we were told it was also house-baked. Perhaps it was cut too early in the day?

The homemade pastas we tried were both winners. Some preferred the stuffed Genovese tortelli, filled with ricotta and earthy borage leaves in a rich, thick walnut cream sauce. The Madilli al pesto ($16), delicate handkerchief pasta, was toothsome with a luscious creamy pesto that hit just the right notes. Portions for both would suffice as a starter to share, but might feel a bit skimpy as a main course.

The entrée we tried was less successful. The Vitello all’uccelleto con funghi galletti ($22) combined somewhat dry and terribly bland scallops of sautéed veal with gritty chanterelle mushrooms. When we pointed this out to the waitress she did comp one of our desserts, but still, gritty mushrooms and unseasoned meat are amateur mistakes. The table next to us was deliriously happy with the roast beef with roasted potatoes, and admittedly it looked to be a winner.

The menu has a large selection of desserts, and we were eager to compare the panna cotta with Delfina’s famous version. Served parfait style, it was lighter, creamy, and layered with blackberries. But the real winner was the Latte dolce fritto ($8) described as Genovese sweet cream fitters, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. We recommend ordering at least two portions to keep your table happy. Other offerings include cookies, ice cream, semifreddo and cheeses. After being open for a few months, there are a few rough spots, but we look forward to seeing them smoothed out in good time.

Reservations Essential? Yes.