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Flour + Water

Steampunked Italian

Flour + Water = pasta and pizza. Yes, the name for this place is fitting enough; all that’s needed for an excellent meal is this simple combination…with a touch of sauce and garlic. The concept itself is simple: A neighborhood space that provides diners with tasty Italian bites: crisp Neapolitan pizzas made in an authentic Italian oven, fresh hand-rolled pastas, and house-cured salumi. Under the sign you’ll find a menu from Chef Thomas Naughton and Outer Mission denizens David Steele and David White that contains thoughtful sampling of all the primo, secondi, forno and dolci classics you crave -- in a cozy, steampunked setting.

“Steampunk?” you ask. Yes, this means the dining room ambiance revels in what Steele describes as, “Victorian elegance paired with modern technology.” The dining room is set in a lovely Victorian space decorated with refurbished and reclaimed wood furnishings and industrial accents (all designed by Paxton Gate’s Sean Quigley). So, think raw wood, antler chandeliers, and earthy murals -- sort of like an Etruscan Suppenküche.

Upon entry, and if you’re early enough, you’ll find sunshine streaming through those large Victorian windows…and a room packed -- yes, packed -- with diners. For the first of a few visits, we arrived on a Tuesday (Tuesday is the new Saturday, apparently, and actually just as busy at Flour + Water as a weekend). And though the place had just opened, we had a minor wait. Nevertheless, the hostess was friendly, requisitely tattooed and pierced (maybe even steampunked?), and proffering a wine list for a sip while we waited.

Fortunately, since Flour + Water takes few reservations, ensuring most of their seats are available for walk-ins, the wait wasn’t long (this time). Thus, we were set at the bar, our favorite seat in the house. We took suggestions from our friendly server and ordered a salad, a pizza, a few pastas and -- with wine suggestions from managing partner, David White -- multiple glasses from Flour + Water’s Italian-centric list.

The dinner menu itself reflects elegance and modernity with mid-priced dishes on the small plate side. We’re into variety, therefore the portion size allowed us to relish each dish, and to try more than we might have otherwise.

We ordered the “butter boletus and mousseron mushroom salad with pancetta, watercress & egg yolk” ($10). Though we found the dressing a tad heavy, ultimately the combination of crispy bacon, earthy mushrooms, and creamy egg set our taste buds humming. We quickly followed this medley with a classic margherita pizza ($12). And though we promised to only eat a slice or two and save room for our pastas and entree, the thin crust -- golden and slightly tinged with tasty bits of char -- proved hard to resist. We ate the entire pie without pause.

Next, we sampled the buccatini puttanesca pasta ($16). As huge fans of this long spaghetti-like noodle with the tiniest of holes to allow all that wonderful sauce to become absorbed, we were not let down by Flour + Water’s rendition. While the sauce was slightly oily, it clung lovingly to its pasta and revealed a delicious bite of chili pepper and the slightest undercurrent of tangy anchovy.

We were more than willing to find room for the “corn and crescenza cappelletti with bitter honey” pasta that followed ($16). Chef Naughton, formerly of La Folie, Gary Danko and Quince, has done his time in Bologna at a pasta factory, and he truly reveals his chops in each savory bite. Filled with creamy cheese and dressed with buttery corn, this dish alone proved worthy of return visits.

For our entrée, we tried the “seared halibut with rosa bianco eggplant, asparagus, erbette chard and olive vinaigrette” ($21). The asparagus was roasted and the halibut moist with a crisp golden exterior. The presentation itself was also pleasing -- each morsel, as well as the rosa bianco and olive vinaigrette, was presented artfully on a rectangular white plate.

For dessert, we ordered the “olive oil cake” ($7). Some rendition of this dish has often been on the menu: with macerated strawberries, with candied fennel, and another with a thyme ice cream. But on our first visit we found it served with olive oil ice cream and salt shavings. The cake was dense and moist with a honey syrup and the ice cream was unbelievably delicious with that lovely combination of sweet and savory. On another visit we sampled the budino ($7), a small nondescript pot of chocolate that quickly made us regret our choice (and long for another bite of olive oil cake).

But this is such a small complaint -- who can ever truly complain about chocolate? With each visit, we’ve found Flour + Water increasingly popular and the wait slightly longer. Which goes to say, Flour + Water has been found out. And for good reason -- the food is fresh and inspired and the setting is both warm and inviting. There isn’t necessarily anything wildly exotic or inventive going on here; rather, Flour + Water provides a reliable spot where you’re sure to find a simple sort of Italian comfort food with nods to the local bounty.

Outer Mission

Reservations – Yes, but limited.