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Restaurants & Bars 15

quake nite at da flora

ed | Apr 19, 2006 01:29 PM

there was a special retro menu for the night, and we chose

apps

crostini with fava bean puree and (candied?) lemon zest - i love fava beans. as a kid i remember getting huge boxes out at half moon bay and husking them for my grandma. she'd stir fry them and i'd eat a LOT. a big part of what i liked was the chewy inner husks, which of course weren't part of this puree. but the inner bean sweetness was present, highlighted, and almost outshone by the candied lemon zest on top. sounds crazy, but this gave some slight impression of a pb&j, with the zest like a marmalade. the crostini, in this and other dishes, were very crisp and buttery (yum).

half dozen tomales oystas - mine was fine, but others didn't like theirs ('too fishy').

something else i completely forgot, but i think i liked. i think i mopped up the sauce with the focaccia.

the focaccia, you see, burned a wide path through my memory. it is heavily oiled before baking, giving a deep fried character to the crust. the inside is relatively light and chewy. hence, i couldn't help but notice a resemblance to chinese donuts. yes, yo tiao. our table required seconds.

mains

'quake kit' pasta with carmelized onions and anchovies - i liked this, though i felt the anchovies and sweet onions were a bit too much in contrast to make a happy couple. more of an interesting one night stand, thrown together by happenstance. also, the anchovies were less prominent.

grilled sole with artichokes - the breading and grilling of the fish was nicely done, and i liked the bits of artichoke heart. but there were also outer husks from the choke, which were too tough to include in such a delicate dish.

osso bucco - not the moistest version i've ever had, but the bits with more fat and tendon were right on. this was served upon some risotto, which was fine. didn't get to try the marrow, but it looked promising.

sweet potato gnocchi - their signature dish. i only had one, but they are relatively large if few in number. sweet and tender as promised, carefully grilled to yield a perfect golden crust on two faces. the cheese and pancetta were mild enough to support but not outshine the dumplings. very nice indeed.

wines

a prosecco upon which to float the oysters and to toast the imminent departure of a cherished chow.

97 masi amarone 'costasera'. yes, it was just an average tuesday evening, but this week's brilliant if tardy rebirth of spring had me feeling very much in touch with life's heartbreakingly beautiful brevity. so when the sweet old sage of weimax presented me with northern italy's special occasion wine, from a vintage he took pains to describe as 'not good, excellent' the decision was easy. how, indeed, could i let another day pass without letting this wine blossom upon our palates?

i will not deconstruct this beauty. that would be callous, crude, and as i realize more than ever, completely beside the point. i could recite all the technical specifications of an alfa romeo spider veloce, but that doesn't even whisper of the poetry of her purring motor and mechanical harmony as she retraces the curvaceous terrain where she was conceived.

let's just say that 9 years ago the vines upon the west-facing slopes overlooking lake garda (la costa sera) captured the evening sun, breeze and soil, and gave the fruit of these elemental contributions to the vintner, who carefully placed them in this bottle. we were simply fortunate enough to take this sacrament into ourselves last night.

otherwise, the wine list is impressive for a resto of this size. with our desserts of pistachio torta and formaggio, we had what might have been a recioto(?). a dry white wine which i believe was described as organic, pesticide free, fertilized by cows, picked by phases of the moon, and aged in amphorae buried in the earth. a pagan wine.

which brings me to the service. many reviewers have painted it in varying shades of rudeness, but any relationship is the product of two parties and their baggage, no? 'good service' in this time and place has come to be defined as an ever ingratiating, sometimes coddling, always crisp professionalism. that's fine, when you walk into a resto expecting good food industry service.

flora, as we learned from her own mouth, is hungarian. she studied in italy, speaks italian, and decided to open this place with her partner (not mother, not daughter). it is very much their place. there is some nice tokai lying around, but it isn't on the wine list. it's flora's wine, not "da flora's". the opening hours are posted as 5 or 530, but when i arrived for a drink at 6, she had placed chairs across the doorway and didn't immediately let me in. it's her kitchen, she had something to do, and she wasn't ready yet. could i call this rude and unprofessional? of course. but that would be an artifact of a generic assumption. if i instead step back and consider that this is the kitchen of a lady named flora, who feeds strangers the food she loves for a compensatory tariff, i will understand the situation far more accurately and retune my expectations accordingly.

i would never presume to understand another human, but for the purposes of illustration, let me say that flora and her partner appear to be humans in full posession of their souls. they conduct a good portion of their lives through this doorway on columbus ave, some of which involves taking care of people they may or may not know, or may or may not particularly like. like mario puzo's undertaker whose daughter was violated and sought quick justice, go in with an outsider's attitude of expectation, and be disappointed. or, go in with mutual respect, an open heart, and an understanding of life's interconnections and give and take nature, and you may find yourself well fed, happily sipping some very special tokai with the lady of the house.

forgive the caricature, but flora, you see, could be the godmother of north beach.

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