I've been meaning to post this review for some time. I've visited Flour+Water at least eight times since they have opened. The food here is always very good and -- important in SF -- consistent. To drive home this point of consistency, I did visit once and all their pizzas were pulled from the menu... they did this because the chef was happy with how the dough turned out. Although I was initially set back since my visit was for the pizza, I was happy to see they care about what comes out of their kitchen.
I always have great things to say about the food and service. The food is solid Italian food with lots of interesting flavors and a focus on fresh ingredients. The service here has always been fantastic as well.
There are things to not like but there are ways to keep that from being a problem too. For one thing, Flour+Water only takes reservations for half the restaurant. The other half are reserved for walk-ins and even then the wait can be very long (witness the famous picture of Steve Jobs storming out since he did not have a rez). I never asked this but it would seem the primo spots are always kept for people that made reservations in advance because some of the other seats up front are more open and it seems to be busier there. My personal recommendation: Go with a reservation or go knowing there will likely be a long wait and perhaps not the best table in the house. Without a reservation, plan on either waiting in a packed space in the front (and I mean packed) or perhaps head back toward the Mission a few blocks and grab some beer or wine at Shotwells bar.
The noise level is sometimes a bit much as well. I once worked with a chef who told me they play louder and faster music to move customers along more quickly. At Flour+Water it would seem they try this trick on a regular basis but everyone just ignores it and enjoys long, leisurely meals anyway.
The menu changes very frequently and I believe they print it daily. The appetizers are usually a small list with some decent items. I must admit that aside from the salads, neither me nor my friends order from the appetizers very often.
Pastas are made from-scratch and each has its own unique sauce. They just started a $60 pasta tasting + $40 if you want a pairing. Seems like a good and interesting idea but the whole table has to order it so if you want to try this, plan it with your friends ahead of time. While still on the subject of their pastas, they are fantastic. Some are stuffed with meats, others like the papperdelle (sp?) usually come with a delicious melt-in-your-mouth meat, and so on.
I usually go for the entrees or the pizza. As mentioned before, the pizza dough is made in-house, has a nice crispy texture and a few carefully selected fresh toppings are added (no pepperoni and meatballs here). At my last visit, I had a white pizza (no sauce) with roasted zuchinni and cheese... it was delicious.
The list of entrees are typically very small but very good. As a matter of fact I think people overlook the entrees and jump to the pizza or pasta instead.
If you go and find the fish-forward appetizers a bit much but want something to nibble on with your group of friends, do what lots of people do... order a shared pizza and then order your meal. This does bring me to one last key point about Flour+Water and that is portion sizes. While I think you will find the food great and worth a wait (maybe not 3 hours), you will likely not be filled with just one pasta or entree. I highly recommend getting a few things (or the aforementioned pizza) and sharing.
Flour+Water is becoming a regular hangout spot for me because they have all the things I want... consistency, great service and of course really good unpretentious food. If you are not into the waiting around for awhile or a very loud atmosphere, you will likely be put off by the place so know that up front.
Overall I give the restaurant 4 stars, which for me means it has met my requirements to be a regular spot.
Flour + Water
2401 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94110