Occupation: Engineering Manager
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana
Reviewed Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana: Friday, February 12, 2010
For the first time, we made a reservation for our visit. We normally show up and get a small table by the bar, which we call “our usual table.” It fits our feelings about Farina because it is THE place we go after a long and grueling week from hell to feel satisfied, comfortable, and taken care of to a point where we start seeing the fun side of life again.
The moment we walked into Farina, all the familiar faces immediately smiled and walked up to us, asking how we have been, how our Christmas has been, and whether or not we finally got the house repairs completed. It’s the typical, welcoming Farina attitude — warm, friendly, and plenty of attention paid to the details of each and every one of their customers. Our usual waitress, Britney, who we usually call Brit for short, came up and told us that our table would be ready in a few minutes. As we continued chatting with the hostesses, we were shown to our table set against the wall. The restaurant was buzzing with energy and style, just as always. People were having great time engrossed in conversation, enjoying the sexy atmosphere of soft lighting, and clean and European inspiring décor, and of course the freshly made wonderful food that keeps coming out of the partially visible kitchen. This was the first time we sat at a table against the wall, and I noticed that the noise level was a bit higher than our typical experience.
Brit asked if I would like to start off with my usual chilled Grey Goose with a twist of lemon and if Catherine would like a glass of white wine. She knew what we needed so well; all we had to do was simply agree. She also got our order for the complimentary sparkling water. As we were waiting for the drinks, we were served the delicious house made herbed bread with the imported olive oil that melts smoothly over the tongue. We were happy; all was sure to be taken care of. Once again, we were about to have a fantastic meal in a great atmosphere.
After looking at the menu and making our selections, we began to enjoy our time at the restaurant even more; soaking in the atmosphere and considering how lucky we were to be at Farina at that moment. The dishes started to arrive one at a time. Catherine’s tuna was absolutely delicious. It was large chunks of lightly marinated tuna with delicious black raisins and salad. My seared scallops were absolutely the best I have ever had. They were plump, fresh, and even a slight bit chewy. They were seared to perfection — not too oily, not to dry, not too crisp, not too rare, just perfect. Later I learned that the scallops were just in from the East Coast and were very fresh.
Our main dishes were again delicious beyond belief. My pan-roasted New Zealand fish, John Dory, was executed flawlessly. It had the perfect combination of meaty taste to delicate texture. Braised artichoke hearts complemented the dish ideally by providing a balance between the flaky, meaty texture of the fish and the soft, almost caramelized feeling of the artichoke hearts.
Catherine’s main dish was also very tasty, filled with wonderful bits of seafood in a very hearty red sauce. As we were eating the main dishes, Britney brought over an order of our favorite freshly made handkerchief pasta with pesto. It was complimentary from the house to show us how much they appreciate our business. The pasta is so silky and smooth that one can eat it at any point during the dining. The pesto is, in my belief, the best in the city; it is very smooth and has the perfect ratio of pine nuts to olive oil. It is neither too heavy nor too light — it is just right. Again, imported ingredients, along with a perfect execution of handmade pastas and sauce, bring out the best in any dish at Farina.
After the main meal, we indicated that, although we wanted to have a dessert, we needed to take a walk. Normally, this type of request would be quite difficult to make at a restaurant, but we felt so comfortable that it was not even an embarrassing question for us. As they prepared to close the current tab, we were offered a complimentary after dinner wine. It was bubbly, delicious, and refreshing.
We were gladly sent out for a quick walk and when we got back, another wonderful table was there waiting for our arrival. This time, we were in the prime location, right at the corner, where we had a commanding view of the floor. Before we each ordered a dessert, we asked for a dessert wine that we are familiar with from Cinque Terre. As we were sipping the wine, we browsed through the dessert menu and made our selections. The poached plum had the perfect combination of chilled and refreshing fruity taste to natural sweetness, whereas the almond mousse had a light creamy texture with a hint of vanilla and delicate sweetness. My macchiato was perfectly made and as authentic as I can possibly imagine it to be.
Once again, the entire evening made us feel welcomed and comfortable. We were surrounded by soft lighting, a wonderfully friendly atmosphere of excitement, clean European décor, and nothing but the freshest and perfectly prepared food. It is the place we go when we want to feel special and inspired. It is the place that never fails to recognize us and always serves us perfectly executed meals with carefully selected ingredients.
Occupation: Higher Education Administrator
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pomelo
Reviewed Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana: Tuesday, February 16, 2010
This restaurant is really beautifully designed, and the most aesthetically pleasing space I visited (out of my three assignments). The restaurant was a feast for the eyes before any food or drink had even been consumed, as well as during and after. The front wall is a sinuous wave curve of floor-to-ceiling glass. The room divider that separates the bar from the dining room is open-air and filled (but not crowded) with colored bottles of wine and alcohol, and stemware of all different shapes. The large and tall bouquets of flowers are placed unobtrusively above the heads of all diners. The baskets of bread visible over the barstool seats were arranged with stalks of wheat. The menus have a monogram “F” that matches the wood-burned mark on the small plank that held the square plate for olive oil dipping. Candles were lit on every table. The wood stairs (or the burnished metal doors of the elevator) that take you up to the brightly designed restrooms and a private dining space were beautiful and clean. The tables all matched, but each was different (and a large communal dining table in the center of the main dining room had an exceptional wooden finish), and the seats were repurposed from trains or schools but also all worked together in the space. The overhead lighting fixtures are artistic, and the wall above the bar even has the expected bottles of wine that were unexpectedly nestled in triangular cubbies that added a sense of depth, texture, and shape to what would otherwise have been a flat wall. It was obvious from the moment that my friend and I arrived for dinner that we were going to experience something that had been planned and well thought out.
Our server was extremely knowledgeable and helpful with our questions about the menu and the cocktails. He also accommodated my vegetarian diet, although the menu seemed decidedly more appealing for a meat eater. The bread we were served before ordering was a tasty, crispy, thin bread that tasted like herbed breadsticks and looked like small squares of Sicilian pizza (without the sauce). Both of the cocktails we tried were tasty (and also served in solid martini flared cups with a more sturdy base than the usual stemware): the pomegranate/citrus cocktail might be too sweet for some, but it was to my liking, and the spiced pear cocktail had a more earthy spice to it, as its name implied.
Next came our starter, a really fine flatbread pizza that came steaming hot right out of the wood-fired oven we could see. Our server, Moe, was able to leave the anchovies on one half of the pizzatta, so that my half could remain vegetarian. Unfortunately, the cheese was so molten and the sauce was so piping hot, that even though I worked very quickly to remove my half to my plate, chunks of the pulverized anchovies slid off the remaining half, and started to mix with the extra sauce left on the serving plate. The pizzatta was like the crispy bottom layer of a wood-fired pizza, so it tasty and had a great crispness to it. I almost wish it had been a softer, thicker bread, so I could have it used to sop up every bit of the remaining sauce and cheese, but since the anchovies got mixed into that, I didn’t wish away the crispiness too much.
The main courses were also both beautifully plated. My friend said his butterfish dish was cooked perfectly: flaky flesh with a golden brown exterior that came from the heat of expert cooking and not from any breading. He said the fish actually tasted like butter and was wonderful with “al dente” green beans that he also really enjoyed. He didn’t care for the cherry tomatoes on the plate, but admitted that he just typically does not go for that texture. My dish was the only pasta dish suitable for a vegetarian: pansotti, which were like pillows of cheese and spinach and chard and herb. Our server commented that the dish was served with a walnut pesto that was “definitely heavier” than the other pasta dish served with the traditional green herb pesto, but I wanted to try something different. Luckily, my pasta came out coated with just enough of the walnut pesto to permit a taste of that flavor with every bite of the pansotti. The sauce had not flooded the plate, so I was grateful that the pasta was not swimming in a heavy cream sauce. I enjoyed this dish with the vegetable side dish of zucchini that was very good. The chunky dices of zucchini appeared to have been roasted and then sautéed, because they had a smoky color and flavor that helped elevate them from, what my friend bemoaned was as an otherwise tasteless vegetable, to something that seemed to pair very well with the cheesy pesto pasta I had.
Our final dish was a dessert tart with vanilla cream and mixed berries. It had a nice flaky crust and a light taste, but was rather unremarkable. It did the job of freshening my palate, and that’s all I wanted, so I suppose it was a good closer to the meal.
When the bill came, so did a bit of sticker shock. Overall, the service was great, and the food and drinks came out quickly. The food was very good, but not so outstanding that I would price the meal (drink, shared appetizer, entrée, vegetable side dish, and shared dessert) at $70 per person (our bill with gratuity came out to about $68 per person). I left thinking that I was probably paying for the aesthetics as much as the food. I’m not sure I would frequent this place or even go back for special occasions simply because it seems to be priced so highly. In a city with so many above-average Italian restaurants to choose from, I might get more bang for my buck elsewhere. (I might also skip the desserts and grab something from Bi-Rite Creamery just down the block instead!)
Parking is very difficult in the neighborhood — so much so that my friend said it would probably keep him from coming back (along with the high prices). I thought the restaurant advertised valet service, but there was no attendant when we came by. We saw a corner lot a block away, marked “Farina valet parking only,” only when we were walking back to our lucky street parking spot about three blocks away.
So, the dinner out left me (just) satisfied, but left my wallet much lighter and probably unhappy with my unexpected splurge.
Occupation: Stay-At-Home New Mom
Location: Santa Clara
Favorite Restaurant: deedee’s
Reviewed Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana: Saturday, February 6, 2010
I went to review this restaurant with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, who is 3 years old, and my baby nephew. After reading all the other reviews out there, I was really looking forward to having a great time. I had called the night before, and reserved the table for us for brunch the next day. I chose to go there for brunch for three reasons: it is much easier to go to a restaurant with children at lunchtime, it is more affordable, and, finally, I felt they had many more vegetarian options for lunch than for dinner.
Since we had two little children, we dropped my sister and the kids off at the front of the restaurant while we went to park the car at the restaurant’s parking garage. It is nice that they have their own designated garage, given that parking can be quite difficult to find in the Mission District. When we returned after almost 5 minutes, they were not seated, and my sister told me that no one had even acknowledged their presence in the restaurant. It wasn’t until after I had requested to be seated that we were finally seated. The restaurant wasn’t even busy.
After the initial cold shoulder we received, things took a turn for the better. The waiter assigned to us was very warm and friendly, and this made up for the initial reception and also for the stark, almost industrial, look of the place. My brother-in-law thought it looked like a garage. Except for a few red flowers, it was all white. The décor felt cold and very masculine. Seating was not very comfortable.
We wanted to try something from almost every section of the menu so that we could rate the restaurant fairly and thoroughly. We were served water and free bread and olive oil in a timely manner. Given the rave reviews I read about their focaccia bread, I was a bit disappointed when I found it a bit too salty. We all thought the bread was salty. The walnut bread was, however, dense and yummy.
We ordered mimosas, sangria, and a Bloody Mary. Except for the sangria, which tasted a bit bitter, all the other drinks scored high. My mimosa had the right blend of Prosecco and fruit. Unfortunately, the white bean soup was also a bit heavy on the salt. When we mentioned it to our waiter, he volunteered to take it back, and then brought us another soup without any hesitation. This is definitely a mark of good service. Calamari arrived next with wedges of lemon. My brother-in-law enjoyed the calamari, though he thought it was a bit doughy, and that they could have gone with a lighter batter to allow the seafood to shine through. Both of the egg dishes were a big hit with everyone. We all enjoyed the potato sides and also the brioche bread and apple preserves that came with them.
They did not have a kid’s menu, but our waiter consulted with the chef and came up with a few kid-friendly options. Of course, what kid says no to pizza? My niece wanted the margherita pizza. We thought it was a fairly decent size for a kid’s meal, and my niece thought it was very tasty. It was also a pretty good deal, since it was only $6.00 and it came with a glass of orange juice. My all-time favorite dish at this place has to be the hand-rolled handkerchief pasta with basil pesto. I will definitely go back and bring my hubby along just try this pasta. The pasta just melted away and required practically no chewing. It was flavored well and was very comforting.
I wish we ended on a high note, but it was not meant to be. The torte was a big flop. It was very doughy and almost pasty. The ice cream that came with it was good. The doughnut with Nutella filling was good. I am partial to Nutella, so anything with Nutella is good in my books. The rest of my party thought it wasn’t that spectacular. Everyone agreed that they would return and thought the portion sizes were appropriate and that the prices, though a bit on the pricey side, were appropriate given the location and time of day.
Final verdict: great drinks, egg dishes and hand-rolled pasta. Will pass on dessert, and the food tends to be a bit heavy on the salt.