Editor's Note: I'd like to introduce you to David Kover, who'll be joining us with a weekly taste of San Francisco's latest and greatest pizza. Take it away, David!
Flour + Water
When Flour + Water opened in mid 2009, on a block in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood that's well off the beaten dinnertime path, friends who lived nearby were looking forward to a casual-upscale neighborhood restaurant where they could be regular walk-ins. What they got were really, really long lines. Flour + Water turned Steve Jobs away, for God's sake.
Good pizza can certainly line up the customers with the best of them, but our beloved foodstuff, on its own, is not usually the recipient of James Beard nominations and Michelin Bib Gourmand accolades. The point is, as our own Adam Kuban noted after his quick visit in 2009, that with Flour + Water you're not getting a pizzeria, but a restaurant that serves pizzas. This past Sunday night, there were five pizzas on the menu (which I'll get to in just a moment—I promise), but also dishes like pasta with hen sausage and chicken cracklins, as well as crispy oxtail nuggets over polenta.
These other dishes are good, which creates a dilemma even for the pizza-obsessed when dining at Flour + Water. To pizza, or not to pizza? I was especially worried about this on my most recent visit, knowing that Jon Darsky, the pizzaiolo who previously tended the wood-fired oven, had recently moved on to greener pastures. According to our waitress, the pizzas were now being made by a rotating group of staffers under the oversight of chef Thomas McNaughton. With these changes, would pizza cease to matter at this spot that's on several best-of lists?
My fears were allayed as soon as I got a look at the first pizza to arrive at our table, the Margherita. It was a fine specimen, with a cornicione that was puffed up and blistered with beautiful singe-marks. It had a nice bite to it, tender-but-not-doughy, with a paper-thin, crispy skin. On top, the Margherita boasted fior di latte that tasted clean and milky, and a well-balanced tomato sauce. The cheese and sauce were uncomplicated and sparsely applied, and I did wish that they had packed just a bit more punch, because they did not stand up to the very good crust. Whole-leaf basil was judiciously tossed on top.
Though the crust is Neapolitan in style, the most accurate label for the pizzas at Flour + Water is likely Cali-politan. Beyond the Margherita, the rest of the offerings were decidedly ingredient-driven in ways that would make a pizza purist blush. The Funghi was sauceless, with Taleggio cheese, roasted hen of the woods mushrooms, and rapini leaves. We had them throw an egg on top for good measure. It was both earthy and rich. Flour + Water could make a killing at brunch with those things, but we were very happy eating one for dinner. (This was the one pizza that came with a slightly over-blistered crust, leading to a case of carbon-mouth for one of my dining companions.)
We also ordered the Topinambur, which sported roasted sunchokes, caramelized torpedo onions, pancetta, and Pecorino. I'd never had sunchokes on a pizza before, and they ate like slightly nutty potatoes. Pretty tasty stuff. With the porkiness of the pancetta, the Topinambur could also support an egg very nicely, but was delicious without one.
Our only miss was the Salsiccia. Along with the sausage, it came with Caciocavallo cheese, olives, and salmoriglio. Though I'd enjoyed all the ingredient-heavy pies we'd already eaten, there were too many competing flavors on this pizza. The Salsiccia made a very pretty and colorful plate, but it had me yearning for simple sauce-crust-cheese to go with my sausage.
To pizza or not to pizza? Of course you get pizza! (Just get some of the other dishes too.) You'll be content with the Margherita, and though the recent Slice poll says I'm about to horrify at least 30 percent of you, the highlight at Flour + Water may be the sauceless pies piled generously with all the finest toppings California has to offer.