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Oct 10, 2009 08:03 AM

Starbelly or Flour + Water

I'm taking my daughter (adventurous eater 12 yo) to see Wicked on Wednesday. I'd like to take her for an early dinner after, and I'm waffling between Starbelly and Flour + Water. I've been to F+W, but she hasn't been to either. Thoughts?

Flour + Water
2401 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

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    1. As much as I want to love Starbelly, I've been underwhelmed on my three visits. It's just not as good as Beretta. I do enjoy the gazpacho, and the mussels with chorizo, and I liked the BLT I had for lunch once. But the pizza I had was just not in the same league as Beretta or Flour + Water (it was undercooked and soggy in the middle). I'd go to F+W (since you've been you know you'll likely have to wait, not sure how patient your 12-year old is).

      1. If you have a reservation at F&W it might work. Otherwise the wait times have been quite long recently.

        1. I agree wit Frosty Melon's assessment of Starbelly, I've been several times and the best bets were the BLT, Porchetta sandwich, not what I consider dinner food. If you are going to F+W early, there might not be a wait. On a Friday night last month, some friends and I arrived at 5:30 and were seated right away (albeit at the communal table) -- the place didn't fill up until 6.

          3 Replies
          1. re: wanderlust21

            Thanks to all. I was really set on Starbelly, but now I'm reconsidering. We don't have a reservation (and did wait for 45 minutes at F+W this summer), but it will be before 6, so I'm hopeful for a short wait.

            1. re: jocelyng

              I ate at Flour + Water two weeks ago, arriving a bit before 7 with a party of 2, waited nearly two hours to eat at the bar. The food was good and the staff was apologetic but sorry, I just don't think anything is worth that kind of wait. Also, there are not a lot of other choices around Flour + Water so once you get there you are pretty much in for a penny, in for a pound.

              1. re: otis

                We were there before 5:30, so we got seated right away. Of course, that meant we ate dinner before 6:00, but that's the way it goes. It was great.

          2. Flour + Water report:
            In general, the pizza is pretty good. It is by far the most authentic pizza napoletana we have had in the USA. We'll go back, as it was good, but it wasn't amazing and frankly the staff is obnoxious.

            The good: the pizza is cooked approximately correctly, with nice blistering and a limp center. Pizza dough is well-salted and flavorful, perhaps almost too salty which is the first time I've ever thought that about a pizza. The tomato sauce, in contrast, is under-salted. That was problematic on the margherita, which didn't have salty toppings, but perfect for the napoletana with its salty anchovies, capers, and olives. The margherita lacked a drizzle of olive oil and the cheese was on the tough side, probably not high enough in fat content, but overall these were great pizzas, better than A16 or Berretta. Some simple tweaks would make them just about perfect. Our chestnut pasta with braised pheasant was also delicious, though on the salty side and would have benefited from some good quality balsamic in limited quantity to brighten the flavors.

            Staff/service: from start to finish, the consistent theme seems to be "we're booked solid, we're amazing, we do it our way, and we don't always think about the customer's pleasure." The first time we tried to go, we went on a Saturday shortly after 5 or 6 when they. They'd just seated the first wave of walk ins who lined up early, and had a small crowd already standing around the bar. They estimated the wait at 1-1.5 hours, but wouldn't let us put our name on the list and either call us in an hour when our table was ready, or let us come back in 45 minutes after waiting somewhere else, despite them being too full to offer us any sort of hospitality while we waited. Last night, we came with a reservation, but the receptionist was deeply engrossed in what looked like a personal phone call that did not involve her checking the computer for availability, and we stood there for over 5 minutes staring at the clean and ready table at which we were eventually seated while she ignored us. Not a great way to start a meal.

            When we ordered our food, we had 2 pizzas, a pasta, and a side of veggies. We told the server to bring it in whatever order made the most sense, since we figured the pizzas might be a bottleneck and the busy kitchen might appreciate the flexibility. Unfortunately, after our first pizza we waited about 20 minutes before a different server came by to apologize for the wait, blaming it on their special Italian pizza oven, as if there is only one size of oven in all of Italy. I asked her about the pasta, and she said it hadn't been fired, but our pizza was in process--in other words, the entire delay was avoidable, and the whole conversation was confusing because of the way she dribbled out information, and ultimately it was too late for the pasta to be fired despite the impression she originally gave of some flexibility.

            They also explained to us as they delivered our opened bottle of wine, "the way we do wine service here is open the wine at the bar, check if its corked, and then let you pour yourself." Wow, thought I, it looks like all the wine is still in the bottle. How do they check it? Smell the cork, which smells like cork but not a corked wine? The wine itself was fine, but a rough tannin-bomb caused by the winemaker over-pressing the must and breaking open the bitter grape seeds. I'm to the point where I almost consider that a flaw, and some sort of warning would be nice. I feel like the attitude at Flour+Water is some sort of ill-informed hipster idea of excessively tannic red wine being more authentic. The list also had Planetas and other wines made by super-modern style winemakers, so mainly I suppose I'm annoyed that the recommendation from the waitress didn't mention the rough tannins.

            We never did get our side of veggies, I assume because they were supposed to be wood oven roasted and would have to go through the poor overworked Italian pizza oven.

            Some chili oil, like what A16 offers, would also be appreciated. Flour+Water just had chili flakes on request.

            Flour + Water
            2401 Harrison Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

            8 Replies
            1. re: SteveG

              Wow. Thanks for the report.

              First off (and I know I'm in the minority here), I just love Escape From New York's pizza and they basically meet my pizza needs. Maybe it's cuz I grew up in Queens and Great Neck, NY, but this stuff is exactly what I want. Thin crust, nice sauce, not too much cheese, the occasional blister bubble. True, they are a little inconsistent, but over 20 years they are averaging pretty high.

              So if service at F+W is really as I suspected, and as you describe, I'll wait until I'm with a group or visitor who is dying to try it; don't think I'll go under my own steam, there are too many other delights awaiting me in our fair city to suffer hipster attitude.

              1. re: pauliface

                The pizza is pretty good, but it is NOT NYC pizza. They aren't aiming for that. Note too, the pasta we had was very very good, as good as the pizza, so this is more of a full service restaurant than exclusively a pizza destination.

                The service wasn't awful, but it really just rubbed me the wrong way. NoPa used to have the same issues, but has worked them out and now is pretty civilized about how they manage their success as it relates to crowds of people who want to eat there.

                1. re: SteveG

                  I just had a similar experience with the person answering phones at NOPA 2 weeks ago so I don't know that they've improved. The attitude rubbed me the wrong way and we went elsewhere because she was obnoxious. I called RNM instead and they were extremely gracious with our request.

              2. re: SteveG

                Went to F&W early-ish on a recent Saturday night and also had a 1:30 wait. The NYT review the week before was undoubtedly to blame.

                For us the service was honest and hospitable, no flubs like you endured. By ordering and drinking a bottle of wine while we waited it all worked out pleasantly enough. (Actually, their only flub worked in our favor. They didn't charge any corkage on the 20 year old Rioja I brought -- maybe because we ordered another bottle from their list? Or because they were self conscious about casual wine service for a 20 year old wine?) But I totally agree that they should work out some sort of call system so you don't have to lurk right there for the whole time. (And so they don't have to work around the waiting customers.)

                My bottom line is that F&W will eventually be a great neighborhood jewel. But right now the buzz and the crowds are overwhelming. To me it is not meant to be a high concept destination. But that's the hand they've been dealt right now and they need to adjust their service to match, or at least serve their clientèle better.

                1. re: BernalKC

                  F&W has an official policy of waiving the corkage as long as you order a bottle from them as well.

                  Check out the last line of MB's review (I've also taken advantage of the policy in person).

                2. re: SteveG

                  Do you recall the name of the wine you ordered? I would be unhappy with that wine service as well.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    2007 Argiolas, Cannonau, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, Sardinia, $38. Hmm, some quick googling puts the retail price around $19.99 with plenty of sites selling for $15. That's a steep markup for an un-aged wine with minimal wine service, to say the least. They didn't even pour our first glasses when they delivered the wine.

                    I'm just mystified by how this wine was described as spicy with some fruit, given that the list has Donnafugatas and Planetas that would make California fruit and oak bombs blush with shame. I appreciate that the list goes all over the map, but accurate description is a must and not unreasonable to ask for at a 2x retail markup.

                    Live and learn; wikipedia, font of all knowledge, reports that:
                    "...To compensate for the grape's naturally low tannins and phenolic compounds, some producers will use excessively harsh pressing and hot fermentation with stems to extract the maximal amount of color and phenols from the skins. This can backfire to produce green, herbaceous flavors and coarse, astringent wine lacking the grape's characteristic vibrant, fruitiness." I didn't know what Cannonau was before, but now I know--it's Grenache, and apparently the single-varietal version made as a cheap Italian red wine is pretty rough. I just assumed at $38 that it would be made in a somewhat more careful manner.

                    The funny thing about it was the wine and pizza actually gave us major flavor memories of being in Naples. The difference was that in Naples, the wine cost 4 Euro a bottle and we drank from plastic cups, which we also poured for ourselves ;)


                    I recognize that my posts on Flour+Water read a little harsh, and I want to emphasize that the food was pretty darn good, and I'm only being critical because I think there are some simple tweaks they could make that would greatly improve the experience at little or no added cost or effort to themselves. I also think that given the hoards beating down their door, they aren't in danger of going out of business because of some critical reviews.

                    Edit: looks like Michael Bauer hit the nail on the head about the wine with his review, in which he mentioned the margherita had the drizzle of olive oil, which was the only thing missing from a total authenticity perspective on ours.
                    "the markup is high, meaning there are few values. ...If you bring your own wine, corkage is a very reasonable $10; and that fee is waived for every wine purchased from the list." Next time we'll probably just bring our own, since it looks like they practically encourage it.

                    1. re: SteveG

                      Thanks, I've not had that particular wine, but I have enjoyed many Argiolas Vermentinos in the past. It's a fine producer of that white grape variety. I'm not so keen on Cannonau from Sardinia, in general, there being other reds at the price point that I'd rather drink.

                      This morning I read the article below from Wines & Vines. Haven't had time to really digest the contrarian views, but thought I'd post it on the Media board for others to reflect upon.

                      Everything You Know About Tannins Is Wrong: