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Why is Farina so crowded every night?

v
vulber May 7, 2011 10:33 PM

Recently I walked by Farina early on a weekday night and noticed the main dining room to be absolutely packed. Having not been in a while, I looked at the menu out of curiosity and was shocked at the prices; all of the pastas in the mid-20s, entrees in the mid to high 30s; now making it more expensive than the a la carte menu at Quince.

When I last went there, the prices were much lower, but I still thought it wasn't a good value for what I got, But with the prices having gotten even higher recently, it baffles me why people continue to pack this place every night. Is it where people turn when they can't get a reservation at Delfina ("OK, let's pay $10 more for everything and get food not as good")? Is it the high-end wine list? The trendiness? (admittedly, the interior is very nice).

If it were in a touristy area, I might understand it as it could be a tourist trap, but it is definitely not (although looking in, most of the diners do not look like Mission residents either, so people are clearly seeking this place out from other neighborhoods/cities).

And other than a recent Bauer update a few years ago (when he said there wasn't much worth ordering besides the focaccia and pesto - not exactly a glowing review); it's not like it's gotten a ton of press.

I don't get it....

-----
Delfina Restaurant
3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

  1. d
    Dustin_E Aug 4, 2011 09:28 AM

    > it baffles me why people continue to pack this place every night. Is it where people turn when they can't get a reservation at Delfina ("OK, let's pay $10 more for everything and get food not as good")?

    I agree it costs $10 more for everything. (i can't believe i paid $14 for a little bowl of bean soup -- $4 would have been a fair price), I disagree it isn't as good, i think it is different, and different in a way that i like.

    Farina feels like the ambroisie of san francisco italian joints. If cost wasn't a consideration (it is), and i was choosing a restaurant to have dinner at a couple times a week, every week, for a long time (i'm not), farina might be it. it is simple, delicious (but very very nice) food that i might never get tired of.

    also, and i'm not sure why, but eating at Farina makes me miss Vivande less.

    finally, for a while i've been curious about the similarities between japanese and italian cuisine. farina added another i hadn't experienced before: paying ridiculous prices for a dish that is very basic.

    -----
    Delfina Restaurant
    3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    1. j
      jman1 Jul 30, 2011 01:33 AM

      Well, an opinionated foodie friend from Italy tells me it's the best Italian in the city (at least for the type of food that it serves). I'm sure that helps.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jman1
        Mission Jul 30, 2011 02:42 PM

        "No one goes there anymore - it's too crowded"
        - Yogi Berra

        1. re: jman1
          d
          Dustin_E Aug 2, 2011 01:01 PM

          my girlfriend and i loved farina. yep, we paid an extra $10 pp over the competition for not having to make reservations, big windows, nice service, and pasta that we thought was "really great." for a lazy sunday evening it was worth it to us.

          i wouldn't go looking for a bargain, but i also probably wouldn't eat any pasta at a restaurant looking for a bargain.

        2. singleguychef May 12, 2011 01:17 PM

          It was featured on KQED's "Check Please! Bay Area" so that might have something to do with it. The show was maybe this past season or last season? I can't remember but it might still be enjoying residual buzz from the show.

          I've never been to the restaurant, but I have to say it is one of the most beautifully designed rooms. And the later days probably work well with the open windows. I'm just saying.

          4 Replies
          1. re: singleguychef
            s
            SteveG May 12, 2011 01:36 PM

            Yeah, I don't think I'd go for dinner, but for a weekend brunch on a sunny day, pesto pasta or the piedmontese beef burger plus a bloody maria is about $25. There are a lot of worse brunch options around town.

            1. re: singleguychef
              pamf May 12, 2011 01:51 PM

              They just replayed that episode of Check Please! within the past week or two.

              1. re: singleguychef
                Robert Lauriston May 12, 2011 03:00 PM

                The Check, Please reviews weren't enthusiastic.

                They must have had pretty steady business to allow them to jack their prices up as high as they are.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                  v
                  vulber May 12, 2011 08:44 PM

                  i definitely went there last october and the pesto was $20 (still overpriced, but less than the $26 it is now); even with inflation and popularity, $6 is a lot to raise the cost of a pasta dish by when you're already in the $20s

              2. s
                Spatlese May 12, 2011 08:12 AM

                Bauer essentially trashed the place in his column this morning, both for the stratospheric pricing and apparently uneven food. Never been there myself, but I wasn't in any hurry anyway...

                34 Replies
                1. re: Spatlese
                  u
                  uberslop May 12, 2011 08:24 AM

                  Oh well if *Bauer* trashed it.... :)

                  1. re: uberslop
                    v
                    vulber May 12, 2011 12:11 PM

                    in all fairness, while bauer's avoidance of lower-priced and/or ethnic restaurants is frustrating, i have found him to be surprisingly in tune (usually) with what is ovepriced and what is not considering that he never pays for his meals

                    1. re: vulber
                      d
                      dordogne May 12, 2011 09:29 PM

                      I don't read Bauer consistently, but I've had the opposite impression--that he doesn't often discuss the quality-for-price aspect of individual restaurants or comparatively between/among restaurants (and is there a Bauer or Chronicle policy against regularly providing prices of specific dishes mentioned?), but he really went after Farina on this score in today's article.

                      1. re: dordogne
                        l
                        lmnopm May 12, 2011 09:43 PM

                        Well, they could always advertise to out-of-towners that SF's top newspaper reviewer thought that "We're a lot better than Morton's " They'd think "wow."

                        1. re: dordogne
                          n
                          nocharge May 12, 2011 11:38 PM

                          Bauer does provide prices for the dishes he mentions in parentheses. I don't think he makes a lot of comments about prices as long as they are in line with what you would expect. But if he feels a place is a total bargain or very overpriced, I can imagine it being mentioned in the review and probably rightly so.

                          1. re: nocharge
                            v
                            vulber May 13, 2011 05:27 AM

                            agreed, he rightly called out leopold's menu as an example of a great overall bargain

                          2. re: dordogne
                            Robert Lauriston May 13, 2011 09:31 AM

                            Farina's prices (even before the surcharges) are shockingly out of line with the competition:

                            antipasti: Delfina, $9.25-16 / Farina, $14-20
                            pastas: $13-18 / $24-30
                            secondi: $19-26 / $34-38
                            contorni: $7.75 / $10-20
                            dolci: $9 / $10-12

                            -----
                            Delfina Restaurant
                            3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              v
                              vulber May 13, 2011 09:42 AM

                              given their heavy reliance on imported ingredients and generally more expensive fish/cuts of meat used, i would expect them to be more expensive than delfina. but that expensive is just ridiculous. not to mention that the $10 dessert is a single cannoli with a scoop of ice cream, so it's not only more expensive htan delfina, but has smaller portions too

                      2. re: Spatlese
                        u
                        uberslop May 12, 2011 08:25 AM

                        But the prices are stoooooooopid, I can agree on that.

                        1. re: Spatlese
                          m
                          morningbun May 12, 2011 10:57 AM

                          Apparently there is also a 4% cover charge to walk into the restaurant, in addition to 3% Healthy SF? Wow! They claim the cover charge is for bread and water. That's pretty ridiculous given the menu prices.

                          Link to Bauer: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                          1. re: morningbun
                            Ruth Lafler May 12, 2011 11:01 AM

                            That makes a $35 entree $37.45 -- pretty steep!

                            1. re: morningbun
                              Robert Lauriston May 12, 2011 11:10 AM

                              "The cover charge includes our premium amenities: fresh artisan bread, focaccia, grissini and house filtered waters." Sounds like a variation on the standard Italian flat charge per person for "pane e coperto" (bread and tablecloth).

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                Ruth Lafler May 12, 2011 11:27 AM

                                True, except that (1) it's not a standard and accepted practice in the US, so diners aren't expecting it, and (2) it's a percentage, not a flat cover charge, so it becomes excessive when you order wine, etc.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                  Robert Lauriston May 12, 2011 11:31 AM

                                  Yeah, it seems ridiculous to me, especially when their prices are so out of line with the competition.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                    v
                                    vulber May 12, 2011 12:09 PM

                                    not to mention that tipping is minimal in europe too

                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                    p
                                    pauliface May 12, 2011 11:42 AM

                                    "house filtered waters"
                                    That's chutzpah, unless they have some charcoal filter bed run by vestal virgins.
                                    Sounds more like tap water plus a brita pitcher to me...

                                    1. re: pauliface
                                      v
                                      vulber May 12, 2011 12:08 PM

                                      i think that would be a fantastic idea for a restaurant

                                      1. re: pauliface
                                        u
                                        uberslop May 12, 2011 12:10 PM

                                        Wow? Really?!? That's taking the effort to be an "authentic" Italian eatery too far, methinks. Next thing you know the waiters will be ignoring you for hours while smoking at the bar and handing differently priced menus to the out-of-towners.

                                        What's Italian for "breathtaking hubris?"

                                        I hereby retract my earlier defense.

                                        1. re: pauliface
                                          Robert Lauriston May 12, 2011 12:11 PM

                                          Filtering and sparkling water is far more expensive than you might think. We gave up on it at my place, too many plumbing breakdowns, including a flood that would have wrecked the floors if it had happened when no one was there.

                                          It's pretty standard at places that are into sustainability.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                            u
                                            uberslop May 12, 2011 12:14 PM

                                            Well, lots of things are more expensive than I might think. Doesn't mean restaurants charge me for it upon entering the door.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              Ruth Lafler May 12, 2011 12:18 PM

                                              I don't understand why -- there's nothing wrong with good old tap water (although given water supply issues, I hesitate to call any potable water "sustainable").

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                v
                                                vulber May 12, 2011 12:20 PM

                                                ruth i completely agree, i never understood all the water filtration hubbub in SF when the quality of the tap water is so good

                                                1. re: vulber
                                                  wineguy7 May 14, 2011 08:37 AM

                                                  The tap water in SF is great, but sometimes the pipes the water travels through are not so great.

                                                2. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                  Robert Lauriston May 12, 2011 12:21 PM

                                                  The main impetus is offering sparking water so that people who prefer it don't have to order eco-politically incorrect bottled water.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                    Ruth Lafler May 12, 2011 12:42 PM

                                                    But why should everyone else subsidize a few people's desire for sparkling water? This was never an issue until restaurants started pushing bottled water a few years ago as a huge profit center.

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                      m
                                                      ML8000 May 12, 2011 01:08 PM

                                                      Calistoga sparking water from Napa fills any locavore requirements...less then 100 mile. I never understood why locals just don't use it instead of San Pelligrino from half way around the world.

                                                      1. re: ML8000
                                                        Ruth Lafler May 12, 2011 01:17 PM

                                                        Fine for addressing issues of locality but one of the issues with bottled water is the bottles themselves.

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                                          m
                                                          ML8000 May 12, 2011 01:23 PM

                                                          True...but they can be put in the recycling.

                                                          1. re: ML8000
                                                            PolarBear May 14, 2011 07:34 AM

                                                            Less than 80% actually get recycled, it takes 60oz of tap to make a 20oz plastic bottle full for sale, pollution from transporting, etc, etc. Google Fiji water and greenwashing, or borne disease. Biggest scam ever put over on the public.

                                                        2. re: ML8000
                                                          Robert Lauriston May 12, 2011 02:59 PM

                                                          Calistoga water tastes salty to me.

                                                          When tap water is as good as it is here, bottled water is a waste of carbon.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                    m
                                                    morningbun May 12, 2011 12:25 PM

                                                    I'm sure it is very expensive, but I would much rather be served tap water than be charged a mandatory 4% fee for the filter. Yes, I know that includes bread too, but the point remains - particularly with the big margins they must get on $26 pasta!

                                            2. re: Spatlese
                                              p
                                              pauliface May 12, 2011 02:23 PM

                                              Just read the review, and I have to say, if I were looking to launch a career as a drag queen, I might well be inspired by this column, and go with the name "Musty Ragout"

                                              1. re: pauliface
                                                b
                                                Bay Gelldawg May 14, 2011 09:53 AM

                                                Musty Chiffon was the name of a performer who used to appear at Josie's Cabaret & Juice Joint in the Castro in the 90's.

                                                1. re: Bay Gelldawg
                                                  p
                                                  pauliface May 29, 2011 05:20 PM

                                                  Ah, yes, I knew this somewhere in the back of my mind. I must have been thinking of that in the back of my mind...

                                            3. Frosty Melon May 9, 2011 08:29 AM

                                              Funny, at my gym in SF on Saturday morning I overheard two people chatting and one said, "Yeah, we went to Farina for dinner last night", and the other said, "Really? Us too." And I said out loud (but softly), "Why Farina?"

                                              The location is probably more appealing over Quince because after-dinner Mission nightlife is steps away from Farina, but I don't know where the word-of-mouth is coming from. My two lunches there were very much just OK and I've never heard anyone talk about it, until Saturday.

                                              Anyone know what happened to Farina's plans to open a pizza place in the new building at 18th & Valencia? That kind of fell off the radar, at least mine.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Frosty Melon
                                                v
                                                vulber May 9, 2011 12:00 PM

                                                the pizza plan is still happening; and i'm sure the prices will be on par with una pizza napoletana, given that the most expensive pizza on their brunch menu is already $20.

                                                the thing is, while you're right about the mission nightlife being so close, the type of people that would drop $100-$150pp on diner does not seem like the type that would enjoy the nearby mission nightlife ("hey, we just spent $300 on dinner, now let's get to the elbo room before 9pm so we can get $3 well drinks at happy hour prices!"); if anything, those people seem like they would be more at home with the nightlife around quince, like bubble lounge. the only nightlife places in the mission that i'd consider to be "classy"/polished/refined would maybe be SOM, except there's never anyone in it, and perhaps lone palm

                                                1. re: vulber
                                                  pane May 9, 2011 01:00 PM

                                                  I guess I'm not sure the Quince to Farina comparison holds up beyond the price consideration and the fact that both have pasta-- they're such different restaurants in terms of formality and neighborhood that I think Frosty Melon is on to something there.

                                                  Diners at Farina are not looking for the five servers per table/everything has been handled with gold-plated tongs/tasting menu experience at Quince. So Farina may be too expensive for the quality in your mind, but they're not equivalent expectations/experiences. Last time I ate at Quince, I called in advance to ask for a "ladies menu" for my table (for the benefit of a price-sensitive friend who was being treated to dinner)--I wouldn't think to do the same if I were eating at Farina, not because the price is different, but because the service level is.

                                                  I'm sure the Lone Palm bartenders will be delighted to hear their bar is polished/refined, and I'm willing to bet that those Farina diners manage to find a cocktail in the Mission. Beretta or Heart? (Hilarious that this question has evolved into a debate about where a hypothetical diner would go for a drink after an imagined night at the restaurant we don't like.)

                                                  -----
                                                  Lone Palm
                                                  3394 22nd St, San Francisco, CA

                                                  1. re: pane
                                                    u
                                                    uberslop May 9, 2011 02:00 PM

                                                    It blows my mind that I'm about to offer up a (admittedly highly qualified) defense of Farina, because I agree with posters' gripes that it's wackily priced. But I've been three times, and every time I've been as perplexed by the prices as I have been gobstoppered by the quality of the pasta. Luscious, mouth-dilating, look-across-the-table-to-determine-whether-others-are-blowing-gaskets-simultaneously-level stuff.

                                                    For background, let me here state that I'm about as far from an expense-accounter as you can get while still being in the changes-his-underwear-on-a-daily-basis crowd, so I can assure you I'd love to hate on this place. But the food prevents me from inveighing -- this is some of the best pasta I've had anywhere, Italy and SF (i.e., the epicenter of all Italian delight outside of Italy, in my book) included.

                                                    Now/but: is it 25-33% better than Delfina and A16? I'm not sure it is.

                                                    -----
                                                    A16
                                                    2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                                                    Delfina Restaurant
                                                    3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                              2. t
                                                Thomas Nash May 8, 2011 08:01 PM

                                                Actually, it seems to me to be rather empty considering how much money they spent on this place. We have walked in a couple of times to sit at the pasta counter and it was not full at 7 or 8 on a weekday. Compared to both Delfina places a block away and Tartines and Range and... their lines, if any, are short even on weekends.

                                                This is a problematic restaurant to evaluate. It is grossly overpriced. Example, a fritto misto main course plate was priced at $40 the other night. So why go there?

                                                The pastas are extraordinary even by really good SF Italian standards. You can watch a real live imported Italian chef working the pasta machine and they do wonders with it. I ordered the pesto the other night expecting the basil pesto for which they have deservedly won awards in Italy. By a misunderstanding they brought a walnut pesto on little stuffed pastas, which was as extraordinary and wonderful as the basil pesto pasta, which we also consumed. I feel more like being in Italy at Farina than at any other restaurant in SF ... when we are having the pasta.

                                                The foccacias are also good and pricey, but the pastas are the reason to come, even if they do cost in the mid $20s each! The mains and desserts are off scale, overpriced, and not particularly exciting. Avoid them.

                                                For a much more rounded and first class Italian, we stick with the Delfina restaurants, our favorites.

                                                I believe these Farina investors have opened a branch in Las Vegas. I am wondering if the 18th St location isn't in part a justification to refer to their SF origins when publicizing in Las Vegas??

                                                -----
                                                Delfina Restaurant
                                                3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                Farina
                                                3560 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                1. pane May 8, 2011 12:07 PM

                                                  My take is that Farina feels safe to people who want a "safe" experience--they offer valet service, so you neither have to park nor take public transit, it's in a relatively posh part of the Mission, it's much less work to get a reservation than Delfina, and the food is OK, with nothing too weird on the menu. I went twice the first year they opened, and walked away thinking the food was fine but not particularly interesting. I didn't think the food was bad, just not as good as other places I could visit as easily. I was surprised by the bridge and tunnel feel of the clientele--I didn't see another face that I recognized from my daily wanderings, which was strange because I had lived and worked a couple blocks away for several years by that point.

                                                  It definitely is not a neighborhood restaurant (though it can be noted that the parking kerfuffle when they first opened won them bad word-of-mouth among locals).

                                                  -----
                                                  Delfina Restaurant
                                                  3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: pane
                                                    v
                                                    vulber May 8, 2011 08:49 PM

                                                    the more i think about it, i think one of my biggest issues with it is its location in the mission, which makes absolutely no sense. it's an expense account restaurant in an area not known for expense account restaurants.

                                                    sure, it's fairly "safe", but then again, quince also offers valet parking with nothign too weird on the menu, lower prices, and even a michelin star to boot. and even perbacco (which doesn't have valet parking) has a somewhat safe menu, which prices much more in line with delfina's (entrees all under $30, pastas under $20), and even offers ligurian cuisine just like farina (demonstrating that ligurian cuisine is not inherently.

                                                    it's definitely a bridge and tunnel crowd to an extent, but i don't understand why they go to farina and not quince, which, while not easy, is also not an incredibly difficult reservation.

                                                    1. re: vulber
                                                      Ruth Lafler May 8, 2011 09:22 PM

                                                      Perbacco does have valet parking in the evenings.

                                                      -----
                                                      Perbacco
                                                      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                                      1. re: vulber
                                                        m
                                                        ML8000 May 8, 2011 09:36 PM

                                                        First time I saw Farina at night it was a little surreal considering how quiet that street/block is. It was like someone yanked a flashy place out of the Marina and drooped in in the Mission. Use to work around there and had friends who lived in that building. it's definitely out of character there. I always think of Farina as being the old Anna's Danish cookies place (or whatever it was called). I could never figure out how that place stayed in business either.

                                                        1. re: ML8000
                                                          j
                                                          jman1 Jul 30, 2011 01:40 AM

                                                          (Oh, and the Mission is the new Marina mixed with a bit of North Beach. Have you walked Valencia street late on a Saturday night? Drunk 20-somethings out to party. )

                                                    2. CarrieWas218 May 8, 2011 11:39 AM

                                                      I don't get it either. I've dined there twice (on someone else's tab) and couldn't figure out the hype or the prices.

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