Restaurants Now: Flour + Water, Civetta, Restaurant at St. Paul’s

This week, our roundup includes two highly anticipated Italian openings, one in San Francisco, the other in New York City. Plus, fine dining in—of all places—a London crypt.
restaurants now

San Francisco: Flour + Water

There’s been no shortage of buzz around this little Italian gem in the Mission (point of fact: They were still seating people at 11 p.m. on a Monday night), but with the help of an unusual red from Alto Adige, we were able to withstand our hour-and-a-half, standing-room-only wait. The prolonged loitering gave us plenty of time to admire the cozy, unpretentious interior—rustic walnut tables, pleasantly homely ceiling beams and fixtures—and fueled our hunger and audacity to eat more than our fill of chef Thomas McNaughton’s housemade pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and fresh, bright salads, including a summery one of corn, slices of heirloom tomato, a fried squash blossom, and fragrant verbena. The simplest pasta, an herbed fettuccine swirled with brothy chanterelles, was the most stunning, though a two-pocketed ravioli (half corn purée, half braised oxtail) was a conceptual rival. Our two large pizzas—the classic Margherita, its crust blistered and elastic, and the calamari pie topped with Early Girl tomatoes and aïoli—were superb. We couldn’t have eaten another bite, so the menu’s intriguing “secondi” are yet another reason for us to return to this welcome new spot. 2401 Harrison St., San Francisco (415-826-7000;— Fanny Singer

New York City: Civetta

Like so many other recently opened New York restaurants, Civetta is divided into two parts. Up front is a rather small bar area, with high-backed velvet bar stools and church pews. In the back is a larger dining room with arched ceilings, a stone fireplace, and the warm Tuscan yellow walls that immediately convey “homey Italian” to American diners. So far, fine. But then I walked downstairs and found a nightclubby lounge area, complete with sleek red banquettes and what looked suspiciously like room to dance. Uh-oh. Was this going to be yet another Meatpacking-style joint where the food is just an excuse for drinking and partying—and tastes like it? I was a little shocked, honestly, because this downtown spot was so different from the vibe of its big sister, Sfoglia, the beloved Upper East Side restaurant. Fortunately, my fears were banished by the first appetizer, grilled stone fruits agrodolce with house-made smoked ricotta, an inventive mix of strong flavors that worked perfectly together. And the meal continued right along that route: eggplant peach parmigiano; spaghetti with sea urchin and black sesame seeds; house-made lamb sausage with caramelized endive and drunken raisins—each was satisfying in that classic Italian way, but with a slight embellishment, just enough to make you taste the whole dish anew. Small plates predominate, and all of the pastas are available in half-orders, so you can sample plenty of dishes—and I have a feeling that lots of New Yorkers will be doing just that in the coming months. 98 Kenmare St., New York City (212-274-9898;— John Willoughby

London: Restaurant at St. Paul’s

This just-opened lunch spot is in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, yet it’s far from dingy. The new caterers have gone for a rustic country look that’s as English as cricket on the green—muted tones, fine wooden tables, and a surprising amount of natural light. The menu also reflects rural tastes in dishes such as wood pigeon, cabbage and herb salad, and roast pollock with cucumber and samphire (a wild coastal green, similar to salty asparagus shoots). It’s open daytimes only, with the set lunch price starting at $23 for two courses—great value for cooking this good. Afternoon tea is also served, from 3 to 4:30 P.M. Monday through Saturday (the teapots are given a rest on the Sabbath). St Paul’s Cathedral, London (44-7248-2469;— James Cameron

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