For authentic Ligurian fare, try Farina

One bite of chef Paolo Laboa’s mandilli ai pesto ($15) — silken “handkerchiefs” of handmade pasta slathered in a creamy green basil sauce — announces that this new Genovese restaurant in the Missionis the real thing. Farina’s pesto, subtle, nutty, whispering of licorice and anise, uncannily resurrected dinners I’ve had along the Ligurian coast. Farina transplants a very specific culinary experience to San Francisco.

Cappon magro ($15), the first dish on a small daily menu, is a rarely seen Genovese classic, a mini-version of a magnificent Ligurian molded salad made with soaked bread crumbs. Here, a mound of cauliflower, carrots, green beans, potatoes and beets with flaked halibut and bits of lobster, is topped with a swatch of vinegary salsa verde and garnished with a big shrimp and a couple of tiny mussels. Textures and flavors in this soft salad are layered and muted, unique to this region of Italy.

Porcini salad ($15), a demure pile of shaved wild mushrooms, firm and white, Parmigiano and mild fresh black Umbrian truffles is dressed with fresh herbs, salt, a few drops of lemon and delicious, soft, golden Ligurian olive oil. It’s perfect, if more generically of northern Italian origin. Hot, soft squares of onion-topped foccacia, and slices of moist Italian bread with chewy crusts are brought out to accompany the antipasti.

Four other pasta dishes besides the pasta with pesto include pansotti with walnut sauce ($15), another hyper Ligurian dish of hand made tortelli filled with ricotta and fresh borage in a creamy brown sauce that tastes just like fresh walnuts. A sprinkling of salty grated Parmigiano around the edge of the plate completed the flavor profile. Each bite was exquisite.

Instead of a meat or fish course (only four to choose from), I ordered the two vegetable dishes of the day ($5). They were just about as good as vegetables can get: roasted peppers and celery in a little vinegar and olive oil, and grilled cauliflower with toasty charred edges.

Crisp Ligurian white wines served in large ($25) and small ($12) carafes embrace the food.

I was so taken by the authentic cookingat Farina, I rushed back for lunch when Farina becomes a focacciaria — cheaper, quicker, more panini-oriented. Frittatina ($9), a cake of satiny, pan-baked beaten eggs larded with those delicious roasted peppers and artichokes, becomes a light meal with a Little Gem salad on the side, dressed simply with olive oil and shaved Parmesan.

Pesce marinato ($13) turned out to be succulent ribbons of raw wild salmon “cooked” in olive oil, lemon and aromatic herbs. Pizza-like focaccia di Recco ($12), sandwiches mild, melted, mozzarella-like stracchino cheese between two paper-thin layers of dough. At night it can be topped with proscuitto ($17); or tomato sauce, capers, anchovies and oregano ($16).

For dessert, have one intense, syrupy sip of Lavazza espresso, without a hint of bitterness.

Both Farina’s location in the restaurant-packed Mission a block away from the landmark Delfina, and the restaurant’s casual ambience don’t quite match the elegance — or price — of the night time cooking. A former cookie bakery, the sprawling space has tall, curving front windows, seating at marble bars and counters on red Naugahyde stools; and at bare tables on school room chairs.

But after one of Laboa’s magnificent pastas, who can complain? You’ve saved a bundle on a trip to Liguria.

Farina

Location: 3560 18th St. (between Guerrero and Valencia streets), San Francisco

Contact: (415) 565-0360

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for lunch; 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily for dinner; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for brunch

Price range: $9 to $15 for dinner antipasti, $15 to $19 pasta and focaccia; $25 to $29 main courses; $9 to $12 lunch

Recommended dishes: Pansotti, mandilli al pesto, porcini salad, all vegetableside dishes, focaccia di Recco, frittatina, espresso

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted, but seats reserved for walk-ins

Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

Just Posted

Salesforce Tower and several other buildings in downtown San Francisco can be seen through the fog; climate scientists report that The City’s beloved mascot may be on the decline. (Courtesy Engel Ching)
Is San Francisco losing its fog? Scientists fear the worst

This isn’t just an identity crisis for San Franciscans. It’s an ecological problem

The Bay Area is vying to be one of 16 communities,<ins> spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico,</ins> to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup soccer championships. Games would be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. (Courtesy Bay Area Host Committee, World Cup 2026)
Bay Area launches bid to host World Cup games in 2026

FIFA officials pay San Francisco a visit as they tour prospective venues

San Francisco City Administrator Carmen Chu, who took office in February, is in the process of restructuring the sprawling department. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli/Special to The Examiner)
Report knocks city administrator for inefficiency, lack of transparency

‘A culture that allows corruption to take place’

Outside Lands boasts high-quality food and drink from dozens of purveyors, and many are local.<ins> (Courtesy Outside Lands)</ins>
Outside Lands is for food lovers

85 food vendors, 40 wineries, 30 breweries make the festival nourishing to gluttonous

California Highway Patrol officers watch as Caltrans workers remove barricades from homeless camp sites as residents are forced to relocate from a parking lot underneath Interstate 80 on Monday, May 17, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
San Francisco’s broken promise to resolve homeless encampments

‘There is an idea that The City is leading with services, and they are not’

Most Read