It was so simple tuna confit on a bed of onion and fennel slivers, with a light showering of pitted black olives, minced anchovies, and heirloom tomato chunks as to sound boring, but it turned out to be a beautiful concertina of sweet, salty, sour, and rich effects.
We did feel, over a noontime visit, that portions were almost too small and starkly plated. The insalata di giorno ($9) turned out to be quite similar to the Catalana, and while it cost less, it was worryingly slight, although cannellini beans provided some ballast. We ended up ordering a panino ($9) of prosciutto and fontina cheese, and this soon arrived as an appealing golden square of pressed bread, tastily filled though presented with nothing more than a heaplet of mixed greens. Only the torta verdure ($9), a slice of spinach pie made with flaky pastry, seemed to carry real weight.
As for the dessert menu: the roving eye of the sweet tooth quite quickly found the panna cotta ($8). If Farina means to unseat Delfina as the king of Italian cooking on 18th Street, then panna cotta will be central to the strategy. Delfina's buttermilk version has been on the menu from the beginning and is now legendary. Farina's pastry chef has wisely chosen not to copy it. Instead of a geutf8ous cylinder, Farina's panna cotta takes the form of a martini-glass parfait, a layering of cooked cream softer than Delfina's atop a blackberry compote itself topped with a dollop of blackberry whipped cream.
But perhaps an unseating is neither necessary nor possible. Perhaps Farina and Delfina will turn out to be complements to each other, not watchful rivals. It's not every two-block segment of street in town, after all, that can offer us a pair of Italian restaurants like these, alike and dissimilar but both sparkling.<\!s>*
FARINA FOCACCIA AND CUCINA ITALIANA
Lunch: Mon.<\d>Fri., 11 a.m.<\d>2:30 p.m. Dinner: nightly, 6<\d>10 p.m.
3560 18th St., SF
Beer and wine