It can be hard to tell when opulent becomes too showy. Sometimes the line is blurred, like when you are drinking water out of an arguably gaudy goblet, and in the next moment a beautiful, herb-laden cocktail topped with Italian merengue lands infront of you. Or when a restaurant's menu is a book—literally, a thick book with a table of contents, one that only uses the first ten pages or so to list menu items before fading into 100 blank pages that you might flip through at first, confused. What do we need a book menu for? At Faith & Flower, a contemporary restaurant Downtown that focuses on California cuisine, the aim is to merge 1920s and modern day aesthetic. But the effect often feels too much, too forced and too in-your-face. Executive chef Michael Hung, who previously helmed Michelin-starred La Folie in San Francisco, also tries to evoke the grandeur of the '20s with today's trend of elevated casual fare ($6 toast, anyone?), but his dishes left us confused as well.
Case in point: the deviled Jidori eggs. In theory it is a fascinating mash-up of deviled eggs and kimchi, but in reality it left us wanting one or the other (and picking sesame seeds out of our teeth). The egg's texture was fine and not too rubbery; the kimchi decent, although I've certainly had better. But together it was a perplexing combination that inspired neither a "Delicious!" nor a "I can't belive this hasn't been done before." The Dungeness crab toast, however, was a more successful experience. At a time when toast is being used as a vehicle for dishes normally served sans bread, it was refreshing to see one that made sense. Here, sweet and flaky crab is accompanied by avocado chunks and onions, and refreshing bites of citrus and frisée. This is when you should pay good money for toast—it was, by far, our favorite dish. We also enjoyed a fennel and citrus salad with a sharp vinegar finish. Pistachios, onions, cabbage and radicchio is topped with shaved Idiazabal, a Spanish cheese, for a unique combination of ingredients that results in a refreshing and light bite.
From there, though, the rest of our meal was underwhelming. A bowl of hand rolled cavatelli was gummy in texture and tasted of little else but goat cheese. While the asparagus tossed in was cooked perfectly, there is such a thing as too much cheese, and so everything else incorporated in the pasta was enveloped with the cheese's creamy, potent flavor. Perhaps a pizza might have been better, and seeing our neighboring diners with one, I asked the couple about their fennel and mushroom variety. "Eh," they said with a shrug. Dessert (by pastry chef Indelisa Zarate) was a toss-up: a strawberry Breton came highly recommended and was, in fact, a beautiful plate of strawberry gelato surrounded by dollops of star anise meringue and disks of almond spongecake. I liked it far more than the pistachio financier with cherries, with its dry, two-bite tarts and a cherry gelato that was a little too sweet.
By the time we had finished our meal, the restaurant was still buzzing with men in suits and well-heeled women waiting for a table by the bar, elaborate cocktail in hand. They looked beautiful. The restaurant looked beautiful. The box that our check arrived in—a gold-trimmed, glass case with compartments that held precious dried flowers—looked beautiful. And in many cases, our dishes had looked beautiful as well. I just wish there had been a little more substance behind it all.
What to Eat: Fennel and citrus salad ($10). Dungeness crab toast ($10). Strawberry Breton ($8).
What to Drink: For all the lackluster dishes we had, our drinks were outstanding. Expertly crafted cocktails elicited a sigh before we even had a chance to take a sip. The Vaudeville, a vodka-based drink with lemon, raspberry gum and aromatic bitters, is topped with a sprig of rosemary and Italian merengue. While it may smell a little perfume-y at first, it soon becomes clear why it is one of Faith & Flower's more popular drinks: crisp and complex, the cocktail transports you to somewhere else entirely (Gatsby's mansion, perhaps?). Another pick, the Stormy Phosphate ($12), is an elevated Dark & Stormy with Lost Spirits Navy Style rum, lime gum, acid phosphate and a delightful house brewed ginger beer. I would most certainly return for a pre-dinner drink or two (though at $12-$14 per cocktail, two is probably enough).
Where to Sit: Faith & Flower is far too glamorous inside to sit on the patio, where you might be subjected to the noise of busy Downtown traffic. Inside there are comfortable booths that divide the restaurant from the bar, and seats alongside the expansive windows allow diners to look out onto Flower Street. Just be mindful of the sun—a recent visit at dusk had one of us shielding our eyes as the light came through filmy curtains even after we changed tables.
Conversation Piece: The name Faith & Flower continues the restaurant's trend of paying homage to both the Roaring Twenties and modern day: Flower Street, where it is located today, used to be named Faith Street in the '20s.