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Penny Roma impresses with ‘Edenic’ ambiance & freshly made pasta

Entrance of Penny Roma in in San Francisco, Calif. | Photos by Krescent Carasso, Courtesy of Penny Roma

The streets between my office and the Atlas Cafe used to be devoid of lunch options. But as the 21st century progressed, more restaurants have moved in than have moved out of the neighborhood. After several years, Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine is firmly rooted in its Florida Street digs, not to mention their ever-expanding number of Bay Area locations. Universal Cafe, with its scrumptious brunches and pasta dishes, sadly closed last year. 

The Slow Club has been replaced by The Morris—but not in my affections. I miss the Slow Club’s lemon scones, french fries and hubcap-sized chocolate chip cookies. And of course, there’s Tartine Manufactory. The food writing cliché “hotly anticipated” didn’t even begin to describe my feelings of joy when they finally opened. I overindulge in chocolate babka and slices of the tres leches cake.

And while Flour + Water wasn’t ever a lunch spot, they did open an annex down the street from their original location. During the day, you could buy pasta there to cook at home. Or you could sit on the lovely patio with your order of a salad or a sandwich from the small counter inside, formerly known as Salumeria. At night, the space would turn into Central Kitchen, which also closed during the pandemic. Now, Flour + Water has opened Penny Roma, a sister restaurant in Central Kitchen’s place. The menu’s main focus is pasta.

Penny Roma’s covered patio is one of the loveliest places to eat in San Francisco. With high ceilings and skylights, words like oasis and Edenic are applicable. The pasta is made in house daily and you can taste how fresh it is. We split an order of “risi e bisi” ($25) and a ravioli with spinach and ricotta ($23). Carnaroli is smaller and thicker than arborio rice but this risotto dish is essentially the same. Made with pecorino, the creamy bowl of carnaroli was served with sweet peas and minced pieces of guanciale.  

Penny Roma’s covered patio in San Francisco, Calif. | Photos by Krescent Carasso, Courtesy of Penny Roma

Of the two dishes, I’d order the ravioli again because it’s such a comforting pasta shape. And, to be honest, reminiscent of childhood favorite Chef Boyardee—if, that is, Chef Boyardee had studied in Italy. We both noticed that the ravioli was served al dente, a nice change from that particular pasta often cooked to a pronounced and dubious softness. 

I liked sharing the meal family style. On a return visit, I’d order three pasta dishes and skip the appetizers and entrées. The focaccia ($8) was not the best I’ve ever had. The crust was overbaked; the center too dense. And the amount of pepper overwhelmed the flavor of the olive oil. Our grilled swordfish ($36) was also overdone and, for the price, a rather diminutive rectangle. However, I did love the bright green fava beans—which delectably split in half—served on the side, along with a lemony salmoriglio sauce.  

I wanted something sumptuous to end the meal and was faced with three austere choices. Is it wrong that I longed for a commonplace tiramisu on the dessert menu and, instead, saw an unappealing sorbet or two? Glancing around the dining room, wine flowed at the crowded tables around us. Dessert wasn’t a great concern. Our rotating crew of wait staff looked perplexed, then disappointed when we didn’t order a bottle. But for those who set out to imbibe, the wine selection is arranged under many headings: from Bubbles; Crisp White; Textured White; to Lighter, Medium and Fuller Reds. Most of them start in the $50-$60 range and land under $100. 

Penny Roma

3000 20th St.
(415) 826-7004