Da Flora: Classic Italian Restaurant | San Francisco

A Venetian osteria that has not aged past its glory

There's been a lot of noise about the new North Beach resonating around the success of Park Tavern and Original Joe's.

But enduring North Beach holds pleasures, too. A few steps past Washington Square, for instance, is one of the neighborhood's longstanding bests: Da Flora.

Flora Gaspar and Mary Beth Marks' Venetian osteria has kept its boudoir-ish air since 1994, delineated in cabernet-colored walls and curlicued ornaments. The menu is still handwritten. The oil-drizzled focaccia the waiters greet your table with, more air than crumb, remains excellent.

And the food has not grown staid. For her very Venetian porchetta tonnato ($12.50), chef Jen McMahon lays down a rosette of thinly sliced pork loin, then spreads an unctuous tuna aioli in the center. Her dandelion-greens salad ($9) with cucumbers and roasted cherry tomatoes is sharp and bright.

She's not slavish to the ideal of Venetian cuisine, though. The headliner ingredient in Da Flora's sweet potato gnocchi ($13), the restaurant's most memorable pasta dish, is an American substitute for Italian pumpkin.

The pale orange dumplings are so light, you'd swear they were hovering over the pool of bacon-enriched sherry cream sauce. After a few bites, though, their richness is undeniable.

So is the restaurant's enduring appeal.

Da Flora, 701 Columbus Ave. (at Filbert St.); 415-981-4664