Potted greenery throughout Penny Roma evokes outdoor courtyard vibes even when the restaurant's retractable roof is closed. (Krescent Carasso)

First Taste: Every night is a dinner party at Flour + Water's new Penny Roma

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Every good host knows there are some key components to throwing a successful dinner party: chill ambiance, a killer playlist and, of course, solid food and drinks. The Mission District's latest restaurant from the Flour + Water crew has the vibe dialed.

Located off 20th Street, just a pizza's toss from its OG sister restaurant, Penny Roma makes practical-magical use of its address, in the courtyard of the Flour + Water Pasta Shop. A retractable roof means the place is prepared to keep the party going come fog or shine, connecting revelers to the stars on pleasant nights, and closing them in when the weather's cold. But it's no matter: With lush potted greenery and hanging lights, Penny Roma has all the feels of a convivial outdoor gathering every night of the week.


A blue neon sign marks the narrow entrance where laid-back jazz and hip-hop spills out into the street and, if you didn't know better, you might think you'd happened upon an exclusive late night spot that's bungling its gig by inviting you inside—approachability seems to be the driving force behind the concept of Penny Roma.

Simple pastas perfectly prepared are the name of the game at Penny Roma. Pictured here (from left): Marinated squash and mushrooms; fregola sarda; tortellini di zuca; tagliatelle alla Bolognese; and agnolotti dal plin.(Krescent Carasso)

Co-chefs Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow are doing what they do in a menu filled with classic Italian dishes like cacio e pepe (cooked to al dente perfection) and homemade focaccia that's some of the best I've ever had (I usually think focaccia is a tad overrated, don't hate me). When they encouraged me to dip my focaccia in my leftover pasta sauce, you know I gladly did. It's all quite unpretentious.

Flour + Water founding chef McNaughton explains. "Flour + Water was initially envisioned as a neighborhood spot, but over the years it evolved into a special occasion restaurant for many of our guests. We wanted to create something in our 20th Street corridor that has more of that casual, dinner party vibe."

A trio of crudos (clockwise from left): king salmon, albacore tartare; and amberjack.(Krescent Carasso)

Even the wine list, curated by sommelier Samuel Bogue, is designed to be friendly, informative, and accessible. It is organized in comprehendible categories: crisp or textured whites, lighter or fuller reds, orange wines and rosés. Within each category are natural and classic selections. I, for one, appreciated the approachability of this list, which gave me the confidence to try something I might usually not. I particularly enjoyed the Los Chuchaquis sparkling albariño, which tasted almost like a sour beer (in a good way). Bottles are also available to purchase to take home at a 50 percent discount.

Penny Roma really is the perfect complement to the complex that's also home to the team's dough production kitchen. You can graze on snacks at Flour + Water Pasta Shop and "peep through the glass wall to see our team making pasta from scratch," says Pollnow, who as co-executive chef now oversees all culinary operations for the Flour + Water Hospitality Group.

"We realized the unique layout of the space allowed us to create distinct moments throughout our 20th Street corridor. More than anything, we want it to be a gathering place for our neighborhood, where people feel welcome and able to visit multiple times a week for different experiences and occasions."

Penny Roma is the laid-back dinner party of the group—just be sure to grab a bottle of wine on your way out.

// Penny Roma; 3000 20th St. (MIssion), pennyroma.com

(Krescent Carasso)

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