The all-glass façade at 18th and Dearborn glows bright in contrast with the dimly-lit Edwardian condos surrounding it. The buzzing vibe seems to captivate the yuppie passersby.
Inside, the bright dining room looks just as it is, brand new. An ample space divided by tall metal shelves with wine glasses and bottles splitting the bar from the dining room. An L-shaped dining counter gives patrons a chance to watch fresh pasta being made. On the back, pristine white tiles cover the walls.
The carefully built atmosphere is modern and bold, accentuated by a red, black and white palette. Everything looks neat, maybe even too neat. It reminded me of a Design Within Reach showroom, complete with seven different light fixture models and a handful of chair designs. Not unlike some LA restaurants, it feels staged; well staged nonetheless.
Farina serves food from the Italian region of Liguria. The menu offers a good selection of dishes from antipasti to house-made pastas and meats. About 28 options are available but don’t expect the faux unfussiness to be reflected on the prices. In many ways, you pay more for what you see than what you get.
Dinner starts with house-baked bread served on a branded cutting board, accompanied by olive oil. The pumpkin seed loaf is very good.
One of Farina’s specialties is the Focaccia di Recco. A flat oven-baked Italian bread from the small city of Recco, 30 minutes east of Genova. It is filled with stracchino cheese and topped with a variety of ingredients like pesto and prosciutto. It’s definitely one of the restaurant’s fortes. Big enough to share as an appetizer or eat individually as a main course. I ordered the Focaccia di Recco with Porcini. The crispy thin bread came filled with the mild cow’s milk cheese and topped with nutty porcini and fragrant oregano.
House-made pastas are also worth a try. Like the Mandilli di seta al pesto. Hand made handkerchief pasta with Genovese basil pesto. A delicate pasta sheet served extremely fresh with a creamy pesto sauce that, in my case, was tasty but a pinch too salty.
A good meat option is the Vitello all’uccelletto con porcini. Milk fed veal straccetti served with porcini mushrooms. A flavorful dish with small tatters of tender veal in a fragrant, buttery sauce.
Dessert was disappointing. The Piccola selezione di dolci (Dessert sampler) includes 5 small sweets that are, well, a little too small to be appreciated. I wished I had ordered the Sigaro di cioccolato con caffe corretto. An inventive dessert in which a chocolate cigar filed with chocolate mousse is served on a glass ashtray with a shot of espresso. The table next to mine seemed to be enjoying it. Next time.
Farina’s trendy atmosphere is modern and exciting. The food is good but fails to impress. For that reason, it can feel somewhat overpriced, especially when compared to Delfina and Beretta which are just a few blocks away. In any event, it’s worth a visit.
Farina is at 3560 18th St