“I just want everyone to know that this restaurant has fucked me,” says Matt Wilson, and he’s not referring to bad food or bad service. Wilson was arrested for vandalizing cars parked illegally outside the Mission’s newest high-end Italian restaurant, Farina Focaccia & Cucina Italiana—a crime for which he spent 14 hours in jail with bail set at $60,000. In the police report, Farina’s in-house administrator, J.H. Kostelni, says he saw Wilson, whom he knew from ongoing restaurant-related disputes, throwing paint on the cars. Because Kostelni was the only witness, the kerfuffle devolved into a case of he said–he said, and the charges were later dropped by the DA. After Wilson was released, the soft-spoken criminal attorney wore a badge made from his jail ID bracelet that prompted passersby to “ask me about my arrest.”
This mixed-use area of the Mission is home to numerous restaurants, including Range, Bar Tartine, and Delfina, that have won over their neighbors and become local fixtures. But ever since construction began last summer on the former site of Anna’s Danish Cookies, Farina seems to have been bumping heads with residents.
It all started shortly after the groundbreaking, when neighbors became incensed at the double-parked cars on quiet Dearborn Street. In a gesture of civility, Farina held a public meeting, and about 80 neighbors showed up. “They tried to sell the restaurant to us,” recalls resident Camie Steffensen, “but the more they explained it, the angrier people got.” That’s because the restaurateurs announced plans for rooftop seating and a full liquor license—a combination some locals feared would turn their peaceful neighborhood into a drunken late-night destination à la Medjool. After the meeting, Wilson, Steffensen, and about 50 others wrote letters to the city Planning Commission—but Farina still received the go-ahead for its plans. Kostelni insists Farina is “bringing something genuine and valuable to the neighborhood.” The locals seem to remain unconvinced.
For a venue that opened only three months ago, such animosity doesn’t bode well. According to Craig Stoll, chef and co-owner of Delfina, maintaining good neighbor relations is a full-time job. With Farina’s impeccable pedigree (authentic Ligurian dishes, a stunning nouveau Genovese design), we can only hope the restaurant learns that greasing neighbor relations may be even more important than the grease—or rather, olive oil—in its focaccia.