Friday, August 17, 2007

Dish on Dining: Pizzeria Delfina

A Pie That Shines Day and Night
3611 18th St., San Francisco
Mission District
PH: 415.437.6800
Hours: M, 5:30–10 p.m.; T, W, TH, 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; F, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sat., noon–11 p.m.; and Sun., noon–10 p.m.

Near my home in Oakland, I have easy access to the Neapolitan-style pizza that seems to be the only kind of pizzas served here these days. It’s a simple 10-minute walk east to Dopo or west to Pizzaiolo. But recently when I was in San Francisco, I visited one of the early Neapolitan pizzaiolos in town—Pizzeria Delfina in the neighborhood between the Mission and Castro districts.

Opened in 2005, Pizzeria Delfina is next door to the popular Delfina restaurant, which I ate with my sister and brother-in-law many years ago. I have to say, my dinner at Delfina the restaurant was a bit underwhelming. The ingredients were fresh and seasonal, but I remember leaving feeling that the serving sizes were too small for the price. It wasn’t a satisfying meal.

But I went to the pizzeria next door with an open mind and a hungry stomach. I met my friend John earlier in the day, and his friend Fritha joined us for lunch on a Saturday. (When John and Fritha get together, it’s a party no matter where you are. John’s my jewelry designer friend and Fritha is actually a party planner. During lunch we talked about her next project planning a party for some tech people at a Dolce & Gabbana club in Milan.)

We arrived around 1 p.m. and were glad to see the restaurant wasn’t totally packed like it usually is. We added our names to the chalkboard list near the entrance, but it was barely dusted when our table was ready about five minutes later.

I love the décor of the place, with its contemporary place settings and a funky mural of San Francisco painted by Mission artist Andre Karpov. I envied the people who had a front-row seat to the kitchen at the bar. We sat at one of the tables, which were typically squeezed together. And facing me was a huge chalkboard wall with the entire menu of the day written by hand.

The menu offers a variety of antipasti, one main plate of the day, several desserts, and, of course, pizza. We decided to start with a plate of the Pecorino Lucano cheese with Mission Figs ($9) (because it was the start of the season and I was dying to taste my first figs of the summer) and the special Fritto Misto ($7).

The cheese plate was a bit disappointing when it arrived. The cheese looked marvelous, but it looked like they ran out of figs because the few slivers of figs I saw looked like it most likely came from just one lonely fig. So it was a good thing we ordered the Fritto Misto, which came piping hot from the kitchen. If you haven’t guessed by now, “fritto” means “fried” in Italian, and I should have thought about it more when I ordered it given the fact that I don’t like to eat fried foods. But it included seasonal ingredients that I loved: Blue Lake beans, okra and squash blossoms.

The fried vegetables were a hit on the table. I especially liked the fried squash blossoms (isn’t that really the only way to serve them?). But I did feel that the plate was overly salted, which is in keeping with the Italian tradition but not my personal preference.

Underwhelmed by the starters, I was nervous about our pizza. We ordered one of the special pizzas of the day: Speck with Braised Escarole, Crescenza cheese and Thyme ($15). (BTW, those are Fritha and John’s “Fossie” hands showing off the pizza.) What can I say? The pizza was perfection.

It was my first time having speck, which is cured pork similar to prosciutto but leaner. The speck was gracefully placed on the pizza that had a warm, chewy thin crust. The braised escarole was perfectly tender so that you could bite into it without having a big flap of dark greens hanging off your pizza. (Always a good thing, no?) But it was the combination of flavors on the perfectly done dough that made me fall in love with Delfina’s pizzas.

Now I see why this place is often packed on the weekends when I walk by. They offer a California flair to Neapolitan-style pizzas while still serving tradition favorites such as the Napoletana and Margherita. It’s a small place, but if you’re there with the right people (and get a friendly server such as ours) then it’s a party!

Side note: Pizzeria Delfina offers a nice wine list with your pizza.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (go for the pizza and dolce)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco


John said...

I just visited SF last week. I ate at some lovely places, but i wish I had read your blog. Wow, what a wonderful restaurant!!!

Chef Ben said...

John, you were so close since it sounds like you did eat at some places "near" Mission. Well, you just have to visit again. (FYI, next week I'm doing a special series of posts on museum cafes in San Francisco so that's definitely something you'd want to check back on if you visit San Francisco often.)

Chubbypanda said...

*sigh* I wish I didn't have to go into the city for pies like that.