Thursday, April 26, 2007

Delfina Delights (San Francisco)

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Ever since my visit to Delfina nearly two weeks ago, I've been obsessed with one of the dishes on their menu. It was a dish of bucatini, twirled with an emulsion of fava beans, garlic, parmesan and olive oil. It was very simple, and not even something I swooned over at the time - but the combination of the sweet, nutty and sharp flavors really stuck in my mind.

When I got back, I bought some fresh fava beans at Peoples, and used some bucatini I had on hand with the ingredients I imagined must be in there, but it just wasn't the same. Something about that restaurant magic - that and a lot of olive oil, most likely.

The rest of our meal at Delfina was similarly deceptive in its simplicity. The cuisine is sort of Tuscan-style Italian with a California bend. The menu changes daily (though there are a few constants) and offers several courses made with seasonal produce, local meats, house made pastas, gelato and sausages. To view the current menu, click here.

Our first course, the gem lettuce salad, with flavors similar to a caesar, was delicious - though it was just a small pile of lettuce with a sharp garlicky dressing. I wasn't quite as impressed with the green garlic sformata, which to me seemed a bit undercooked, though Sam assured me it is generally very soft. The trumpet mushrooms served alongside were delicious though, and the flavor had me promising to grow some green garlic in my garden when I finally get it started.
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Sam and I shared almost everything we ordered except our entrees, which they very thoughtfully divided for us on two separate plates (except the sformata, that would have been a bit messy!) For our main courses, Sam chose the Tuscan ribs - a rack of ribs resting on a serving of their bread salad. The ribs were meltingly tender and flavorful, and redolent of herbs and garlic. The bread salad (which we also ordered a side dish of - not realizing Sam's entree would include it) was a vinegary tangle of crisp bread cubes, arugula and pine nuts. I wonder how it compares to Zuni's version - which I haven't had a chance to try yet.

I ordered a dish of seared ahi, served over farro. The dish was very good and well excecuted but I think I chose somewhat poorly. I was trying to be good, but this just didn't showcase the kind of cooking I went there to eat.

The vibe in the dining room is bustling and somewhat noisy, but not overwhelming. The room itself is very simple, with metal topped tables, a mirrored wall and warm colors - not aggressively trendy, but certainly hip and attractive. It's really the kind of place anyone at any age can go and feel comfortable, which no doubt contributes to its popularity.
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Next door, they have a more casual - and affordable - pizzeria. While it would be great to have a restaurant like Delfina in San Diego - this is the kind of place I really wish we had. Someplace you can go any night of the week for a great, affordable meal made with top-quality artisanal ingredients. I definitely plan to try it on my next trip up there.

Overall, I can't quite put my finger on it - but Delfina has that je ne sais quoi that just makes a restaurant work. The menu changes frequently, so it's the kind of place you can go frequently without getting bored. The service is excellent and both diners and staff seem happy to be there - which infuses the room with a warm, happy buzz. If I lived in the City, I'd go as often as possible.

Thanks to Sam, for coming out and enjoying this with me - I can't wait to do it again. Hopefully I can meet some other SF food bloggers on my next trip!

3821 18th St.
S of Market near Guerrero - on the same block as Tartine
Reservations are absolutely mandatory for the restaurant - not the pizzeria.


  1. I see you hated your trip to SF. Speaking of pasta, I have been craving fresh pasta since my return from Argentina and Uruguay, where it seemed to be readily available. I finally purchased some pasta from Assenti's Pasta in Littly Italy on India Street. I bought the spinach fettucini, along with some frozen gnocchi and meat cappaleti for another time, and served it with my 1st attempt at a tomato sauce. I loved the pasta. It cooked in just about 3 minutes as the staff at the store advised and was perfect. I'm thinking I may never buy dried pasta again! Stop in next time your looking for fresh pasta.

  2. Yum yum yum! I am so sad I didn't make it there on my last trip. Next time it is #1 on my list!