Thursday, October 9, 2014

San Francisco: Delfina

Andrew and I have explored quite a variety of San Francisco restaurants and other foodie delights over the past few years: Craftsman & Wolves, Humphry Slocombe, Bi-Rite Creamery, Toyose, Tartine, Wayfare Tavern, and Pizzeria Delfina come to mind.  But ever since freshman or sophomore year of college, when I read food blogger Joy's (a.k.a. the "Restaurant Whore") heartfelt review, Delfina has been on my bucket list.  After passing it a couple times and seeing its warm glow cast onto 18th Street, I think in my head it came to represent the Nice But Not Stuffy San Francisco Restaurant (and I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way).

I'm happy to report that after finally making it there on September 30, Delfina lived up to all of my expectations.  With the recent realization that Andrew's time living in the Bay Area may be running out, at least at this stage of life, we've been feeling the pressure as far as the bucket list goes.  And so we made an 8:00pm reservation for the Tuesday that I was in town, put on slightly nicer outfits* than usual, and managed to find a parking spot just one block away after fruitlessly circling for a few minutes.

When we arrived just before 8pm a third of the tables were empty, and we were able to ask for the best table in the house, the corner banquette.  That said, when we left at 9:30pm, the entire restaurant was unexpectedly bustling.  To start, two glasses of wine: a rich and fruity Montepulciano and another, lighter Italian red that I think started with "G" but whose full name I simply can't remember. (Sadly, a scroll through the online wine list doesn't jog my memory, either.)  Regardless, it was unlike any wine I'd had before in that it almost smelled salty and had a refreshing mineral flavor that smoothed and rounded in the mouth.  Maybe that doesn't sound appetizing, but I thought it was great: very easy to drink, and it paired well with the meal.  
Bread of the crusty, rustic wheat variety, with one edge dipped lightly in some sort of spice mixture (paprika?), was served with an adorable square container of butter with coarse sea salt.

For our first course we chose the Monterey Bay calamari with white bean salad.  One bite made it obvious why this dish is supposedly one of their classics.  The calamari were grilled to the point of some smoky flavor and had a gentle chew but remained tender, contrasting nicely with the silky bean salad.  A few briny olives (pit still in) punctuated the plate.

Pastas are freshly made in-house and the spaghetti, with a tomato basil sauce and a flurry of parmesan, simply could not have been better.   Home-cooked pasta just can't equal the al dente consistency and the just-right balance of sauciness that Delfina achieves, and we saw plates of pasta on most if not all of the tables.


After sitting in the glass for a little while, my unnamed wine definitely rounded out in flavor, and just in time for the Meyer Ranch hanger steak.  Our steak was cooked medium rare as the server suggested, and was delicious, but was almost overshadowed by the creaminess of the blistered and buttery potato.  Anchovy-marrow butter and grilled radicchio completed the decadent plate.  This dish was definitely best shared between two.

Speaking of sharing, the pasta and steak were both plated for two, without our asking.  Each dish also arrived at a very leisurely pace, which suited us well enough and ensured that the meal felt relaxed.  (To play devil's advocate, if we had been in more of a hurry or wanted to attend a concert afterward, the service might have felt a little bit slow.)  

We didn't need dessert, but I'd heard enough about the panna cotta that we ordered it, and were immediately glad we did.  Whereas most panna cottas are almost an afterthought, a relatively one-dimensional mass of vanilla cream, this one was infused with fig leaves and served with pluots and fig puree.  Andrew ordered espresso and thought it was some of the best he's ever had, and even though I usually find espresso too strong, I couldn't resist a couple sips.

(Instagrammed, of course.)

All in all, we had a lovely evening at Delfina, and are so glad we finally went.  Considering the quality of the food, I think the pricing was appropriate.  A future visit could involve a bar seat, a plate of pasta, dessert and espresso, and would be more economical as well as enormously pleasurable.


*Speaking of outfits, can I put in a plug for Everlane, which might be my favorite clothing manufacturer?  I love their cotton tees, Ryan tees, and tote bags, all with transparent manufacturing and reasonable prices.  Once I'm at a different financial stage of life I may try their new loafers, which look beautiful, but for now the tees are closet staples.  If you're interested in well-cut basics, then please do help me to help you via my referral link.