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Delfina

As Delicious As Ever

  • Delfina
    3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110 (Map)
    +1 415.552.4055

Delfina has enough fervent admirers to have kept it fully booked since it opened in late 1998. Itís easy to see why. Despite the rare occasion when a dish disappoints (which has been known to happen), Delfina continues to serve the apparently simple yet brilliantly flavorful Italian food that San Francisco craves. And, over the years, the prices have remained reasonable.

Delfinaís brilliance is also attributable to the waitstaff, who manage to be both hip -- in their sweatshop-free T-shirts -- as well as authentically cheerful, convincing diners that they, too, are hip and share the restaurantís pitch-perfect taste. More importantly, they are profoundly knowledgeable, and rarely pompous.

The chef, Craig Stoll, and his wife Anne, the general manager, opened Delfina in 1998 as a 35-seat storefront operation. Its immediate success, and the noise and crowds that came with it, overwhelmed their vision of an intimate neighborhood trattoria. After all, itís difficult to get to know the clients if you have to yell to communicate with them.

Within months, Delfina expanded into the junk shop next door, reopening with slightly more refinement, and much more space. The rustic modernity of the space was accentuated with a sleeker bar and a semi-open kitchen. Much more recently, it added seating in a leafy back patio.

Everything on the menu is delicious. Fish is consistently prepared with grace. Itís always moist, never burdened with complicated reductions, and instead is coated with bursting flavors. On a recent visit, Hawaiian ahi was coated with Meyer lemon conserva ($22), and local halibut came with the tarragon-caper butter ($24).

Over the years, some menu items have gained nationwide acclaim. The now-classic grilled calamari on white beans is smoky and tender, and has become the standard by which to judge grilled squid. Roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and royal trumpet mushrooms, at $16, is a fantastic deal. Delfinaís sublime buttermilk panna cotta, which is silky and carries a slightly sour bite, helped launch the panna cotta craze.

Those who repeatedly order the classics should look more broadly. The menu changes frequently, so thereís much to enjoy aside from the dishes that made Delfina famous. For example, green garlic sformatino with black trumpet mushrooms ($9) was astounding on a recent visit. Sformatino, a savory custard, was enchanting to look at, and bliss to eat. The pastas, too, are universally impressive. Gnocchi with rabbit sugo ($14) was simple, tender and deeply flavorful.

After several years on everyoneís short list of favorite San Francisco restaurants, Delfina is as delicious and welcoming as ever. Itís still difficult to get a table, so reserve well in advance. Or, stop by and take a chance. After all, thereís no better insurance policy than putting your name on the list at Delfina Pizzeria, which is right next door.

Italian
Mission
$$
Reservations are essential

Delfina
3621 18th St.
Tel. 415.552.4055