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Pizzeria Delfina

High Expectations on 18th Street

Next door to the much beloved and award-garnering Delfina, Anne and Craig Stoll's Neapolitan-style pizza venture has had lines out the door since opening in mid-July 2005. With under 40 total seats available including the outdoor tables and the skinny bar, and no reservations accepted, the wait for a table even during the week hovers in the 20 minutes to an hour range. Wait for a walk-in pizza order was also about 20 minutes on a weeknight.

Although the website promises six Neapolitan-inspired thin crust pizzas (13") with traditional toppings and two special pies daily, on my visits the pizza offerings were limited to a broccoli rabe calzone and their five standard pizzas: Napoletana, Margherita, Salsiccia, 4 Formaggi, and Clam Pie.

The pizzas are thin, with an outer crust that has almost a cracker crunch, with many featuring the house stretched mozzarella. All pizzas are augmented by a small plate of condiments (red peppers, dried oregano, and cheese), thus allowing some personalization.

The 4 Formaggi ($12.25) is best with blood-red quarter-sized slices of house-cured pepperoni ($2.25) added, and even stands up to the leftover cold pizza taste test. The Salsiccia ($13.25) is my favorite, with its bright bell pepper flavors, and moderately spicy fennel sausage.

A disappointment on the pizza menu is the Margherita ($11); on both visits, the tomatoes soaked through the crust, causing the pizza to be limp, making using a knife and fork necessary rather than just polite. Other friends feel it's the tastiest pizza on the menu, however. The Napoletana is done a salty disservice by an overabundance of anchovies, olives, and capers, which is strange since the other pizzas on the menu are so lightly dressed with toppings. The broccoli rabe calzone lacks bite, perhaps due to too much ricotta; the bitter edge we tend to expect from broccoli rabe was somehow missing.

Seasonal antipasti, which are displayed on the counter top facing the bar, vary slightly from week to week, as do the desserts. The Gorgonzola with chestnut honey ($7.25) had a nice drizzle of artisanal honey to offset the cheese's saltiness without being overpowering. The group favorite -- served only on one visit, however -- was the hand-stretched mozzarella ($8.25) served with a drizzle of oil and some greens. Several dining companions, who weren't enamored of the fresh cured anchovies or the calamari salad appetizers, wished aloud for antipasti plates of cured meats and cheeses, or even some

The wine menu is short -- only 8 whites and 13 reds all under $45 -- but it lists 6 reds by the glass ($4-$8.50) and 5 whites ($5.75-$11.50). Desserts were a highlight on each visit -- the peach nectarine crostata ($4.75) was a tasty marriage of summertime flavors
in a pie form, and the lemon budino with fresh blackberries ($6.25) was airy and refreshing.

Despite the staff's pleasantness, table service was unreliable, and in one case below average. One waitperson quizzed us as to whether we were sure we did not wish to order an appetizer, waited 10 minutes, and came back and asked us that same question again -- all before putting in our order. This same server set down our wine bottle and glasses and walked away without either offering us a taste or pouring any wine.

Dinner for two with wine and tip is at least $50, making Pizzeria Delfina a step up cost-wise from your typical neighborhood pizzeria. Considering the prices and the challenges with seating and service, this is a better bet for a phoned in to-go order than a leisurely dinner. If you pick up your pizzas to take home, be sure to throw them (unboxed) into a hot oven for a few moments to crisp up the crusts, which naturally get a little soggy sitting in a cardboard box. It's worth the wait.