In the ‘easy come-easy go’ world of restaurants, longevity is increasingly exceptional. Rare is the dining spot that thrives beyond a handful of years. Rarer still is the eatery that approaches two decades, its hip quotient still firmly intact and its delectable dishes still drawing raves. Such is Delfina, the chic Italian cornerstone of the San Francisco Mission district’s epicurean evolution. Craig and Annie Stoll opened Delfina 18 years ago in what was then a restaurant-barren part of town. In addition to encouraging others to venture to the as-yet unproven territory, their success eventually spawned a sister restaurant, the popular Locanda, and four well-loved pizzerias (San Francisco, Palo Alto and Burlingame.) A packed house on a recent Sunday evening indicated that Delfina is as haute as ever, and continues to be a San Francisco favorite. Here’s why:
1) La mia casa è la tua casa: Delfina is first and foremost a neighborhood restaurant whose regular customers comprise its beating heart. The friendly staff know and love these regulars who venture in for an impromptu spot at the bar or for gourmet takeout. But that doesn’t mean Delfina treats its out of town guests any differently. This local joint is also a destination spot – drawing tourists who’ve read the glowing reviews, and those from outlying towns who don’t mind driving an hour or so for a perfect plate of pasta. Delfina is always warm, cozy, and convivial – with an electric vibe sparked by the eclectic crowd. Families, friends, first-daters, and even lone diners can be seen in the always-packed dining room. Everyone feels the love at Delfina.
2) Consistenza: Delfina has consistently been a top San Francisco restaurant since it opened, and one dish in particular has maintained its starring role through the years – the simple and simply perfect Spaghetti. Featuring only five ingredients (pasta, plum tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and pepperoncini) Craig Stoll’s recipe is legendary. The pasta is quickly par-boiled, then transferred to a tomato-sauced pan where it continues to cook and soak up the sauce, and served al dente. Another tried and true Delfina dish that earns raves is the Roasted Mary’s Chicken, a succulent, salt-brined breast and leg served with King Trumpet mushrooms and olive oil mashed potatoes. Order a side of Brussels Sprouts to round out this soul-satisfying dish.
3) Molte Scelte: While the spaghetti and chicken are always available, the beauty of Delfina’s menu is its daily changing menu. There are always many choices to keep the regulars guessing. Chef de Cuisine Rachel Orner and Anthony Strong, executive chef of the Delfina group of restaurants, create sublime dishes using the best and freshest of Northern California’s bounty. Offerings are deceptively simple, but each seems to have one magical ingredient that leaves diners wondering, “what was in that dish?” An example – crushed Amaretto cookies dusting the top of a squash and hazelnut tortelloni. Yum.
4) Bevande: Beer? Check. Wine? Check. Let Delfina choose for you, and enjoy three 3 oz. pours of their favorites: Sorelle Bronca Prosecco Brut NV, Istine Chianti Classico, and Bruno De Conciliis Aglianico. But, at Delfina, it’s really all about the Blood Orange Bellini. So haute-ly delicious.
Delfina: 3621 18th St. (near Guerrero), San Francisco; (415) 552-4055. Mon. – Thurs. 5:30 – 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 5:30 – 11 p.m., Sun. 5 – 10 p.m.
Photography by Eric Wolfinger