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DonRocks

Delfina - An Innovative Neighborhood Gem-Turned-Empire in the Mission District

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I was at the original Delfina in the mid-late 2000s, before they won their (2008) James Beard Award, and I was pretty much blown away. Then, it was a sketchy neighborhood (sort of like when Corduroy first opened at 11th and K Street), but the food was magnificent.

Craig Stoll (the James Beard Award winner) is no longer on the line. In fact, he's no longer at the restaurant. In fact, there are now *four* restaurants including two pizzerias. Times have changed, Delfina has a young gun in Brian Gremillion, but the dinner I had last night was exactly the reason I fell in love with the restaurant last decade.

Delfina's wine list is a touch on the expensive side, but I was perfectly content to stay with the Downtown Brown English Brown Ale ($6) from Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA, a nut-brown ale without any unfortunate complications in the long, smooth finish. This is a rare instance where I'm disagreeing with the Beer Advocate, as I think they have the beer underrated (but I also love good, straightforward brown ales). This beer took me through all three courses, and only missed with dessert (at which point I didn't care so much).

I ordered the Ribollita da Delfina ($11) expecting a bowl of soup; instead, what was plopped down before me was a hamburger patty.

"Oh! I ordered the Ribollita," I said.

"This is the Ribollita," the runner replied. The chef takes the components of the traditional Tuscan soup, and forms them into a patty. Just before walking away, he gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder, and said, "You'll love it." And boy howdy did I! I'm not sure what the ingenious influence was behind this, but I'm thinking Haemul Pajeon, and it worked perfectly. This was not a ground-up patty; it was lovingly formed, bound by its bread, but with the chunks of peasant vegetables intact. This was a great dish that showed elements of legitimate genius.

Puntarelle alla Romana ($12) with lemon, extra virgin, olive oil, and parmigiano, on the other hand, was as straightforward and traditional - in a kingly way - as it could be. A cold salad consisting of nothing more than the stems cut lengthwise, and dressed perfectly, it was a perfect intermezzo between the Ribollita and the knockout punch.

Tripe alla Fiorentina ($10) was, by far, the heaviest dish of the meal, and again, as straightforward as it could possibly be. Heated and served in a cast-iron pan, resting atop a wooden crater so the diner wouldn't burn himself, this was to be eaten with a spoon, and sopped up with Delfina's delicious bread (free upon request). This was a stew, with the tripe prominent, but also containing probably a dozen other components, all melded together into a winter-rich harmony that would go beautifully with a dark wine from Piedmont. Although it wasn't a large portion, I was stuffed when I was finished.

In fact, I was so stuffed that I debated not getting dessert, but only for a second or two. Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta ($9) took center stage on a plate strewn with coastal huckleberries and roasted grapes, with some tiny cubes of sugared jellies thrown on for good measure. This was another straightforward (yes, I've used this word four times) dish that relied on perfect execution, and got it.

Special kudos to Heather, who was working the host stand, and my bartender Kari, who ensured that the pacing of the meal was perfect, and I told her just as much - whenever I had only a couple bites left of one dish, the next would magically appear, so that I got some overlap as a transition. As I'm a notoriously slow diner, doing this with me presents a custom timing problem, but Delfina pulled it off with aplomb, just as they did with the entire meal.

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Delfina is good all things considered but the pretentiousness/precious factor is through the roof. It would also help if the kitchen executed correctly.

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Those of you who know about wine can take a gander at one of their wine lists. There's a much longer version not shown here.

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Grilled sardines, pane pomodoro, caponata

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Heirloom tomatoes, anchovy, burrata

I suppose I was expecting more than just tomato salad with cheese for $19.

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Veal cappelletti, chanterelle mushrooms, sage

B remarked that if you removed the mushrooms, the dish is a bit bland.  

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Bigoli in salsa, featuring locally-caught sardines.

This was incredibly salty and while I understand that this specialty of Venice typically uses salt-cured fish, it's not supposed to be a few shades below inedible.  (Also Calabrian chile peppers don't belong there.)

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Affogato - fior di bufala gelato, espresso, amaro.

We ordered light since our brunch earlier in the day was quite filling. Total bill came out to $119 not including a 20% tip.

The room is quite loud, if noise level matters. Plenty of hard edges, wood, and square corners means poor sound absorption. The rock music in the background didn't help. On the other hands, high ceilings are a plus. You're enveloped in a cocoon of sound but you can hear your table mate.

We'll probably check out their pizzeria via takeout; I understand my landlord is a fan. But I don't think we'll be coming back to the main resto anytime soon. It was a slightly above average experience marred by a couple of missteps - overall rather disappointing, given that it took 30 days for last night's reservation.

Delfina
3621 18th Street (Guerrero Street)
Mission District

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8 hours ago, TrelayneNYC said:

Delfina
3621 18th Street (Guerrero Street)
Mission District

Oh my goodness: This is where that overpriced burrata salad was? I first visited Delfina in 2005 (see above) - it was a relative bargain, considering the Spotted Pig-like quality of the cuisine (that's a pretty accurate comparison). Hoo, boy - no longer, I guess, although nothing you posted looks "bad"; just overpriced for what it is.

Thanks, TrelayneNYC. I'm not sure when you first went to Delfina, but this place used to be great, *and* a wonderful value - I went to San Francisco for the weekend during that 2005 visit, and the only two restaurants I chose were Delfina and Zuni Cafe (incidentally, I went to Zuni Cafe again about three-years ago, and it was an absolute joke - not even close to being worth a Michelin star). I went to Delfina again around the time of my second visit to Zuni Cafe, and still really liked it, but who knows what has happened in the past few years?

To show you just how sloppy Delfina has become, the Twitter link on their website doesn't even work (if you click on it, it takes you to generic Twitter) - this wouldn't have happened a decade ago, and is indicative of an always-busy corporation rather than a caring restaurant. Does anyone even know who the chef is now?

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We went on Saturday.

Another thing that really bugs me. On Facebook I was taken to task for commenting that I felt like the tomato salad paid for the restaurant's rent. 🙄

Well, couldn't staff have bothered to tell us that the olives had pits in them? Because they didn't. So that was another strike on top of the other missteps.

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29 minutes ago, TrelayneNYC said:

We went on Saturday.

Another thing that really bugs me. On Facebook I was taken to task for commenting that I felt like the tomato salad paid for the restaurant's rent. 🙄

Well, couldn't staff have bothered to tell us that the olives had pits in them? Because they didn't. So that was another strike on top of the other missteps.

I saw those comments on Facebook - you were unfairly misinterpreted on a technicality. Interestingly, I think olives (and cherries) should *always* have pits in them; it's just that they never do, so yes, a warning is in order.

(Remembering One Block West)

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