The popular Italian restaurant and the pizzeria have no connection between their dining rooms. But outside, the 2 waiting crowds meld into one. Unlike at the restaurant, no reservations are taken at the pizzeria, people are seated in the order they arrive. Write your name on the blackboard and wait. It will be worth your while.
The small dining room is packed with 6 wood tables, Eames Eiffel chairs and piles of wine boxes on the floors. Every nook and cranny is taken, no corner is left unused. Yellow pizza cartons pile high contrasting with a mural painting depicting the San Francisco skyline in Starry Night swirls. The lively atmosphere is fueled by the likes of Black Sabbath and Ramones; a loud soundtrack that some can’t help but sing along. In one of my visits, a young man waiting for a table sported an air guitar and sang enthusiastically at every chorus: “Hey! Ho! Let’s go”.
Service is, like at Delfina, friendly and efficient. There are plenty of servers and they manage to move swiftly in the crowded space. And even though the waitlist is usually long, tables move quickly, without ever being rushed.
Including the dining counter, only 24 people can sit inside while 12 or so brave the elements under beaming heating lamps. During warmer months, of course, the street tables are much more appealing.
A steady stream of take-outers come in and out, often balancing a tall pile of pizza boxes on their arms. Like Gialina, Delfina is first and foremost a neighborhood restaurant.
The seasonal menu is also written on a large blackboard. It includes 10 thin crust pizzas, 2 of which are daily specials. In addition to the pies; soup, salad and a good selection of appetizers will entice your palate. Last but not least, Delfina has the best desserts you’ll find in a pizzeria (more on that later).
I visited Pizzeria Delfina 4 times before writing this review. On my first dinner, I just ordered different antipasti (collards, mozzarella, sardines). On the next 3, appetizers, pies and desserts were tasted. Everything I tried was tasty and well prepared in a simple, unfussy way. There’s no sophistication in the preparation or presentation but that’s not the point. Not here.
One of my favorite appetizers is the Fresh-stretched Mozzarella. The hand-stretched cheese that was once a popular item on the menu of the restaurant next-door is mild and indeed, extremely fresh. Served with arugula and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
If you seat at the counter, you’ll be able to see them being made.
Daily specials include 2 types of fritti. One of these deep-fried treats is usually a vegetable, like Broccoli di ciccio, which is fantastic. A lighter version of the Japanese tempura, crispier and topped with shaved Parmesan.
Another fritti I like is the Panzarotti, which are like mini calzones stuffed with salami and cheese, then deep-fried. Served with a light marinara sauce.
For the pies; dried oregano sprigs, Parmesan and red pepper flakes to taste.
Some of Delfina’s pizzas are made with panna instead of mozzarella. The Italian cream is thicker than the American whipping cream and makes a great base for the pies. It keeps them moist and, since it has a mild taste, highlights beautifully their main ingredients.
One great example is the “Gricia” Purplette onions, guanciale, panna, chili. This pizza, a special on my second visit, combines the saltiness of the cured pork jowl with the sweet thinly sliced onions. The panna gives it a luscious creaminess that goes nicely with the thin, crunchy crust.
Another good choice is the Prosciuto pizza. Also made with panna and fresh arugula; which gives it a nice, peppery bite.
If you are feeling more traditional, the Salsiccia is a good call. Housemade fennel sausage, tomato, bell peppers, onions and mozzarella.
Delfina’s pizzas are on par with Gialina’s and Beretta’s. Gialina still offers the most inventive toppings and an irresistible olive-oil-brushed outer crust. And while Beretta’s incredibly generous burrata add-on is hard to beat, the panna pies at Delfina are definitely on my favorites list. But the small pizzeria offers one thing that is far ahead of its competition; sweets.
The Baba Rum, a richer take on the classic French dessert, is simply to die for. A spongy cake baked with currants and lightly soaked in rum is filled with a luscious custard and served with strawberry coulis. Without a doubt, the best Baba in the city.
Another great option is the Bellwether Ricotta Cannoli. The crispy, thin cannoli is filled with a creamy, dense ricotta that is hard to resist scooping the plate for the last dollop. A good friend of mine from NY always complained to me that you can’t find a good cannoli in San Francisco. Well, Marita, this one is for you.
Craig Stoll, co-owner of Delfina and James Beard Award winner for best chef in 2008, is not Italian. But he is behind one of San Francisco’s best Italian fares, including a great Neapolitan pizza. The pizzeria next to his popular Italian restaurant has a friendly, lively atmosphere and a rock-and-roll vibe that will occasionally make the bohemian crowd draw their air guitars. The food is definitely worth the wait, and come to think of it, the wait itself can be pretty entertaining. Hey! Ho! Let’s go.
Pizzeria Delfina is at 3611 18th Street
No reservations are taken, for takeout call 415-437-6800