We went to San Francisco in late March. It was our first visit in a few years. When my husband and I took our first trip as a couple to San Francisco in 2002, we went to Delfina and had an amazing meal. Now five years later, we wanted to see how it withstood the test of time. I think it may actually have gotten better.
It's a very lively, hustle and bustle kind of place. We sat in the far back corner of the restaurant, which I thought was a great table.
We wanted to get an idea of several dishes, so we ordered a whole bunch of things. Unfortunately, the calamari and white bean salad we still remembered from 5 years earlier was not on the menu the night we were there. However, there were plenty of other interesting options.
Our server, Jeannine, recommended a great wine to us - Carmignano - Capezzana 2003 Toscana. We absolutely loved it. The first of many great pieces of advice she gave us.
We started with an unusual-sounding salad. Hearts of palm with salmon roe in a creamy dressing with cucumbers and radishes. This was a pretty good salad. Different from the usual greens-centered salad. While I liked it, I'd probably pick another salad next time.
Next, we had the fresh-stretched mozzarella with marinated farro and leeks vinaigrette. This was wonderful mozzarella, which is something I no longer go out of my way for since discovering burrata. This reminded me how good mozz could be. Again, not a to-die for salad, but we liked it.
Instead of the calamari w/ white bean salad, that night they had sardines with white beans. The beans were delicious, and we enjoyed the sardines, though they are not even remotely in the same league as the calamari.
Our server mentioned to us that we should really try the house-cured anchovies. We had already over-ordered, but she seemed enthusiastic about them so we ordered them. We were so glad we did. They were a real highlight, which is saying something because I do not normally go out of my way for anchovies. These were excellent - not overly salty, with a nice texture.
On to my favorite part of the meal--the pasta.
We wanted to try the pasta w/ nettles, but they had run out by the time we arrived. Our server suggested we try her favorite pasta, which was not on the menu. It was spaghetti in a sauce made from cauliflower. I have to say, and this means a lot coming from a pasta lover, this was one of the best pastas I have ever had. At least in my experience, cauliflower is not the most obvious choice of a main ingredient in a pasta dish, and for me really showed off Craig Stoll's skills. I would travel to SF just to eat this. Seriously. (Please someone tell me how to make it!)
The other pasta somewhat paled in comparison to the other, though was actually extremely good (the other was just that unreal!). It was pyramid-shaped ravioli filled with short rib. The sauce was the braising liquid and added even more richness. Truly delicious. Next time I'd reverse the order of the pastas because nothing can follow the cauliflower pasta and not be overshadowed. (We ran out of wine by this point--being able to take a cab made us go crazy--and we ordered a different Carmignano that was available as a half bottle. It was good, but nowhere near the other).
I had not wanted to get any main courses because I love trying so many dishes, but my husband could not pass up the lamb. (I was holding out for dessert so barely touched it). It was a nice lamb, though a bit fatty for my taste. The stars of our meal had come before it, and next time I'd probably stick to my original plan and get appetizers and pastas only.
We had some profiteroles for dessert. My husband really wanted to try the espresso gelato, but I wanted to save my caffeine-allowance (too much and I'm up all night) for the cappuccino I had heard so much about. Jeannine offered to put vanilla in one of the profiteroles for me. They were very tasty.
We ended the meal with 2 expertly prepared cappuccinos. Excellent! I asked Jeannine for a recommendation where to find great coffee in the city. She suggested we hit Blue Bottle while at the Farmer's Market the next morning (thank you Jeannine!), thereby enabling us to have another amazing cappuccino the next day (seriously, Blue Bottle is unreal).
Our server was actually one of the best I've had anywhere. I like a server who is not afraid to show some personality, and especially one who is knowledgeable about the food and makes intelligent suggestions re what dishes and wine to order. She's a rock star in this regard, and she really made an impression on me. (I have not had this kind of service in L.A. since an amazing server at my favorite restaurant (Zax, now closed) decided to change careers around 2004-ish).
All in all, I loved Delfina. I think the vibe is great--lots of energy and not too loud to talk to the person next to you. I do love Angelini Osteria in L.A., but I am still extremely jealous of all those in S.F. for getting to frequent Delfina. A fabulous experience, and if I didn't feel the need to try A16 and Incanto on future visits, I'd go to Delfina on my next visit too.