Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Pizzeria Delfina, San Francisco

When most people think of the great pizza cities, they cite New York (of course) and frequently Chicago (I've yet to personally confirm that).  Those more in the know will mention New Haven CT and even Trenton NJ. And it's increasingly true that you can find destination pizza in most American cities. 
Salsiccia pie; click any pic to enlarge

But without the helpful reports of pizza nerds online, especially as aggregated on Slice - Seriouseats, I never would have suspected that San Francisco is among the pizza elite cities. In March 2013, I had a two-day meeting in Sonoma, which meant a flight into San Francisco and then a drive to Sonoma. It presented an opportunity to stop for a pizza lunch in the city before crossing over the Golden Gate into wine country.

With the good folks at Seriouseats as my guide, I targeted five pizza spots, then narrowed the list to three because two of them are not open for lunch. On my short list was Pizzeria Delfina, Tony's Pizza Neapoletana, and Gioia Pizza. Tony's was especially intriguing, because they have several kinds of ovens to make an astonishing assortment of pies -- Neapolitan, Roman, New York, even Trenton! But I finally settled on Delfina because various reports pointed to a hybrid Neapolitan/New York pie. In other words, promise of a Neapolitan pie that isn't soggy in the middle.

Delfina is at 3611 18th Street, in what appears to be a hipster-ish area near Dolores Park. Parking was difficult until we found a bunch of empty metered spots three blocks away on 17th Street (cheap parking, compared to other cities, just 25 cents per hour).  The pizzeria is tiny on the inside, with a few tables and one narrow bar that seats maybe four or five. The website claims total inside seating for 24; those better be small people! Other available seating is at tiny tables on the sidewalk, and that was perfect for our unseasonably warm March day.
Broccoli raab pie

I was travelling with a colleague, and we opted to order two different pies (all the pies are personal size) and split them. We chose the Broccoli Raab pie, which also included caciocavallo and mozzarella cheeses, black olives, and hot peppers. For balance, we selected the Salsiccia pie, with housemade fennel sausage, tomato, bell peppers, onions, and mozzarella.
Delectable cornicione

Delfina has a well-considered wine list, with some very nice Aglianico for about $11 per glass. It was a nice way to begin, munching on some crisp thin breadsticks, waiting for the pies.

Both pies arrived fairly quickly, and they looked very Neapolitan. Delfina's website says that the pizza is "inspired by Craig's memories of New York-style pies from his youth and pizza from the best pizzerias of Naples. The menu features six Neapolitan inspired, thin crust pizzas." The broccoli raab pie came first, and it had a substantial amount of cheese and wet raab. That could have been a soggy-center situation, but the absence of tomatoes on this one kept it together.
Look closely at seeping moisture; crust remained crisp!

Indeed, as we removed slices from the tray and looked underneath, we could see some accumulating moisture. But the bottom of this crust had a distinct crispness to it; there was no hint of sogginess. The pizza at Delfina is indeed a hybrid, even if it is 80 percent Neapolitan and 20 percent New York. Actually, to my perception, the crisp bottom and zero-tip-sag was more characteristic of Trenton and New Haven than the softer, foldable New York slice. But surely no matter how you label it, the crust was masterful.
Try THAT with your average soft wet Neapolitan pie!

I thoroughly enjoyed the raab pie, but it once again confirmed for me that vegetable-topped pies will rarely resonate with me like a pizza with cured meats on it. This raab had a bitter (in a good way) snap to it, but its strong flavor was a distraction from the good cheeses and the brilliant crust. Overall, the pie was excellent, but I wouldn't choose it again.
There is some magic in this crust

The sausage pie had that same perfection in the crust, with one of the best corniciones I've seen or tasted -- big puffy blistered handles with an al dente chew to them. Once again the thin crust, even loaded fairly heavily with wet cheese and tomato and sausage, remained crisp and sturdy, practically defying gravity. No knife and fork needed!  The taste was wonderful, with good chunks of tomato harmonizing with creamy mozzarella and the savory sausage. 

The red bell pepper and purple onion were welcome veggie additions (especially the onion) but they were cooked a little less than ideal, probably because this pie spends such a short time in the oven. Still, they enhanced the pie.

On my list of "58 Pizzas Worth the Calories" (link HERE), the highest-ranking Neapolitan pies are Motorino (reviewed HERE) and Forcella (reviewed HERE). Trenton, New York, and New Haven pies fill out my top spots due to their superior crusts. But because Delfina's modified Neapolitan succeeds in avoiding the soggy center, it rises above most, if not all, Neapolitan pies I've had. I'll re-do the rankings sometime soon, and I expect Delfina will get slotted ahead of all the other Neapolitans.

The crust gets 9.5, the tomatoes 8, the cheeses 9, the sausage 8, the veggies 7. The service was warm and engaging, and the al fresco atmosphere enhanced the good California vibe. It was pricey, but still a decent value. Overall, Delfina gets a 9.25. This is wonderful destination pizza and I'd gladly return for more.

Pizzeria Delfina on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I'm always amazed when I read stories like yours as to the incredible capacity of food reviewers to eat as much as they need to get the job done without suffering any ill aftereffects.

    Three different pizza places during the course of one lunch? Wow. Even with the help of another person, that's a lot of eating to be done.

    My hat's off to you.