Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Dining at Delfina--San Francisco
In the fall of 1999, I was living in a small village in northern Zimbabwe, staying with a host family that raised chickens. The chickens meant the family was wealthy (relative to its neighbors), in part because it ate meat on a regular basis. On my last night there, my host mother invited me to help her kill, pluck and cook a chicken, then served me its fried heart, lungs and liver as going away present. At the time, cutting a chicken's head off and eating its innards were above and beyond my comfort zone--I barely managed to keep it together as I downed the organs with large bites of sadza to cover the taste.
Now, nearly 8 years later, I realize the most local, free range, organic chicken I ever ate was in that Zimbabwean village. And those innards? The finest, freshest of offal.* I haven't killed a chicken since that trip, but I have developed a taste for pate and terrines of all sorts, and when my waitress at Delfina announced a special starter of chicken liver crostini, it was immediately ordered. Smooth and creamy, with a rich thyme and shallot flavor perfuming the liver, at first blush it was miles away from my Zimbabwe experience, until the underlying taste of the organ popped up and reminded you that yep, this was still LIVER, and wow, I can't believe I like to eat this stuff.
Making our plans at the last minute, Jess and I settled for an early bird 5:30 reservation at this popular Mission District Cal-Italian spot. We joined a handful of others with opening-time reservations outside the restaurant at 5:29 pm, and as the doors opened we were all whisked to our spots in a very efficient manner. Though we felt a bit like senior citizens because of the hour, it was lovely to bask in the late afternoon sun streaming through Delfina's many windows as we toasted with a glass of prosecco.
Focused on seasonal fare, the menu was bursting with mushrooms and both the porcini in our shared salad and the morels in my gnocchi stole the show. However, the morels had to share the spotlight with some popping fresh peas, fried sage leaves and some first-of-the-season cherry tomatos that made me wistful about the produce I'll be leaving behind here in the Golden State. And the gnocchi--these tiny specimens were impossible to resist. Slicked with buttery-olive oily goodness, light and fluffy, a perfect match to the robust veggies and shrooms.
The menu, chock-a-block full of local ingredients and farmer credit, changes daily. Currently, the restaurant's website displays Monday's menu, which doesn't have either of the pastas or the salad we ordered last Friday. Which means, of course, that if I lived nearby I'd eat here more than I should, with the excuse that I need to try something different. Another thing to love about this place is its commitment to homemade items: cured anchovies, fennel sausage, etc.
For the quality of the ingredients and the cooking, the prices are quite reasonable--pastas, served generously enough to serve as a main course, run from about $11-$16. Salads clock in around $8-9, and antipasti about the same. Many items work to for sharing, and the waitstaff will happily bring you a sharp knife to cut items like the crostini.
I would recommend reservations if you'd like to sit in the dining room or on the back patio, but there's also lots of room in the bar for walk-ins. And if you can't find space in Delfina proper, you could also try the pizzeria next door.
Delfina inspires love from foodbloggers in SF and beyond:
Confessions of a Restaurant Whore
Alice Q. Foodie
Megan in Los Feliz
3621 18th Street
San Francisco, CA
*I am well aware of the ridiculous-ness of posting about the "reasonable" prices of Delfina and introducing this post with a story about "eating locally" in Zimbabwe--with a rural, poor family who ate local because they had to, not because it was the trendy thing to do. Unfortunately, things have gotten much worse for most Zimbabweans since I was there and I imagine the chickens for my former host family are few and far between.