Delfina Restaurant sits nestled in the heart of the Mission district among a large range of trend-setting and highly regarded bistros, brasseries, trattorias, rosticerias, taquerias, pizzerias, and eateries. With a menu presented in the traditional Italian style, Executive Chef Craig Stoll creates relatively fine-tuned dishes that explore the entire country of Italy with local, lavish ingredients. Low-level lighting, shiny steel tabletops, a beautiful mosaic of small blue tiles behind the bar, a garden patio, and an open kitchen create an unpretentious exquisiteness that flows through to the wait staff and makes for good meal.Read More ...
Delfina Restaurant hints at the idea of a fine dining experience without the fine dining attitude. A mission district staple since 1998, this restaurant sits within a myriad of trend-setting eateries that have helped to place this neighborhood on the foodie map. With a close attention to atmospheric detail, Delfina Restaurant promises to deliver a good-tasting meal without putting a hole in your pocket.
Co-owner and Executive Chef Craig Stoll and his co-owner and wife, Anne, named Delfina in honor of Ristorante Da Delfina in Artimino, Tuscany, where Stoll received some of his training. The restaurant has capacity for seventy people inside and twenty-five people outside on a garden patio. There is also available seating at an eight-person dining counter and five-stool wine bar.
Shortly after being seated at a table in the inside dining area, our server listed off the evening’s specials and let us know that there was only one special secondi entrée left, the tomato-braised short ribs topped with gremolata and served with polenta; I immediately told her that this would be my secondi entrée selection. We also ordered a bottle of the Soletta Cannonau di Sardegna “Firmadu” 2004, a medium-bodied, soft wine with flavors of licorice and dried currants that complemented meats and grilled vegetables very well.
As our antipasti, we decided on the Crostini Misti, three pieces of thinly sliced, toasted bread, one containing fava beans and pecorino, one containing chicken livers, and one containing white beans and a fresh sardine. The fava bean and pecorino mixture was a bit tasteless, but had a fantastic consistency of pureed beans and thinly grated Pecorino Romano. The chicken livers rustico was comprised of ground liver, which was reminiscent of ground liver at a Jewish deli, and surprising for a fine-dining Italian restaurant. The last crostini, with white beans and a sardine, was a beautiful, orchestrated combination of salty, flaky, white fish balanced by the subtle flavor profile of the classic Italian cannellini bean.
Having three choices on the menu for salad plus a special salad, the major challenge was deciding which one to choose. The salad special and two of the three menu options used very complex ingredients to create salads that I had not experienced prior to my viewing of the menu. We decided that if an Italian restaurant should be able to do anything correctly and succinctly it should be a caprese salad, so we took Delfina’s version for a whirl: freshly stretched mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil oil. The heirloom tomatoes were definitely the highlight of this dish, presenting a sweetness and color combination that simply cannot compare to the average tomato.
We then received our primi and secondi courses: Proscuitto-Mascarpone Ravioli with lemon-herb burro fuso and the special, Tomato-Braised Short Ribs topped with gremolata, and served with polenta. We also shared a vegetable (which on the menu is under the Contorni category), the Roasted Tokyo Turnips and Rapini Greens.
The Proscuitto-Mascarpone Ravioli, although sounding very good on paper, fell short of our expectations when it reached the palate. The lemon-herb burro fusso, a sauce of melted butter, herb, lemon, and chicken stock, overpowered the entire entrée and did not complement the well-cooked ravioli stuffed with proscuitto and mascarpone. Unfortunately these two ingredients, which we were looking most forward to tasting, were hard to detect in the dish.
The Tomato-Braised Short Ribs was simple and elegant. The meat fell off the bone and proved that braising, although an extremely long cooking process, is worth every single minute. The ribs sat atop a bed of polenta that could not have been replaced with anything better. The coarse cornmeal was boiled to perfection and stood up beautifully against the flaky slivers of meat; in combination, these flavors worked well together.
The roasted Tokyo Turnips and Rapini Greens offered a palatable and pleasing wood-fired vegetable that could have been an entrée within itself.
One thing must be remembered when dining at Delfina Restaurant: you must never forget to order dolci. The final dish of the evening, Buttermilk Panna Cotta with golden and red raspberries, is enough reason to visit Delfina and to come back again and again. Panna cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, mixing this with gelatin and then letting it cool until set. Delfina has taken this to the next level by substituting cream with buttermilk, creating a silky, sweetly delectable dessert, which created an incredible eruption of flavor with each heavenly bite. The golden and red raspberries added a bittersweet accompaniment to the panna cotta and complemented it pleasantly.
Delfina Restaurant does a good job of presenting cuisine from the entire country of Italy and proves that fine dining does not equate to stifling, overly pretentious service and white tablecloths. Dealing with crowds and the noise that comes with them is something that should be expected when coming to this restaurant, but a sensible, elegant dining atmosphere helps to quiet the storm and allows guests to concentrate on the food, wine, and the friends that have come with you for a relatively superior dining experience.
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