Pizza in the Bay Area: Rising Like a Phoenix at Pizzeria Delfina
For a city with a historic and world-renown Italian community (North Beach), San Francisco and the Bay Area has, until the last few years, been sorely lacking in great pizza. While there are several excellent Italian delis and restaurants like Molinari's, Lucca, and, my favorite restaurant when I lived in San Francisco in the '80s, Caffe Sport, no pizzaioli were creating memorable pies.
Thankfully, that woeful state of culinary affairs has been remedied. One of a handful of great purveyors of pizza is Pizzeria Delfina. Opened by Craig and Ann Stoll on 18th Street in the Mission in 2005, next to their original Italian trattoria, Delfina, the pizzeria was inspired by Craig's memories of great pies in New York, where he grew up, as well as the pies he'd eaten during his travels to Italy.
The Stolls have also recently opened another Pizzeria Delfina branch in Pacific Heights, where I had the pleasure of dining two weeks ago. I can unequivocally say that Delfina is worthy of the admiration of pizza lovers in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area.
I had tried to dine at the Mission location the night I drove into town, but there was a long line already waiting outside. I passed. The next day I arrived at the California Street location as the second lunchtime client. Convenient parking in a small public lot was right down the street, a bonus in this parking-strapped city.
I ordered the insalata tricolore (above), a Margherita pie with mozzarella di bufala, and a Salsiccia, which, in addition to the sausage, also included bell peppers and onions. The salad oozed freshness, and the shaved grana padana added a hint of saltiness to this tasty and healthy opener.
But it was the main event that truly erased all my disappointing memories of past pizzas in the City by the Bay. As can be seen in the photographs, the crust's cornicione was delightfully blistered, and the bottom of the crust had the tell-tale charring characteristic of a properly cooked pie. The crust was pure delight to my palette. Crisp on the outside with a breadlike chewiness inside.
In my experience, the weakest element of California pizza is typically an underbaked and too doughy crust. No such shortcomings here. The sauce had a perfect balance of sweetness and spice. The bufala mozz was creamy; the chunks of fennel sausage, made in-house, were impeccable. An intoxicating freshness suffused every bite, bringing an ecstatic smile to my face. If I must offer one criticism, it is that the mozzarella placement left a few square inches nude of cheese. That said, the pizza was an absolutely divine experience.
After finishing, I had to get a few more details. As I suspected, they use the "00" flour; the mozzarella is provided by a local cheese maker, Bel Fiore; and the oven is a hybrid gas-burning, brick-lined model that reaches a scorching 750 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pizzeria Delfina also offers some scrumptious-looking desserts, particularly the cannoli and gelati, but I controlled myself. I'll save those tasty treats for the next visit. A nice selection of beverages included a handful of imported and artisanal brews, several Italian wines, and an array of soft drinks that included limonciata, aranciata, Captain Eli's root beer, and, of course, Coca-Cola.
Pizzeria Delfina offers seven or eight pies on a regular basis, as well as a couple of daily specials. I highly recommend this restaurant. The Stolls' love of Italian food, reflected in the fresh, choice ingredients and care in preparation, guarantees a rewarding dining experience.