CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

My One True Love (Delfina -- San Francisco, CA and Da Delfina -- Artimino, Italy)

Ribollita. The food of the Gods. OK, not really. It's actually peasant food. But it is DAMN good.

Ribollita is Tuscan bread soup filled with cannelini beans, cavelo nero (a kale-like green), bread and yummy yum yums (that's a technical term). Then, it's stuck in a fridge to get all congeal-y and then it's FRIED. Fried soup. It's like a little blanket for your insides. It rocks.

The first place Jon and I ever had ribollita was at Delfina. Delfina opened about 3 months after we, ourselves, moved to San Francisco. We made the pilgrimage from our shithole apartment about a week after they opened. As it was only 3 and a half blocks away, it wasn't a huge commitment. Or so we thought.

From the moment we stepped in, we were in love. At the time, it was about a third the size it is now (if that). They described ribollita for us, and we figured eh, what the hell, how bad can it be?

Well, I sure as hell may be a restaurant whore, but at that moment, I was ready to kiss my whorin' days goodbye and settle down. I love Delfina so much that it gets me all choked up just thinking about it. This is going to be a gushy post, so if that's going to wig you out, either suck it up or stop reading. Because I loooooooove them.

It's taken me a long time to get to this post because I knew it would be a biggie. So settle in and get goes:

The food. Ribollita yes. Simple-as-pie-but-delicious-as-hell spaghetti with plum tomatoes. For that matter, any pasta at all. The soups. Oh, dear God, the incredible soups (chickpea, Jerusalem artichoke, pappa al pomodoro, etc.). They just blow your mind. Grilled calamari and white bean salad where the beans are as good as those we had at French Laundry. The insalata del campo with everything good in the world in it. The panna cotta, the profiteroles, the crostatas....Oh, fuck it. It's all amazing. It's everything you hope, wish and dream for in your deepest fantasies. And special occasions bring special food, like the Bucatini with lobster and rice pudding with truffles that we eat each New Year's Eve.

Craig and Annie Stoll. The owners. These people are the best people you could know. I have never, ever seen people so devoted to their business, their staff, their customers. They are so loyal. They will bend over backwards for their regulars. They take such good care of us, it makes me feel guilty.

Here's the thing about Craig and Annie. They hire staff as devoted to their customers as they, themselves are. The staff are so amazing at their jobs, and so kind and wonderful (gush, gush, gush). I love them. I mean that. I LOVE THEM. And they treat us like friends instead of paychecks when we come in. LOVE THEM.

We have been to Delfina during our highest ups and our lowest downs. Some examples: Losing a job, getting a new one, grieving a death, entertaining guests, celebrating birthdays, buying a home, moving, losing a friend, reconnecting with each other after hectic weeks apart, the aforementioned New Year's celebrations. And then there are the big ones.

Such as September 11, 2001 when our families were on the east coast and we were lost. We wandered into Delfina and they told us they didn't know what to do but stay open and we told them that we didn't know what to do but turn off the TV and start walking in their direction.

And the time when we packed up that same shithole apartment, to move to our beautiful new home. It was a happy thing that we were moving, but six years of our lives had been spent in that apartment during which time we had gone from dating to married, purchased a cat (hooray for Charlie!), gained and lost friends. It was a huge chunk of our lives. So when we shut the door for the last time, we felt strangely sad. And we walked straight to Delfina. After all, we'd now be 7 blocks away instead of 3 and a half. And they took care of us, as always.

It's nights like those that made us come up with the code word "home" when referring to Delfina. As in "Where would you like to go for your birthday?" "Home." It is where we go when we want and/or need to share something important in our lives.

Delfina is the restaurant we'd choose if we had to eat at only one place for the rest of our lives. So it is only fitting that when we were in Italy last September, we made a pilgrimage to Da Delfina in Tuscany, where Craig had studied.

We arrived in Florence with Jon's super wonderful but disorganized family (5 of us total) and wandered the streets with a shitload of luggage trying to find our hotel. Yes, Florence has cabs. But why take one when you can avoid making a decision and blindly stumble around like jackasses?

Anyway, we found our hotel, threw our stuff in the door and made our way back out to the train station (We did this alone, we would be meeting Jon's family in Siena in the evening. Delfina is so personal to us that we felt we needed to go alone).

We took a train to the town of Signa (one stop away, but there are only a few trains a day that go there). Once in Signa, we thought we'd take a cab to Artimino. Nice try. No cabs at the station. So we go into a ghetto hotel and ask them to call us one. We feel bad, so Jon goes to the bar and orders a shot of tequila for their troubles. Nice.

So our "cab" arrives. It's a minivan with an older dude inside. As we wind through the hills, he describes everything we're seeing. In Italian. But it's so beautiful, and he's so good natured, that we don't care.

And then we get there. There she is in all her glory. Da Delfina. And when I say that, I mean the restaurant and Delfina herself, sitting in the foyer. Delfina is in her 90's and she is beautiful.

Carlo, the owner, looks at the young Americans like "What the hell are you here for?" But he seats us anyway. At a table overlooking the Tuscan countryside. We spent the whole meal with tears streaming down our faces. We felt like we had returned to the mothership.

We order everything. I order the Tuscan bread soup (ribollita, before it becomes ribollita, if you follow...Carlo was very concerned that I knew this). And in everything we ate, we saw our own Delfina's roots. Jon's guinea hen was a clear ancestor of Craig's chicken, the chicken liver crostini was almost identical, etc. We each had an appetizer, a primi, a secondi. Plus wine. A lot of wine. By the time we got to secondi, I thought I was going to hurl. It was so amazing but it was also a shitload of food. When I let the last third of my salt cod go, Carlo asked me about four thousand times if it was OK. Damn, people, I just can't eat that much food!

Nevertheless, they talked us into ordering dessert. Very Tuscan, very good, but again, on the verge of hurling. In between, we received vin santo and some Sangiovese grapes grown by the older Americans at the table behind us.

Well it turns out the guy growing the grapes was a trustee at the college Jon and I went to. And he and his wife ended up inviting us to their Tuscan villa. But alas, we needed to meet Jon's family and only had 2 short days left in Italy. Damn. But how fucking cool is that?

By the time we left, Carlo was hugging us and we were giving him some of the fake tattoos from the SF Delfina. And when our nice man in the minivan came to take us back to the train station, we were grateful for the meal of a lifetime (at only $110 euro, no less).

When there are places in the world like Delfina and Da Delfina, why settle for anything less, ever?


"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld


Blogger OrAreWe Artists said...

This is the most passionate review I have ever read in my life. It almost brought me to tears. Thank god I stumbled across your blog. My girlfriend and I are heading for San Fran for a quickie getaway and I was looking for a place to take her. We are staying at the Westin by chance and I found your review of Michael Mina's very amusing. I love people who are not afraid to speak the truth. And, as some of your readers have shown, some people just can't handle the truth.
Thanks again for your candid reviews, and I hope we have a chance to get to Delfina this weekend. Who knows, maybe we will see you there.


7/29/2005 7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved your story about Da Delfina. Delfina SF was also the favorite restaurant of my wife and I when we lived there. So much that we pretty much organized our whole Florence trip around Da Delfina (I'm sure we had the same van driver). I am a chef in Chicago and I think back to the two years that I spent in San Francisco having the opportunity to work at Delfina. I had an interview with Craig Stoll and ended up working somewhere else. I kick myself all the time! I loved the part of your story where you said Carlo looked at you like "what the hell are you doing here?" We made the mistake of showing up a little bit early and I thought he was going to whale on my ass! So we killed time by having a drink in the little cantina where three chain smoking locals coughed and watched soap operas full blast on the t.v. Ah well, your story brought back great memories and I think your website is great too.

7/30/2005 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Susy and I live very close to Da Delfina and manage to eat there 3 times a week for the past 12 years. Carlo is passionate about his food his wine and Tuscana. Should you happen to eat there ask for Susy and I will help you interpret the menu so you eat his finest or mail me at before you come and I will give you all my help

3/20/2006 8:13 AM  
Blogger Vishesh Narayen said...

You are very passionate about this restaurant. Maybe too passionate.

7/13/2006 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more about Delfina. I've eaten there at least once a week for the last 6 years or so, but recently I've been going more like 2 or 3 times a week. It just gets better. Sitting at the bar watching the staff weave their magic night after night never fails to leave me dazzled. Life is good!

1/25/2007 5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been fortunate enough to fall into Da Delfina twice in the last 10 years or so. The first time was by a fluke. My old wife and I were traveling across Italy and stayed 2 nights in the little Karen Brown Hotel in Artimino. It was lovely. We met a German couple in the bar who stayed there all of the time for business. We drank a lot of liquor and they suggested a restaurant that was considered one of the best in Italy. They knew the man that owns it and we ate one of the best meals I had ever had. People think I am crazy but it actualy changed my life it was so freaking incredible. Several years later in February of 2004, my new wife,(much better one), and I found ourself in Venice. We were then renting a car to spend a week in a lovely Umbrian hilltop town called Panicale. We had an extra night and on a whim we drove to Artimino and checked into the little hotel. It had snowed heavily before we got there was beautiful. The dormant Carmingiano vinyards were gleeming with snow and the hillsides were white. It was quite a rare event. Luckily, Da Delfina was open one last night before they left for their ski trip. I bragged to my love this would be a treat and they did not disapoint. It was a three hour food fest with Proseco, a great bottle of Brunello and finish with some fine Vin Santo, the Tuscan answer to Sauternes. It was again the best meal I had ever had. Da Delfina is the ultimate destination place to eat. Steve the travel king says go there.

7/31/2007 2:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello there!
if you want ribollita recipe, let me know.
(but you need to find our tuscan bread and cavolo nero)

10/06/2007 3:19 AM  

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