Wednesday, December 31, 2008

At Pizzeria Delfina with Antonio

In addition to feeding us very well since they opened, one of the great things that Umberto Gibin at Perbacco did for me was to introduce me to Antonio, who initially became my Italian tutor and soon became virtually a member of our family.

Although Antonio typically comes to meet me at my office for our sessions, our normal schedule was interrupted by the holidays so we decided to meet last night and combine a lesson with an end-of-the-year dinner.

Antonio is from Salerno in Campania, just south of Naples, and if there is one thing he knows it is good pizza. I had never been to Pizzeria Delfina on 18th Street near Dolores Park so Antonio suggested we go there. It also gave us a chance to stop in to take a look at some of the other highly regarded establishments within a couple of blocks -
Bi-Rite Market (must go back soon!), Tartine Bakery, and Farina Foccacia which specializes in Genovese cuisine and employs James Bowien who won the Pesto Sauce World Championships and the "pestello d'oro" (the "pestle of gold" award) in Genova in April.

We were able to get to Delfina fairly early and although it was full when we arrived we did not have to wait too long until we were seated. We were assisted by a very nice waitress named Jeanine who helped us with our selections. Antonio had been there before so also had some views on that subject as well! We ended up selecting two appetizers and two pizzas:

  • Monterey Bay sardines "in saor" with crostini;
  • Collard greens with guanciale and Calabrian peppers;
  • Salsiccia Pizza - housemade fennel sausage, tomato, onions and mozzarella; and
  • Broccoli Raab Pizza - broccoli raab, ricotta, oven-dried tomatoes and mozzarella.

For wine, Jeanine recommended a glass of the Aglianico dell'Irpinia "Taurì" produced by Antonio Caggiano in the province of Avellino in Campania just up the road from Antonio's home town.

Our dinner was excellent. We started with our two antipasti. The sardines were prepared using a Venetian mixture ("saor" means "sour") used to preserve fish which is made with vinegar, onions, olive oil, bay leaves, pine nuts and raisins. It was the first time I had that preparation and it was wonderful, and complemented well by the crostini.

The collard greens with the guanciale and peppers were also superb (see this site for a photo of the dish). It led us to a long discussion (I can't remember if that was in Italian or English) about leafy green vegetables and what the counterparts were in Italy and the US -- collard greens do not seem to have achieved a foothold yet in Italy! Jeanine told us that the guanciale had been cured there at Delfina, although she said they also use Nieman Ranch guanciale from time to time. It was sweet and cut in large cubes which went very well with the collard greens. It seemed that all the dishes we enjoyed that evening used relatively simple ingredients in a straightforward presentation which allowed each ingredient to express itself. In my view exactly the right approach.

The two pizzas arrived together. Initially the salsiccia pizza was our strong favorite, but as the broccoli raab pizza cooled off a bit and firmed up the slightly bitter flavor of the broccoli raab became more defined and by the time we finished the two were in a dead heat (more discussion of bitter greens, including the Galician "grelos" which were mentioned in my last post). Incidentally, although the salsiccia pizza comes with bell peppers, Antonio recommended that we have them hold that ingredient as it would make it too complicated and sweet. It was the right decision!

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