Pizzeria Delfina's four-month-old Burlingame outpost hasn't lost any of the excitement or quality that the original in the Mission or its Lower Pac Heights sister still possess after years of serving perfectly blistered panna pies. (A second Peninsula expansion just opened last week in Palo Alto.) Those lines have ventured south as well, even on chilly weeknights.
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Despite the expansion to 'burbs that are often thought of as a dining Siberia, there is no feeling that this institution has switched to some chain-y, auto-pilot mode. As long as Craig and Annie Stoll are in charge, that won't happen -- and hopefully, with the surge of San Francisco restaurateurs opening up shop on the Peninsula, Pizzeria Delfina's consistency becomes the norm, not the exception.
That being said, I recently left the Burlingame branch of the Pizzeria thinking more that I had left Delfina proper -- as in the Stolls' beloved original dining room, the one that arrived before Tartine even opened next door and the Mission was on everyone's dining map. It was there that Craig Stoll started serving robust, rustic Italian flavors with a distinct California influence that eventually came to be the unofficial cuisine of the Bay Area's mid-scale restaurant scene, Cal-Ital. In other words, if Chez Panisse became Trattoria Panelle. In fact, the highlight dish at Pizzeria Delfina Burlingame would have been right at home at Chez Panisse's Café or Delfina. And it wasn't pizza.
Escarole doesn't get the attention of its sibling, little gem lettuce, possibly because it sounds too much like "casserole." But now it should. The Escarole "Californese" ($10) executes a beautiful balance between the lettuce and its accompaniments, with a distinct dressing that doesn't overwhelm the rest. This is not a salad with the hearty onion-based sauce "Genovese" re-named, nor is this any form of "Bolognese."
Californese is code for the Bay Area's favorite dressing: green goddess. A handful of forceful green herbs are blended into a buttermilk dressing, with tarragon having by far the strongest voice. It provides a vibrant, lemon-peel-meets-anise edge. Venturing between the crunch, you encounter pockets of soft avocado and diced pistachio flourishes. The impressive simplicity is absolutely Delfina in style. Everything is green, and every ingredient that screams "California." This is a salad that makes you ignore pizzas. This is why we don't live in Iowa.
I'd be happy going vegetarian here, with roasted beets enhanced by goat cheese, farro, and seeds, along with a spicy cauliflower endowed with the flash of Calabrian chilies.
Don't get me wrong, the pizzas are already some of the best on the Peninsula, even though the crusts can seem a tad charred and cracker-like (which is strange, since my main complaint from the original was that the pies were served undercooked, leading to droopy centers). Right now, seek out Burlingame's spring green garlic special, garnished with ribbons of speck ($17). And whatever you do, conclude with a few scoops of homemade gelato: coconut cacao nib and extra virgin olive oil. N.B., the shots of Mr. Espresso pulled here compete with even the best third-wave baristas in the city.
You don't need me to tell you that Pizzeria Delfina has put Burlingame on the region's dining radar. And don't forget the escarole. Not only is it good for you, it's a highlight of Pizzeria Delfina in Burlingame.
Pizzeria Delfina, 1444 Burlingame Ave., Burlingame, (650) 288-1041.