By TRILBY BERESFORD | Reporter
Photography by RICH SCHMITT | Staff Photographer
The best thing about dining in an Italian restaurant owned and run by real Italians is that when you ask where they’re from, the responses are laced with a certain romance and grace that somehow cannot be replicated by the all-American breed.
“The hills around Rome,” replied Francesco De Angelis, headwaiter at Caffé Delfini in Santa Monica Canyon. Immediately, his words summoned up imagery of a windmill or lighthouse atop a rolling meadow, where children run freely, perhaps flying a kite. For all intents and purposes, the Palisadian-Post had arrived in Italy.
Owned by Gianpietro Silardi and Alessandro Ercoli, who hail from Pomezia and have been friends since childhood, Caffé Delfini has been a staple in the community for 29 years. Ercoli attributed their longevity to the “joy” it has brought them (another response that reinforced the serenity often possessed by Europeans).
Delfini is defined in English as “dolphins,” and consequently, the restaurant logo is a boy grasping the tail of a dolphin. This picture is significant to the owners as it relates to a statue they discovered and adored while traveling in London. It appears as a print on the wall in the interior of the restaurant alongside an intricate model ship resting on a dark wooden cabinet.
The exposed brick wall adds a rustic feel and the collection of lamps provide mood lighting. All in all, the décor is uncluttered, allowing guests to really enjoy each piece of the experience.
For sampling, a basket of thinly cut, homemade crusty bread appeared first on the table. Dipping it in olive oil signaled a reminder that it tastes considerably better—and fresher—that way than with a spread of butter.
An Arrostiti con Caprino Fresco antipasti plate was then introduced, consisting of roasted red and yellow bell peppers paired with a sliced round of goat cheese and handful of Kalamata olives, drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley. (Every element was so gorgeously arranged on the plate that it felt rather cruel to disrupt the styling, so naturally, I snapped a quick photo before taking the plunge.)
The goat cheese was possibly the best I have ever tasted: moist and slightly tangy. In fact, this plate is a reason to return to Caffé Delfini—if that’s all you ordered, it would be a satisfying meal.
The Buratta salad was served beside it: soft mozzarella cheese on a bed of arugula with cherry tomatoes, dressed with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Visible care went into these salads: Every element was presented thoughtfully and with purpose.
When questioned about “signature” dishes, Ercoli explained that the Zinguini is a must-try. For those who are unfamiliar, this refers to a shredded zucchini pasta alternative that resembles linguini.
Moments later, the intriguing zinguini appeared with fresh baby artichokes, vegan Parmesan cheese, white wine, basil and garlic. A separate zinguini dish arrived with Alaskan salmon in a tomato sauce with red chili flakes, chopped garlic and parsley. As a longtime skeptic of “healthy alternatives” to popular ingredients, I can say with certainty that zinguini provides all the homey comforts of real pasta, without the heaviness that transpires afterward. Quite honestly, I think I prefer it.
Tagliata Di Manzo arrived shortly after: New York Strip with balsamic sauce, sautéed garlic spinach and chunky roasted potatoes infused with rosemary and a bed of arugula. The medium steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Its delicate slicing suggested that the chef understands how hungry people tend to eat too fast, and therefore the pieces were well spaced out and appropriately sized.
We enjoyed this meal with a glass of 2016 Il Bruciato red wine from the Italian village of Bolgheri, and the pairing proved ideal. Ercoli then explained that, usually, he doesn’t really believe in traditional food and wine pairings—rather, he encourages diners to choose what they want to drink with their food. This perspective was refreshing.
The next item, Branzino Mediterraneo, existed as a special not listed on the menu. Mediterranean striped bass was oven baked in white wine with a pinch of garlic and rosemary, served with rosemary roasted potatoes and spinach. A generous round of lemon added a nice citrus burst.
Either of these two dishes are foolproof options for a date night meal, business encounter, boys night out, girls night out, boys and girls night out, and any variation of those events and participants.
To conclude our evening, Caffé Delfini delivered kindly on the dessert front. We sampled the Homemade Decaf Tiramisu with strawberries, which was delightfully airy and creamy while satisfying the insatiable sweet tooth.
The Homemade Budino—defined as Italian custard—was pleasant enough but decidedly less impressive, both in appearance and taste. It just felt a little … uninspired, and the inclusion of three or four blueberries felt like an afterthought.
Of course, that is not to take away from our experience at large, which was magnificent. There is no mystery about Caffé Delfini’s longstanding position, it is utterly deserving of positive attention and repeat customers. (The team manages this feat even with the absence of a cocktail menu and cocktails were not at all missed during our dinner.)
It was no surprise to see, out of the corner of my eye, Michelle Pfeiffer and Chuck Lorre dining in the restaurant as we made our way outside to greet the evening sunset.