Classic Tables: Delfina

Has it really been 11 years since it launched the Cal-Ital craze?

The Bay Area is awash in Cal-Ital restaurants, each buoyed by a flood of extra-virgin olive oil.

We wager that if it weren't for Delfina, which celebrated its 11th anniversary last month, there would be far fewer.

On November 19, 1998, Delfina debuted on a then-forlorn stretch of 18th Street. "We wanted a place where people could eat every night," says Craig Stoll, Delfina's chef and co-owner, along with his wife, Anne.

The opening menu merged the homey with preparations defined by a local sensibility and an Italian soul. Many, including the genre-defining spaghetti with tomato sauce ($9; $13) and the insalata di campo–an impeccably balanced jumble of pancetta, balsamic, bitter greens and lacings of Parmesan ($9)–became instant signatures.

Craig Stoll and his chefs continue to visit Italy, returning with new ideas and ingredients. Delfina was perhaps the first local restaurant to offer Rome's beloved vegetable dish, puntarelle with anchovy dressing ($10). On the Amalfi Coast, Stoll fell hard for the tubular pasta, paccheri, and now serves it with a ragù of sea bass and tomato ($18). Expect more sea urchin on the menu, too, thanks to Stoll's charmed Sicilian encounter with the invertebrate in October.

Over the years, Delfina doubled its seating and launched two pizzerias. Still, the flagship's connection to its domestic and international mother countries deepens–even as it remains at heart the restaurant you always remember.

Delfina, 3621 18th St. (at Guerrero St.); 415-552-4055 or delfinasf.com