Pop Review: Frigid Melon and Good (But Not Amazing) Pizza at Gialina
We're not sure why we turned down Delfina for this. Dinner was a thoughtful treat, extended impulsively out of sympathy for a rough 24 hours culminating in 10 excruciating minutes with the most alarmingly awful customer service professional the Apple Store on Stockton has likely ever produced. Delfina was offered, but we took Gialina (2842 Diamond at Kern) instead, anticipating new pleasures in an acclaimed restaurant we'd surprisingly never been to before.
zipfly/Flickr Who are we to disagree with Ed Levine, for chrissake?
This is not to say Gialina is a waste of money, time, and hunger. It is not, though given our particular selections, it doesn't belong in the upper reaches of San Francisco's ever-expanding pantheon of excellent neighborhood-y artisanal pizza-and-starter joints. Maybe we ordered the wrong things. The fried padron peppers with goat cheese were a letdown. Maybe what we were expecting -- tiny, salty, bitter peppers in cracked tempura-y shells -- reveals our daftness. The peppers were uncloaked in batter, blistered black, and bitter, with a faint metallic quality the great wads of goat cheese failed to offset in any subtle fashion. We like bitterness -- it's under-appreciated -- but these little guys were just begging for salt or something harmoniously acidic. Good salt would have been nice, but it was not on our table, and we were too self-conscious to ask for it. On to the organic Charentais melon with speck and balsamic condimento. The speck strips were chewy and strong -- like the freshest and headiest of Smithfield hams, but the melon was underripe and so cold it made our teeth hurt. To our mind, unless we're eating ice cream, a food served cold should certainly be cool, but never so cold as to mask its flavors and assault the chewer. We're no experts though -- maybe it was supposed to be that way.
Experts both local and far-flung -- Ed Levine, Alan Richman, and, of course, Michael Bauer -- have showered praise on Gialina's pies. We only had one, insufficient for a full assessment, of course, but in this case a reliable indication they, not the appetizers, are the focus here. We swarmed gleefully over the heirloom tomato pizza with bacon, mozzarella, arugula, and basil, crunching arugula stems, forking-and-knifing our way through the juicy slabs of multi-hued tomatoes. We burrowed down to the rich, salty cheese-and-pig layer below, the melty cooked part fused to the top of the crust. This was good pizza, but no better and, in many cases, less endearing than pies we've jammed at Pizzeria Delfina, a restaurant with tastier food in every other respect to boot. We know: Our sample size is small; the jury will surely forever be out. For now though, we're just calling it as we've crunched it this summer: Pizzeria Delfina > Gialina > Beretta*.
*We say this only because we're talking about pizza, and Beretta's aren't amazing. Beretta is really more of a magical cocktail place that happens to have very good small plates.