The American Version

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"Wine Therapy" (September 2006)
What makes the wines of San Patrignano so distinctive? It's not just the grapes. By Corby Kummer

The closest American analogue to San Patrignano is the Delancey Street Foundation, close by the Bay Bridge along San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Ever since the two communities discovered each other, like long-lost twins, through an international conference, they have developed links, including an exchange program. Delancey Street is right in the middle of the city, on what is now prime property but wasn’t when residents took out contractor licenses and taught themselves construction to build a new home. Like San Patrignano, the complex is very beautiful—400,000 square feet of buildings that look like a fantasy of Italian villas. Its 500 residents, most of them repeat criminals facing long sentences and given this last chance by state courts, stay at least two years.

Mimi Silbert, Delancey Street’s charismatic, mouthy, mountain- moving founder, has for thirty-five years won over neighbors, judges, banks, zoning bureaus, and licensing agencies to create what she calls the “Harvard of the underclass,” with vocational training and education required for all residents. Numerous affiliated businesses (moving, chauffeuring) pay much of the budget. Silbert told me that, like Muccioli, she must daily turn down more requests to enter the community than she can accept. “How do they know about us? How do the people next door to us know about BMWs and goat cheese? It’s word on the street.”

Delancey Street may not make wine, but it does operate an airy and lovely café/bookshop and a very popular restaurant. Word has brought many neighbors to the restaurant, which serves comfort food from, as Silbert says, everyone’s grandmother. So aside from her own grandmother’s matzo ball soup, options include homestyle Greek food and admired burgers and sweet-potato pie. The outdoor dining and the stunning views of the bay help too.

Delancey Street Restaurant
600 Embarcadero (at Brannan)
San Francisco, Calif.