Thursday, July 8, 2010

There’s a Lot of Bad Pizza Out There…

and in the past two years, we have eaten more than our share.

When I saw an ad for Settebello Pizzeria in Salt Lake City that described their pizza as genuine Napoletana style, I thought “I won’t be fooled again.” Then I read some on-line reviews that extolled the thinness of the crust, the authenticity of the flavors, and the light hand with sauce and cheese. So I proclaimed to Chuck: “We WILL eat at this restaurant!” Nice of me to give him a choice. Right?

“Settebello is named for the most valuable and sought after card in the popular Italian card game Scopa. A deck of Scopa cards consists of forty separate cards in four different suits - clubs, swords, cups and gold coins…The Settebello is the nickname given to the seven of gold. Whichever player holds the Settebello at the end of a hand is awarded a point. The Settebello can also aid a player in winning a point for the primiera as well as for the player who holds the most gold cards. A typical game of Scopa is played to eleven points.” (From the restaurant’s web site.)

While Settebello serves a variety of antipasti, it is the pizza that stars. So serious are they that have been awarded a charter from The Vera Pizza Napoletana. “VPN was established by Antonio Pace in Napoli, Italy in 1984. Signore Pace led a group of pizza makers whose sole purpose was to protect the integrity and defend the origin of the pizza making tradition as it began in Napoli over 200 years ago. The VPN charter requires that members use only specific raw ingredients to create the pizza dough, that the dough be worked with the hands, never using a rolling pin and that it be cooked directly on the surface of a bell shaped pizza oven that is fueled solely by wood. The charter also requires specific types of tomatoes be used and only the use of fresh milk or buffalo milk mozzarella is acceptable.”

Carmine D’Amato, Settebello’s pizza chef, has twelve years of experience and trained at the Pizza School in Naples before joining Settebello in 2006. “In Naples, they say if you don’t have eight years experience, you’re nobody.”

The pizza oven was made to the specifica-tions of the VPN. The baking floor is made with biscotto di sorrentina brick, and it’s surrounded by a 2-1/2-foot-high brick dome. It’s encased in concrete and can last up to 100 years with proper care.

There are no controls for this oven. All the heat comes from burning wood. Settebello keeps two types handy: oak for heat and apple for flame. Because of the temperatures achieved—1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, far more than traditional ovens—pizzas can be cooked in just under a minute. (Nelson was making the pizzas the afternoon we stopped here.)

Whenever possible, Settebello uses the actual ingredients that are used in Napoli pizzerias or the highest quality American products to complete their pizzas. The flour and San Marzano tomatoes come from Napoli; the prosciutto crudo and prosciutto cotto come from Parma; the parmesan cheese is from Modena; the salame is from Fra’ Mani in Berkeley, CA; and the pancetta and finnochiona are from Salumi in Seattle, WA, which is owned by Iron Chef Mario Batali’s father.

This all sounds good, but how is the pizza. So good that it was named by Salt Lake City Weekly as the Best of Utah. So good that we think this is the best pizza we have eaten – including the three-hour wait pizza at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. So good that we ate there twice during our one-week stay. So good that we would return to Salt Lake City just to eat pizza.

While there are a few specialty pizzas, most are variations on the basic marinara (no cheese) or the classic Magherita (left; sauce, cheese, and basil). To both, you can add prosciutto crudo or cotto, sausage, salame, panchetta, anchovies, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, roasted onions, roasted bell peppers, arugula, pine nuts, and/or garlic.

On our first visit, we ordered one Magherita and one of the specialty pizzas – the Bianco. This latter was prepared by baking the crust with mozzarella and olive oil and, once the pie is removed from the oven, topping it with prosciutto crudo, arugula, and shaved Parmigiano reggiano.

Now I have frequently stated that I am not a big fan of brick oven pizza. The crust just never gets as crisp as I would like in the center and Settebello’s was no exception. But after the first couple of bites along the “point,” the crust developed a chewy crispness similar to great Italian bread. And, since the words “extra sauce, extra cheese” will never pass our lips, the amount of toppings on the Margherita was perfect. The sauce wasn’t a sauce at all. Just crushed San Marzano tomatoes. No garlic. No oregano. No basil. Just tomatoes. And why don’t more pizzerias use fresh mozzarella? I would be willing to pay extra for the fresh cheese that melts into a pool of creamy cheesiness.

If the Magherita was great, the Biano surpassed any pizza we have eaten. If you like arugula, and we do, there was a veritable garden of this somewhat bitter and somewhat nutty herb, which, when teamed with the salty prosciutto and the sharp and salty Parmigiano, created a new level of taste sensations.

On our return visit, we again ordered the Bianco (left)

and paired it with a Margherita with wood-smoked Italian sausage (right). Unlike most Italian sausages, this sausage didn’t seem to contain any fennel which made Chuck very happy. And there was only a light hint of smoke flavor which made us both happy.

What we didn’t realize before our first visit is that Settebello makes their own gelato and has a gelateria next door. On visit one, we shared a dish of hazelnut. On visit two, we went next door and each had a three scoop sampler. The samplers didn’t last long enough for me to write down our respective flavors.

As I said earlier, we agree that this is the best pizza we have eaten and award Settebello Pizzeria the ultimate 5.0 Addie rating.

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