Saturday, December 11, 2010

For a Moment...

I thought I was in Italy.

We are sitting in a restaurant located in a specialty shopping center modeled after the famous Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano. And in front of us are two beautiful brick oven pizzas prepared in the Neapolitan style.

Pomo Pizzeria “is the FIRST and ONLY Pizzeria in the Valley to be honored with the prestigious and distinct Certification of True Authentic Neapolitan Pizza from the highly coveted Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) Association in Naples, whose guidelines have been endorsed by the Italian Government and the European Union. Our Master Pizzaiolo Matteo Schiavone from Italy serves Wood Fired Neapolitan Pizza with all premium ingredients imported from Napoli. This strong statement is backed by our commitment to specifically selected high quality ingredients, made in a traditional manner with old world equipment. For example, the pizzas are made with San Marzano Tomatoes D.O.P., which come from the base of Mount Vesuvius in Naples, with Buffalo Mozzarella brought in fresh daily, and dough made from 100% organic stone ground flour. These ingredients are baked quickly, 60/90 seconds in a 950 degree wood burning oven. Our oven was handmade in Naples by a 3rd generation pizza builder…we had a 6000 lb oven shipped across the ocean because we believe that part of making a real Neapolitan Pizza is achieving the charred and blistered crust…” (from the restaurant’s web site).

If you’ve read our blog in the past, you know that we are serious--very serious--about pizza. In fact, you might describe us as “pizza snobs.” So we were excited when we learned that it might be possible to recreate the experience we had at Settebello in Salt Lake City.

The restaurant includes front and side outdoor dining areas (the latter under a green canvas canopy) and a stylish indoor dining room and bar. With light walls, dark woods, minimalist furniture, I would describe the décor as Italian modern. One wall is devoted to a giant photo mural of a street in Naples (see photo below) and in the corner stands the aforementioned black tiled pizza oven.

The menu is more than just pizza. Appetizers include: bruschetta made with homemade bread, fresh farmers tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil; caprese with fior di latte (cow’s milk) mozzarella, fresh Roma tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt; affettati misti—assorted cured prosciutto crudo parma principe and the chef’s choice of Creminelli (an artisan salami producer) meats, chef’s choice; and carpaccio—bresaola (cured meat), arugula, and shaved parmigiano reggiano with a lemon vinaigrette. Also listed are salads, panini, and a soup of the day and a pasta of the day.

The pizza menu (with or without tomato) provided a wealth of choices. You could “build your own” with toppings that included extra mozzarella, grilled chicken, artichokes, sautéed mushrooms, sausage, ham, fresh arugula, prosciutto crudo, spicy salami, pancetta, roasted shrimp, wild broccoli, sautéed onions, or bell pepper. Or you could order one of the specialty pies.

After much deliberation, we finally chose the Parma (tomatoes San Marzano DOP (denominazione di origine), mozzarella fior di latte, prosciutto crudo parma, fresh arugula, shaved parmigiano reggiano) and the Santa Lucia (tomatoes San Marzano DOP, mozzarella fior di latte, rapini [wild broccoli], and Italian sausage).

Let’s start with the crust--the foundation for the various toppings. Thin is the operative word here. According to the VPN guidelines, the pizzas must be ultra-thin and about 12 inches in diameter. As a result of the baking process (950 degrees for 60-90 seconds), the pizza bases in Naples are soft and pliable. Unlike American-style pizza, this pizza is meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. (By the way, the regulations even require dressing each pizza in a clockwise direction.)

A knife and fork was required from the point of each slice to about half way to the outer edge. After that, the slice could be picked up and eaten out of hand. And the outer edge, which normally we don’t eat and leave in a pile on the pizza tray, resembled a fine bread that has a crisp outer surface and a moist and chewy center. The edges were especially tasty when dipped in some of the pepper flake-infused olive oil that our server brought to the table.

Next came the tomato “sauce” which wasn’t a sauce at all but was simply a thin layer of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. No garlic. No basil. No oregano. Just bright tasting tomatoes. And the cow’s milk cheese was applied with prudence and was just enough to add a dairy creaminess to balance the sharper tomato flavor.

The sausage on the Santa Lucia came from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage, the purveyor to Pizzeria Bianco (often named the best pizza in the United States and located in Phoenix) and to New Jersey Pizza Company in Flagstaff (the number two pizza on our all time favorites list). This sausage has both a pronounced pepper flavor along with a mild fennel flavor. And the rapini, which was sautéed in olive oil and garlic, retained enough of rapini’s bitter flavor but not to such a degree as to overwhelm the tomatoes, cheese, and sausage.

As good as the Santa Lucia was, the Parma was better. The crust was baked with only the tomatoes and cheese. After the pizza was removed from the oven, a layer of ultra thin sliced prosciutto crudo Parma was added, followed by a layer of arugula, which, in turn, was followed by shaved parmigiano reggiano. The heat of the crust, tomato, and cheese warmed the prosciutto to intensify the ham’s salty and slightly sweet flavor. The combination of the salty ham and the nutty and peppery arugula provided tastes that both complimented and offset each other. And there is nothing like the nutty taste of parmigiano reggiano-–especially with prosciutto and arugula.

While the dessert menu had some intriguing choices (tiramisu, cream puffs drizzled with chocolate, panna cotta, Italian molten chocolate cake, semifreddo topped with cookies), we decided to pass after savoring the last slices of the Parma.

We now have a tie. Settebello in Salt Lake City was our Number One all time pizza but Pomo Pizzeria is certainly its equal and merits the same 5.0 Addie rating.

No comments: