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Category Archives: pizza

Mangia!

In Riva has been open for a few months now and, despite almost being able to see it from my house in the same way that Sarah Palin can see Russia from her backyard, I hadn’t been there until recently. The menu is based on a southern Italian trattoria-style, featuring small plates, salads and pizzas so if you’re looking for your red-sauce joint favorites, this isn’t the place. Tuesdays are ½ price pizza nights if you snag the “secret password” from their Twitter account, so I figured that would be the perfect opportunity to check the place out.

We started with the tomato conserva vasi, a jarred spread paired with crotini bread that was similar to bruschetta. The tomatoes were mashed and sweetened with basil and onions, then topped with thin-sliced cuts of parmigiano cheese. I was reluctant to share it and kind of just wanted to eat it straight out of the jar, it was that good. I saved the rest to put on my pizza crust later at the suggestion of our waitress.


Next up was the crispy pork belly. Topped with an apricot glaze, the combination of sweet and salty flavors paired with the house Pinot Grigio was a perfect complement to the cool, summer night. Plus, it seriously got me considering replacing an out-dated honey glazed ham for the holidays with this modern, fruity twist.

Finally, our pizzas arrived. Instead of metal pizza pie trays, they plate them on your table atop giant, empty crushed tomato cans. We sampled three different pies: a Quattro formaggi with spicy, marinated tomatoes, the Polpette, topped with meatball, mint and crumbled feta, and the Speck and Pineapple, a spicy twist on a Hawaiian pie with jalapenos and thin-sliced prosciutto.

The Quattro Formaggi

I wasn’t sure how the mint would taste on the Polpette, but it actually turned out to be my favorite.

And despite my aversion to Hawaiian pies and peppers in general, the Speck & Pineapple was tasty as well. All pies are prepared in a wood-fired oven, Neapolitan-style with puffy, charred crusts and well balanced ingredients (no supreme meat-lovers toppings here!)

When we were leaving, we noticed a sign that said they would be offering a pizza making class. It definitely sounds worth checking out, especially if you’re like me and your home pizza-making skills involve throwing some sauce and cheese on an English muffin. I emailed them for more information and the pizza class will be held once a month on Mondays (October 1st, November 12th & December 3rd, if you’re too lazy to look it up) for the rest of the year and is $85 per person, which includes the class, a 4 course menu with wine pairing and tax & gratuity. It’s a total bargain when you compare it to the classes that are usually held at Cook.

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Pizza, Pizza!

As a New Yorker, I tend to take my pizza very seriously. I keep it simple with a regular slice – or sometimes a Sicilian, if I need some extra carbs. Some people put garlic powder or crushed red pepper, but I’m a pizza purist. There’s a saying that goes “Pizza is like sex, even when it’s bad, it’s good.” I completely disagree (on both counts). I’ve had some great pizza, some bad pizza, and some downright awful pizza that I don’t even know how it could be sold for human consumption.

(Photo credit: http://lainsomnia.blogspot.com/2011/02/nyc-pizza.html
 Live by the fold, die by the fold. Never utensils.
And don’t EVER sop up all the grease with 100 napkins!

Another thing about New Yorkers and Pizza is that we are extremely territorial when it comes to which borough has the best. I’m from the Bronx, so clearly, we’re the winners. One of my favorite spots is Crosby Pizza, right off the 6 train, Buhre Ave stop. It’s crispy, quick and delicious, with a perfect balance of sauce and cheese that is just greasy enough to give it the flavor it needs – just what you want in slice.(And I would like to point out that I’ve been to that so-called Famous Pizza place in Brooklyn and wasn’t impressed.)


The saddest, darkest point of my life was going away to college in Boston; not just because I was a Yankees fan in enemy territory, but because the pizza was atrocious! I don’t even know how anyone could call it pizza? (And I wonder even less that Canada could even operate a chain called Boston Pizza. Really? Of all the other places famous for pizza, you went with Boston?) The crust was too thick, it was doughy and chewy, the sauce was bland, and there was way too much cheese. I was at a keg party and wouldn’t even eat it, so that just goes to show how awful it really was, because you know when you’re drunk, you’ll eat just about anything. 


As for pizza in other famous cities in the US… Well, if you’ve been following, you know how my experience with Chicago Deep dish style went. But there’s also New Haven style pizza, made famous by Frank Pepe; a Neopolitan-style, wood-fired pie that’s been served up in the Northeast since 1925. When I was living in CT for a few years, I visited the original location on Wooster St in New Haven – and waited on a line for 30 minutes. (Just to get pizza – are you guys serious??) It came out on a big, rectangular tray and was just a little too burnt to be edible to me. I’m all for a well-done pie, but this was too much. It just didn’t even taste like anything to me at that point; that’s how overcooked it was. 

Recently, my parents and I ate at the Pepe’s Pizza in Mohegan Sun casino. I was skeptical because they’ve just recently started opening all these Pepe’s outposts in the past few years (Fairfield, CT and Empire City casino in Yonkers, just to name a few), and one of my former co-worker’s complaints was that, because the oven at the Fairfield location was so new and the Original Pepe’s oven has been well-seasoned over it’s 75+ year history, they tasted completely different. This pie was a little less ‘cajun-style’ than the previous pie, and maybe, sorta, kinda-if-I-closed-my-eyes, tasted like the pizza I was more familiar with.

 It’s like Pac-man. Nom Nom Nom!

The crusts were too crispy – heavily charred by the oven’s 650-degree temps – and I’m a crust fan. To me, that’s one of the key elements that makes a pizza. Anyone can throw sauce and cheese on some dough, but to have a perfectly, crunchy crust – that’s what does it for me.

In other wood-fired pizza news, the Pitruco Pizza truck has been roaming the streets of Philadelphia, taking up residency during the week at Love Park or popping up in South Philly.The overall concept is pretty cool. I mean, it’s a wood-fired oven on wheels – and who hasn’t just wanted the pizza place to come to them instead of vice versa?

Pitruco’s Margherita pie.



Their margherita pie is decent: I’m not a fan of the $8 price tag or the fact that they tear these little slivers of basil and sprinkle them on your pizza. A real margherita pie should have big, fresh leaves of basil to give you that sweet, summery taste to mix with the saltiness of the buffalo mozzarella. 


The most surprising place I’ve actually had great pizza was a small little Italian restaurant in the Akita prefecture of Japan, about 400 miles from Tokyo. Now, if you’re not aware, pizza is not really a big menu item in Japan. (Although they are nuts about KFC!) Domino’s and Pizza Hut do exist – but be prepared to shell out close to ¥3,000 (roughly $38 US) for a Large pie. Dairy products in general are pretty scarce due to the fact that most of the land is used for rice farming; milk is usually pretty watered down and cheese is big ticket item and usually only available in limited varieties. So imagine my surprise when my friend and I wandered into this tiny little restaurant and were given an amazing looking pizza.

 Don’t mind the Engrish-y Italian.


Pizza Margherita, Japanese style.
We didn’t talk to the owner, but from the decor and the rest of the menu, we got the sense that he had probably either visited or lived in Italy at some point in time, and loved it so much that he learned to cook and decided to open this restaurant in the middle of the mountains and serve up some of the best Italian food in Japan. My friend ordered spaghetti arrabiata, which was cooked perfectly al dente – compared to other Japanese places I’d been to where the pasta is still hard and crunchy and they think that it’s al dente – and full of flavors of fresh garlic & chilli peppers, which gave it a nice little kick. The pizza’s crust was nice and thin, airy and crisp without tasting like a cracker. And the owner had to have gotten the cheese imported because it was that perfectly salted buffalo mozzarella that should be on a pizza and I know he didn’t find that at the local Aeon

This definitely won’t be the last you hear from me about pizza (and definitely not the last time I start a post with ‘As a New Yorker…’), so feel free to share your thoughts and your pizza snobbery with me as well! Because, honestly, the only thing better than sex might very well be great pizza.

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