July 13, 2013

Sauce on a Map

Gawker’s Max Read posted an interesting article the other day, detailing a theory (the Most Important Pizza Theory You’ll Read, in fact) on the concentration of good pizza in the northeast. Generally speaking, this “Pizza Belt” extends from southern Jersey up to Providence, RI, and represents a region where the odds of finding an “adequate-to-good” slice of pizza is better than fifty percent.

Proving that singularity seldom exists in the scientific community, this pizza theory has been around for quite some time. Ed Levine of Serious Eats fame postulated his Pizza Belt Theory in his 2005 guide, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven. Levine goes so far as to trace this regional phenomenon back to southern Italian immigration patterns (naturally) through some anecdotal tales of the northeast’s pizza juggernauts and their origins; an interesting read if you haven’t stumbled upon it already in the last seven and a half years.

So, you say, how relevant is all of this science and history hooey? Well, the Stamford Pizza Tour represents a single data point, smack in the middle of the famed Pizza Belt. Taking a look at our leaderboard, local favorites like Rico’s, Pappas, and Coalhouse sit below the halfway point on our scale, but still represent very reputable and, at the very least, “adequate-to-good” pizza establishments—theory upheld.

Now, if some likeminded native sons from the rest of the Pizza Belt (looking at you, Patterson, NJ) would like to be as intrepid as us and provide some more data toward this theory, kids could be reading about us in whatever replaces the thing that replaces textbooks (it might take some time).

February 10, 2013

Bar Rosso

This restaurant is far from a newcomer to the Stamford pizza scene. When Bar Rosso first opened, however, their pizza menu was limited to Thursday-Sunday or something absurd like that, and it felt like an afterthought. They’ve since expanded pizza service to full-time and we’ve since dropped in for a visit.

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Establishment. Bar Rosso is a really nice restaurant. Walking in, we were greeted by warm lighting, expensive-looking stonework, a big centerpiece of a pizza oven, and a greeter. In that order. There is an abundance of seating in the restaurant’s two floors of dining room and the service (albeit a bit shaky on reciting the daily specials we didn’t care about) was fitting of an establishment with cloth napkins, plates that aren’t round, and a lack of decimal points on the menu. Through all of these extravagant trimmings, though (and despite the big wood-fired pizza oven in the corner), Bar Rosso does not feel like a pizza restaurant. Sure, pizza is on the menu, but it takes a back seat to exotic pomegranate cocktails and stuff with truffle shavings on it.

Pizza. Nevertheless, we stuck with our tradition of ordering a plain pizza (or the closest thing to it) and topped one, or in this case, three topped ones. Our pies of choice were a margherita pizza, and sausage-, spicy salami-, prosciutto-topped pizzas.

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Each pizza was founded on a delicate crust, blistered and charred out of the wood-fired oven, but not necessarily very crisp. While it held up fairly well on the plain pie, this crust proved to be very flimsy under the weight of anything more than a charred, wilted, and needlessly bitter basil leaf. In line with the quality ingredients prominent throughout the rest of Bar Rosso’s menu, the cheese (a house-made mozzarella) on these pies is very rich, creamy, and fresh. The sauce, on the other hand, is extremely subdued (some might say bland) and doesn’t stand out at all. As such, the foundation of any pizza you can order here has no real character; a resounding meh, regardless of how many ingredients one heaps upon it.

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Our experience with the toppings we ordered ranged from good (sausage, prosciutto) to largely disappointing (salami) and all echoed the same sentiment: some toppings belong on a pizza, some just don’t. Bar Rosso shows an immense amount of creativity with their pizza menu and backs a lot of it up with quality ingredients, but the underlying element—the pizza itself—is underwhelming and there’s nothing a sprinkling of Calabrian chili oil can do to make it memorable.

Bottom line. Bar Rosso is clearly concentrated on being a top-notch, go-to establishment for modern Italian cuisine and fine wine; unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the simple things that make a good pizza.

Establishment: 23/30
Pizza: 16/30
Hits the Spot: 5/10 
Large cheese: $12.00 (10")

Bar Rosso on Urbanspoon

December 6, 2012

N.A.P. - Neapolitan Authentic Pizza – Barcelona, Spain

Recently, one third of the Stamford Pizza Tour found itself halfway across the world in the company of two seasoned guest judges and an enthusiastic newbie in search of a pizza to put through the wringer.

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As luck would have it, two of the aforementioned guest judges had already logged quite a bit of time on the Barcelona food beat (going so far as to embark on their own, website-less, scorecard-less bravas tour, no less) and were able to point the Tour in the direction of Neapolitan Authentic Pizza, or N.A.P.

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Establishment. As is the case with many restaurants in big cities, this place is tiny and the parking is horrendous (to give you an idea, it was a good 3300 mile hike from the car). The most striking thing about this particular locale is its simplicity: the restaurant is clean, the seating is comfortable, and the service is quick. That’s it and that’s all. The menu highlights little other than pizza (check those prices, no complaints here!), offering minimal salad and antipasto options as complements to the eponymous star of the show.

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Pizza. Our pies of choice were a classic marinara (tomate, ajo, aceite de oliva, oregano, albahaca—translate it yourselves, kids, this is a cultured blog), a similarly classic Regina (cherry tomatoes, mozzarella de bufala, aceite de oliva, albahaca, parmesano), and a meat-laden heart-stopper that I can’t seem to find on the menu because I think it was a special.

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To say the least, these pizzas are all fantastic. Now, it might be the wine talking (for €11, how could we not throw back a bottle…or two) but this pie could really stand up to the best of them. On top of a light and airy, yet perfectly charred crust, this pizza combines some of the best quality ingredients we’ve ever tasted on a pie including rich, delicious cheeses and fresh, house-grown herbs.

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The sauce was very light and subtle—both in quantity and taste—which tends to fall into the background, especially up against the richness of a true to form buffalo mozzarella and the phenomenal showcase of Spain’s finest cured meats that you see above. The meat-topped pie also begins to reveal some minor textural shortcomings, overwhelming a delicate pie with an inherent heft and saltiness that throws off the overall balance a bit. That said, each pie had incredible merits and for what it’s worth, this is all we left behind:

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Bottom line. If you’re in Barcelona and have somehow stumbled upon the Stamford Pizza Tour, go to N.A.P. and you’ll be happy you found us. Then drop us a postcard or something and let us know how you found us.

Establishment: 22/30
Pizza: 25/30
Hits the Spot: 9.3/10 
Large cheese: €5.50 (355 mm) [$7.20 (14")]

July 17, 2012

The new bar (pie) in town and the controversy that ensues

This post started out as a quick little aside to supplement our review of Ridgeway Pizza: a place we wrote about a few years ago that’s made some little menu tweaks worth mentioning since we last checked in.

Behold, the latest addition to the Ridgeway Pizza arsenal: the Colony-style pan pizza. It’s unmistakable, really—thin crust, pan-cooked edges, the trademark lacing of cheese due to hot oil bubbling up from within, complete with greasy box and requisite pile of napkins (not pictured, but you get the idea).

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Ridgeway’s spin on the Stamford novelty implements some of their tried and true ingredients—namely a jalapeño and habanero infused olive oil with incredible depth and cheese that doesn’t degrade into a cold, rubbery sheet in 15 seconds—in the confoundingly popular framework of a pie from some dive bar down the Cove.

While we still prefer Ridgeway’s traditional pizza over most others in town, this little greaseball has its merits. For one, it improves upon the temperature issue that plagues these types of pizza by using premium cheese not acquired in a back alley somewhere. Further, a more concentrated, acidic sauce cuts the greasiness inherent to a pizza slathered with hot oil rather nicely, making for what we think is a nice update on a style of pizza that garners most of its fans from its uniqueness and the tradition of being thrown a paper plate than, you know, taste.

Which brings us to item number two. This article started out as a blurb, then we stumbled upon this little chestnut in which Stamford’s two newest pan-pies (the second being Riko’s née Rico’s) were pitted up against the originator in some sort of taste test involving printed score sheets (so 2009), a business casual dress code, and celebrity guest judge, Clay Aiken. A corporate newspaper chain-sponsored pizza tournament (cool idea, by the way), if you will.

The Hearst Connecticut Media Group gang goes on to call our preferred Ridgeway oil-slinger a cheap knockoff of Colony’s culinary shipwreck, even going as far as to give them the edge over Riko’s for “atmosphere and overall experience.” (Good Lord.)

Whatever, that’s cool. What rings loudest here, though, is the stark disconnect between the opinions of Your Pizza Judges and some guys in a media castle somewhere. They love the things we hate, they hate the things we love, up is down, down is up, and et cetera. They go on to close the book on the “great Stamford pan-pizza debate” just in time for us to whip it right back open. While some pizza lovers in name only (PLINOs?) might grow tired of this drama, we friggin’ love it.

So, to our loyal readers, do yourselves a favor and patronize the new guys. Consume. Go out, try these three pizzas (or try 50, go nuts). Then come back here, or to Facebook, or the tweeter, or to TOUT (whatever the hell that is) and make some noise. It’s a lot more entertaining than arguing about politics.

April 21, 2012

ZAZA Italian Gastrobar

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We’ve been trying to check out ZAZA for quite some time now. Since meandering through the doors of the yet-to-open restaurant back in May, we’ve stopped by only to be turned elsewhere by huge crowds, long waits, and the will of the famed Pizza Tour fedora. But at long last, we finally found the time to venture over to the former home of 122 Pizza Bistro for one of Stamford’s newest (at least relatively speaking) pies.

Establishment. ZAZA never struck us as a traditional pizzeria, mostly because it isn’t one. It’s a “gastrobar” by name, with all that it entails: a mozzarella tasting menu, Italian tapas, a huge wine bar, trendy clientele, and a lot of dark paint and red leather.

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While a little off-putting and distinctly not our speed at first, ZAZA drew us in with super comfortable seating (save for the table sharing thing, which is weird), decent service, and an inviting—albeit a little vampirey—atmosphere that we really warmed up to. It didn’t hurt, of course, that their menu was anchored by a very familiar menu centerpiece—brick oven pizza.

Pizza. Typical Pizza Tour fashion, we ordered a plain napoletana pie and one with sausage in the name of science and consistency (don’t call it boring).

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What was immediately striking were the vibrant colors and strong aromas of this pizza’s fresh components. On top of an expertly cooked, golden brown crust was a fresh, tangy, chunky tomato sauce; smooth, delicious mozzarella (also browned to perfection); and just enough fresh basil to give the pie a very bright flavor profile. The sauce was almost too subtle, however, as most of us felt that it was a bit under-seasoned.

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The sausage pizza left a little to be desired, as our favorite topping was pretty stingily and inconsistently sprinkled across the pie (which is unfortunate because its saltiness really highlighted the subtleties we missed on the plain pie), but most of the high spots from the napoletana pizza carried over to this one. A minor knock on both pies is that their delicately thin, airy crust cools really fast—not a huge problem seeing as the three of us wolfed down these 12” personal pies in about 6 minutes, but still worth mentioning.

Also worth mentioning is ZAZA’s unusual subversion of our stupid square slices pet peeve in which a square pizza is cut into wedges, as one would expect a round pizza to be served. Mind-blowing, we know. Fortunately, the inverse of this Greek abomination of a cutting technique is hardly offensive at all and didn’t stand in the way of the top-notch flavors and textures of a really good pizza.

Bottom line. ZAZA is packed to the rafters on the weekends and it’s pretty obvious why: an inherent trendiness gets people in the door once, but dedication to clean, fresh flavors across the menu (but most importantly with pizza, of course) forces them to return.

Establishment: 22/30
Pizza: 22/30
Hits the Spot: 7.3/10 
Large cheese: $10.50 (12")

ZAZA Italian Gastrobar on Urbanspoon