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pizza reviews

Pizza Hut’s “Natural” Pizza

I was bombarded with ads for Pizza Hut’s new line of all-natural pizzas while watching football last Sunday, and while I scoffed at the concept of an all-natural pizza from Pizza Hut, by halftime of the Eagles/Giants game, I was really hungry and curious enough to go online and order one. It was the first delivery pizza I’ve ordered in years, and honestly, I thought it would be an interesting post. :)

The Natural® Pizza by Pizza Hut

The new pizzas are part of Pizza Hut’s transition to using all-natural ingredients across their entire menu. Here’s some details from Chain Leader magazine:

Pizza Hut’s new ingredients include all-natural sauce from vine-ripened tomatoes with no high-fructose corn syrup; all-natural pepperoni with no artificial preservatives, no nitrites or nitrates added; all-natural Italian sausage with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives; and 100% real beef with no fillers. Pizza Hut customers will notice the company’s commitment to real taste with a new signature red Pizza Hut pizza box made from 40% recycled materials that will debut across the country today.

All that marketing speak sounds great, but was the pizza good?

I ordered the Natural Rustica Pizza, which featured marinated vine-ripened tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and sliced Rustica Sausage. The toppings were surprisingly good, esp. the tomatoes and peppers. The sausage was okay, but I thought it would have been more “rustica” if it was crumbled sausage instead of sliced sausage.

The weakness of this pizza is the multi-grain crust, which I found kinda spongy. You can see how it sort of resembles the original Pizza Hut crust, but since it’s not fried in oil (which isn’t the point of this pizza anyway), it’s not crunchy and not nearly as tasty. The crust did improve with time as it was pretty good cold out of the fridge since it firmed up a bit. I also heated up a slice in the toaster oven to crisp up the crust and this was definitely the best way to enjoy this pizza.

I’m not a regular Pizza Hut customer and generally shun all forms of delivery pizza, but the reality is that Pizza Hut feeds a lot of people around the world and should be applauded for adopting this all-natural philosophy. I sincerely hope it succeeds and encourages other chain restaurants to follow suit.

Categories
Chicago deep dish pizza reviews

Chicago Pizza Showdown – Lou Malnati’s v. Giordano’s

I had a hard time deciding which pizzas I wanted to try while we were in Chicago. It’s a daunting decision when there are four prominent Chicago pizzerias (Gino’s East, Pizzeria Uno/Due, Lou Malnati’s, and Giordano’s), and I wouldn’t normally eat Chicago-style pizza twice in a month much less twice in five days. In fact, I haven’t had deep dish pizza since our Super Bowl XLI party, which featured food that represented both Chicago and Indianapolis. Complicating matters is that I’ve really come to love Neapolitan pizzas over the last couple years, so would I even have the palette for deep dish?

I settled on only going to Lou Malnati’s because it was a different style of deep dish than what’s available in the Bay Area. Malnati’s trademark is its butter crust, and it didn’t disappoint, but I found the rest of the pizza to be pretty bland. Everything else about the experience was good, especially the spinach salad, which was my favorite dish of the night.


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The Malnati’s experience left me as cold as the Chicago weather, and I felt like there was a void that still needed to be filled. We spent our last two nights at the Wyndham O’Hare, and there were Giordano’s delivery menus all over the lobby. Since I wasn’t too keen on spending a day out in the cold, I decided that I would stay in the hotel on Sunday, watch football and have a Giordano’s delivered to the room.

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The Giordano’s pizza was infinitely more satisfying than the Malnati’s pie, but it’s also the same style of pie that I’m used to getting at Zachary’s here in the Bay Area. My friend Steph, who’s from the Chicago area, told me she didn’t really like Zachary’s because it tasted “too fresh.” I think the freshness is what I like about Zachary’s rendition of Chicago deep dish. Plus I prefer Zachary’s tangy and acidic tomatoes to Giordano’s milder tomatoes.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be back in Chicago some day, but I don’t really see myself making return visits to Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s, although I definitely want to give Gino’s East and maybe Pizzeria Uno/Due a try. But if I ever get a Chicago deep dish fix here in California, it’s good to have Zachary’s or San Francisco’s Little Star (my favorite) nearby.

(For those of you wondering…I’m not a big fan of Patxi’s in Palo Alto, but will eat it if it’s in front of me.)

Categories
eggs Italian Neapolitan Northern California pizza reviews

Pizzeria Delfina

Earlier this year, I embarked on a quest to find the best Neapolitan pizza around. L.A.’s Pizzeria Mozza is my favorite, but in the Bay Area, that title currently belongs to Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur with Pizzaiolo in Oakland a close second. But after yesterday, Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco’s Mission District just squeezed itself into the number two slot.

I always like to start with the basics, so we ordered the Margherita pizza. The tomato sauce was a little bland, which was disappointing, and my wife said it could have used more fresh basil, as well. However, both the mozzarella and the crispy/chewy/salty crust were great and almost made up for these deficiencies.


Margherita

Our other pizza was one of the daily specials, the Carbonara, which featured pancetta, leeks, Pecorino Romano and two runny eggs. Thanks to Pizzaiolo, I love eggs on pizza, but Delfina was able to ensure that the eggs covered the entire pizza so that there was a little in every bite. This pizza was perfect and sinfully good.

Carbonara

The Carbonara and Delfina’s pizza crust were enough to put Pizzeria Delfina just slightly ahead of Pizzaiolo in the pizza category. (To be fair, Pizzaiolo offers a much more diverse menu that includes fresh burrata, as well as some excellent pastas.)

Pizzeria Delfina’s in a great location about 4 blocks from the 16th Street BART station, which is good because finding parking was a big issue for us. But its 18th Street location means that it’s also sandwiched between the venerable Tartine Bakery and Bi-Rite Creamery, my favorite ice cream in San Francisco. Maybe next time we go to Pizzeria Delfina we’ll try one of their desserts, but with those two options nearby, would you blame us for asking for the check when we were done with our pizzas?

INFORMATION
Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110 map
415.437.6800
Web site
Pizzeria Delfina on Urbanspoon

Categories
Italian Neapolitan pizza reviews

Pizzeria Picco’s Frozen Pizzas

We went back to Pizzeria Picco a couple weeks ago when my sister in law was in town. (She ate really well during her stay with us.) As we were enjoying their sublimely delicious pizzas, I was reminded that they also sell frozen versions of some of their most popular pies, so we bought a few (Marin, Cannondale, and Seven) so we wouldn’t need to drive to Larkspur for our next Pizzeria Picco fix.


Pizzeria Picco's Frozen Pies

You can tell by the black char spots in the crust that the pizzas are par cooked, so you only have to heat them up in a 500F oven for about 3 minutes…it’s that simple. The crust isn’t quite the same as a fresh pizza, but it’s still the best frozen pizza I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, the pics I took of the Cannondale came out blurry, but here’s what it looks like fresh from the oven at Picco.


Cannondale

We haven’t eaten the Seven (seven mushroom pizza) yet, but the Marin (roasted garlic, young potatoes, mozzarella, parmesan, rosemary oil) was nearly as good as the fresh pie. (This pic is also from one of our Picco visits)


Marin

I used to hate white pies, but between Mozza’s Bianco pizza and Picco’s Marin, I’m definitely a convert. Next time we go back to Picco, I think I’m going to stock up on the Marin.

Categories
Italian Neapolitan Northern California pizza reviews

Pizzaiolo

Chef Charlie Halliwell is one of the many Chez Panisse alumns opening restaurants around the Bay Area, and his Pizzaiolo in Oakland’s Temescal District has quickly became a local favorite. After heaping tons of praise on L.A.’s Pizzeria Mozza and Larkspur’s Pizzeria Picco for their amazing wood-fired pizzas, I thought I should pay Pizzaiolo a visit since it’s much closer to home. Pizzaiolo has received its share of rave reviews, including a nod from San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer and mentions in Food and Wine and Condé Nast Traveler.


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Pizzaiolo is committed to supporting locally grown, seasonal, and organic meat and produce, so the menu changes daily based on what’s available. We decided to split an appetizer, a pasta dish and two pizzas for our party of three.

Categories
Best of Inuyaki Italian Neapolitan Northern California pizza reviews

Pizzeria Picco

In the April 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine, Mario Batali declared the pizzas at Larkspur’s Pizzeria Picco “the best in the country—the margherita pizza is so good, it’s enough to make you cry.” That’s a big statement from Batali, who happens to own a few pizza places himself, including my own personal favorite, Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.

Ironically, Pizzeria Picco first appeared on my radar when I saw a tantalizing picture Picco’s housemade salumi plate on Susannah’s blog, Amuses Bouche. Considering that Susannah and I share a love for Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn, Pizzeria Picco instantly joined our list of places we had to visit.

As luck would have it, my friend Nina Storey, an incredible singer/songwriter based in L.A., was in the Bay Area a few weekends ago to play a show in Larkspur just down the street from Picco, so our Friday night was destined to be great. The pizza was so good, we returned the next weekend with a friend (another Pizzeria Mozza fan) for more.


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Picco specializes in authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas that are baked in a 900-degree wood-burning oven for around 90 seconds (but never exceeding 105 seconds). What results is a crust that’s crispy and still has bite to it, and I always love seeing the beautiful black spots of char on pizza. Combine that with fresh local ingredients, including a really nice housemade sausage, and you really can’t go wrong with anything you order. During our two visits we sampled four of their pizzas.

  • Marin (roasted garlic, young potatoes, mozzarella, parmesan, rosemary oil)
  • Cannondale (sausage, roasted peppers, seasonal onions, mozzarella, basil)
  • Margherita (tomato, basil, hand-pulled mozzarella, parmesan
  • Pizza of the Day (sausage, tomato sauce, garlic, mozzarella, and wild nettles)

While all of these pizzas were excellent, the Marin was a standout and the only pizza we felt compelled to order on both visits. There’s just something about potatoes on pizza, and the rosemary oil added a depth and flavor that made us say “ooooh” while we were eating it. I haven’t been a fan of white pizzas until recently, but with the Bianco Pizza at Mozza and Picco’s Marin, let’s just say I’m officially a convert. The Pizza of the Day is probably my second favorite of the bunch and was as beautiful as it was tasty. It was a perfect combination of sauce, cheese, meat and veggies. This is to take nothing away from the Margherita or the Cannondale, which are great pizzas in their own right. In fact, the Margherita might be the finest cheese pizza I’ve ever had (if you think of a classic cheese pizza from your childhood that’s just tomato sauce and cheese).

Aside from pizza, the aforementioned salumi plate was another decadent treat. All the meats are made in house and feature lardo, salumi, soppresata, coppa, and mortadella. When our plate arrived though, the lardo was missing. We asked our server and she said that they didn’t include it because most of the time, it’s just left on the plate. She told us that she’d have the lardo brought out to us, and when it arrived, the chef that delivered it cheerfully thanked us for requesting it. It’s a shame that a majority of their customers seemingly have no appreciation for this beautiful fatty goodness.


salumi plate   lardo

We finished off our respective meals with some incredible soft serve ice cream. Normally, I don’t really go for soft serve, but when it comes from Straus Dairy, that’s a different story. We tried the chocolate soft serve on our first visit (because they were out of vanilla) and got it drizzled with some pumpkin seed oil and sea salt. The chocolate was rich and smooth and didn’t really need the other additives, although the sea salt was a pretty nice combo. The combination they’re famous for is the vanilla ice cream with olive oil and sea salt, which we got on the return visit, and it’s amazing. If you only come here once, that’s the dessert to get.



So is Pizzeria Picco the best pizza in America? That’s a really loaded question, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself. Personally, I still like Pizzeria Mozza a little better mainly because of the wider selection of high-quality toppings and the more diverse menu. My wife and friend also put Mozza ahead because they liked Mozza’s crust better than Picco’s. If we’re just talking about the Bay Area, I’d put Pizzeria Picco at the top of the list.

How long will it reign? I’ll let you know after I visit Pizzaiolo in Oakland.

INFORMATION
Pizzeria Picco
320 Magnolia Avenue
Larkspur, CA 94939 map
415.945.8900
Web site

Categories
deep dish pizza reviews Zagat

Little Star Pizza

Earlier this year, Zagat was looking for reviews of SF Bay Area restaurants, and people who made submissions would be eligible for a free 2008 Zagat guide. I love free stuff, so I wrote some brief reviews, secretly hoping, of course, that something I contributed would be used in the final printed guide.

I got my 2008 Zagat Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mail today, and being the egomanical whore that I am, I started looking through it to see if they used any of my lines. When I got to the listing for Little Star Pizza in San Francisco, I noticed something familiar:


From the 2008 ZAGAT Guide

That line “especially when ‘paired with PBR’ ” jumped out at me because here’s what I wrote in my original review on 4/5/07:


From Zagat Online

The irony is that I don’t even drink PBR and have always been puzzled by its status as the cool hipster beer. I could also make the argument that they also used my reference to “hipsters” in the printed review, but I’ll let that one go since finding a hipster in San Francisco isn’t very difficult.

So there it is…my little (and anonymous) contribution to the 2008 Zagat Guide. It’s not much, but it’s something.

For the record, here’s the little ditty I penned for my Yelp review of Little Star:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Your deep dish is best by far
On a base of corn meal crust
Sweet tomatoes fuel my lust
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Your deep dish is best by far

It’s a little cramped inside
A simple menu is your guide
With PBR instead of Schlitz
Jukebox plays some 80s hits
Pies baked fresh and it smells great
Order salad while you wait

Years I thought Zach’s was the best
But after yours I can attest
You’re the Bay’s Chicago king
It’s so good you’ll want to sing
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Your deep dish is best by far

INFORMATION
Little Star Pizza
400 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103 map
415.551.7827
Web site
Little Star Pizza on Urbanspoon

Categories
Best of Inuyaki Italian Mario Batali Neapolitan pizza reviews Southern California

Pizzeria Mozza

Pizzeria Mozza LogoAt lunch, the dining room at Pizzeria Mozza is bright, sunny and bustling. It’s a relatively small space and Pizzeria Mozza’s popularity ensures that is always packed. It was apparent when we walked in that Pizzera Mozza isn’t your ordinary pizza joint. I mean, would you really expect the ordinary when Chefs Silverton and Batali join forces?

We started with Nancy’s Chopped Salad, an upscale take on the classic antipasto salad that featured iceberg, radichhio, garbanzo beans, grape tomatoes, red onions, mozzarella slices and some delicious salumi (I think from Mario’s dad in Seattle). I thought it was a bit overdressed, but it was still delicious, especially the salumi. I even took a couple bits and wrapped it around the skinny, crunchy breadsticks that are on the table.

I ordered the Bianco Pizza (three cheeses and sage) and added some sausage to it (a tip from my favorite food writer, the LA Weekly’s Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold). The fennel sausage at Pizzeria Mozza is the most heavenly Italian sausage I’ve ever had, and it complimented the cheeses perfectly. My only complaint was that the middle of the pizza was really oily, probably due to the thin crust and all the cheeses, but the pizza was still really good. Find a way to get some sausage on your pizza, even if it means adding it as an extra. My wife’s squash blossom, burrata and tomato pizza was fantastic. The toppings were really fresh, especially the burrata (mozzarella mixed with cream), and the crust was perfect…no sogginess to report.



We finished off the meal with a gelato/sorbet combination (3 choices for $7). We had chocolate hazelnut and caramel vanilla gelatos, along with the Frutti di Bosco sorbet (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry blend). The vanilla was okay, but the chocolate hazelnut mixed with the fruity sorbet was sinful.

If it wasn’t for the soggy pizza, Pizzeria Mozza would definitely get five stars, but I really want to go back. There’s so many things on the menu I want to try.

UPDATE: We’ve been back to Mozza several times since this first visit, and I really love the creativity of the pizzas, especially the fresh and sometimes exotic toppings. This is more than enough to warrant a half-star bump for a full five-star rating.

INFORMATION
Pizzeria Mozza
641 N. Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036 map
323.297.0101
Web site

Categories
New York pizza reviews

Grimaldi’s Pizza

You can learn a lot about how to make a great pizza while standing in line for the restroom at Grimaldi’s. The first thing you’ll notice is the enormous brick, coal-fired oven. The oven door opens every 30 seconds or so, revealing a huge pile of fiery coals off to the side and the pizza in the back. The temperatures are so hot in this oven that it only takes a few minutes to cook the pizza (reflect on that next time your pie takes 20 minutes or more at most pizza joints).

As you watch the employees assemble the pies, you might be struck by the fact that the pizzas aren’t overloaded with sauce or toppings (a la Round Table). They simply tear off pieces of mozzarella and place them around the pizza, sometimes as much as an inch a part. They do the same with the pepperoni, sausage or other choice toppings and then they simply drizzle (yes..that’s drizzle, not pour) the tomato sauce on top of the top of the pie and then finish it with a drizzle of olive oil.

The pie make look sparse as it goes in the oven, but I think the oven’s intense heat breaks everything down quickly, and the cheese, sauce and oil meld together while the pizza cooks. When you get the the finished pizza, there’s good sauce and cheese and topping coverage throughout the pie.



We ordered a large half margherita and half pepperoni and sausage pie, and it was great. The thin crust had a nice crispy char on the bottom toward the outside of the pizza, but was a little softer in the middle, which was nice, and it had a good “bite” to it. I liked the bits of sausage a lot and the pepperoni was the smaller, quarter-sized slices that I prefer. But I think the best component of the pie is the sauce. It had a really nice tang to it that went nicely with the cheese and toppings.

We got there fairly early (before noon), so the line wasn’t very long and waited about 10 minutes. Once you sit down and order, the pizzas arrive really quickly. The large pie (18-inch) was the perfect size for splitting with three people, and we walked off the meal with a leisurely stroll back to Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge.

INFORMATION
Grimaldi’s Pizza
19 Old Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201 map
718.858.4300
Web site