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.
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.