The Ultimate Pizza

MW-BA127_PizzaT_20130307214251_MG

I have been dreading this post for a while because there are SO many great pizza places out there it’s hard for me to narrow down. I mean the list of honorable mentions is easily in the double digits. The other reason I was dreading it is because everyone thinks they know the best pizza place and are extremely passionate about it. So I can only imagine I will get comments to the contrary below. But, I say bring it on! I’m always happy to try new places and revise a post.

La Pizza Fresca – New York, NY

Believe it or not, this is the ONLY pizza joint in the United States that is recognized by the Official Commission of Pizza in Italy. And believe it or not, I’m not making that up. The reason for their approval is that apparently La Pizza Fresca is the only place in the country that makes pizza according to the authentic Italian tradition. Now, if you’re normal, you probably don’t even care about this. All that matters is how the pies taste. Well, Mama Mia! The primavera is easily the best veggie pie I’ve ever had and the Quattro Frommagi is easily the best cheese pie. The veggies are fire roasted and so fresh they pop off the pie and dance in your mouth. And the Quattro? For the first time ever, I could literally taste each individual cheese shining through like a quartet of cheesy complexity. The only rub is the wait. Not that the place is ever really that packed, strangely enough. But I suppose it’s because the “authentic traditional” method is painfully slow.

Roberta’s Pizza – Brooklyn, NY

Consider me stung, because I loves me the Bee Sting. Granted I’m an easy target for a spicy and sweet combo, but this pie is on point all around. Get it? Pizzas are round. While you’re busy groaning, let me explain what makes it such. First, it’s the spicy soppressata, with its slight crispy char. Then, they drizzle honey over the top and that’s when the magic happens, blending with the sauce and the cheese and the oils of the meat. All sitting on their killer dough. It’s morta bene.

Grimaldi’s – Brooklyn, NY

There’s nothing fancy going on here. This is just straight up New York pie at its absolute best. Don’t get too cute with too many toppings. Just stick to your basics like pepperoni and mushroom and be prepared to bow like Wayne’s World at the knees of a pizza god.

Oenotri – Napa, CA

I’m a borderline mushroom groupie. Seriously. If there were AA for mushroom-eating I might be sitting in a 12 step somewhere right now, “Hi, my name is Ferocious Foodie and I’m a mushroom-a-holic.” So, it was probably a foregone conclusion that a mushroom pizza would be on this list. But not just any mushroom pie, this is gourmet all the way. From the impeccable choice of fresh cremini mushrooms to their almost bone marrow-like saute, making for a wonderfully creamy, tender top, aboard a perfectly contrasted crunchy crust. No wonder Thomas Keller loves this place.

Advertisements

Boon Fly Café

The Carneros Inn • 4048 Sonoma Hwy. Napa, CA 94559 • (707) 299-4870boonflycafe.com

pizza4boonfly

This is my favorite breakfast spot on the planet. I mean, just grab some darts, hang the menu on a wall and let ‘er rip. Nothing is short of phenomenal.

The eggs benny with jalapeno hollandaise is the best eggs benny I’ve ever had in my life. The breakfast pizza with eggs over-easy and carmalized onions is the best breakfast pizza I’ve ever had, and almost every bit as good as the benny. And the donuts– well, there’s a hotlink, isn’t there? Which means only one thing, they’re friggin’ awesome. You really can’t go wrong here.

And the decor/vibe is perfect. Set in a bright red barn with a contemporary roadside diner feel. But not greasy or dirty. This is no dive. It soars!

5 teeth

The Ultimate Doughnut

BoonFlyCafe_Donuts

Boon Fly Café – Napa, CA

This is the purest entry of the three, served as a classic combination that could even rival Oreo’s and milk, “coffee and doughnuts.” Now I didn’t try the coffee, but giddy giddy are those doughnuts good! Always served warm to order. Perfect contrasting textures. And served with a chocolate dipping sauce that deserves it’s own Ultimates write up.

 

Doughnut Plant – New York, NY

There are several doughnuts at the plant that are worthy of adulation, but only one is SO good it should probably be on the controlled substance list. The crème brulée doughnut. Done true to its name, the outer sugary glaze is almost caramelized so as to mimic the crunchy crackle of the torch-seared brulée top. And as your teeth break through to the custard inside, the crème side of the equation hits you in the kisser and it’s game over. Or should I say, “fin.”

 

Mizuna – Denver, CO

While these last ones are technically beignets and not doughnuts, I fail to see the difference. At the end of the day it’s all just fried, sugary dough, right? So, assuming you agree, just go to Mizuna and get the apple ginger beignets. They are so well balanced in flavor it’s hard to ask for more from a doughnut. The ginger is just faint enough to bring its refreshing lightness, without trying to overpower the sweetness of the apple and steal the show. And what a show it is.

The Grill at Silverado

1600 Atlas Peak Rd. Napa, CA 94558 • (707) 257-0200 • http://www.silveradoresort.com
 
 recipe_SilveradoResort_PolloLoco

As I walked into the dining room of this country club restaurant, my skeptical taste buds were already rolling their little taste bud eyes, because the vibe of the place was very dated and our server came off as a dowdy diner waitress.

Nonetheless, they were conveniently located in my hotel, so me and my skeptical taste buds pressed on. And I’m glad we did. Not that things were amazing, but they did surpass expectations, albeit those were very low.

For example, no fresh squeezed juice for breakfast, but at least the organic option they served wasn’t half bad. And while the eggs benny was a touch over-cooked, a big pet peeve of mine, they were still pretty darn tasty, much to my surprise.

But if you wanna talk surprises, the morning angel was truly the Belgian Waffle. Among the best I’ve ever had. Far surpassing actual Belgian restaurants that specialize in Belgian Waffles such as Petite Abeille in New York. So what made them so incredible you ask? They were airy, with deep squares that soaked up the pure Vermont Maple like a sponge of breakfast-y dreaminess.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip for this waffle, but if you happen to be staying at the hotel or playing a round of golf here, you could most certainly do worse.

3 teeth

 

Ad Hoc

6476 Washington St. Yountville, CA 94599 • (707) 944-2487 • adhocrestaurant.com

l

Much to my chagrin, it would appear that Napa and Thomas Keller aren’t perfect. In fact, my chagrin was downright disappointed, to be quite frank. I mean I get that it’s supposed to be a more casual Keller experience than The Laundry or Per Se, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw the badass with the bathwater. I’ve been to hordes of casual restaurants that crush Ad Hoc, so save the excuses, because unfortunately I can’t eat them.

The mediocrity hits you pretty quick when you enter. The décor feels very much like a casual dining food chain. The drinks at the bar, while good, are all classics with no inventive twists, save the fact that they make some of the ingredients themselves. For example they make their own Pims and their own ginger ale, which made for a pretty tasty Pim’s cup.

The menu, however, also proved to be woefully uninventive and considering it’s fixed, there was no escaping the oncoming train of blah. It started with a basket of bread that tasted no better (or worse) than the stuff you might get at an A&P. And the butter they serve with it is the unsalted crap you use to prime a skillet.

The arugula salad with peaches was simple, but good. And it went very well the wine we had chosen. But, Ad Hoc didn’t make the wine, and the salad is nothing you can’t make at home. Next…

The “paella” was quite the looker, hemorrhaging with shellfish. Unfortunately it wasn’t hemorrhaging with flavor. From the over-cooked mushy rice to the relatively bland mollusks, there was little to like about the dish apart from the chicken, which managed to be pretty moist. But relying on chicken to save a paella is like relying on the parsley garnish to save a rib eye.

Following that came the cheese plate and while neither were bad, neither were amazing either. In fact, the piave we had at a vineyard earlier that day put these to shame. And so did the accouterments. The mustard and the pickled veggies were both better than the cheeses themselves.

And bringing up the rear was a blueberry cake of sorts that only served as the final nail in the coffin. Which is a triumph in defeat, because I am an extremely easy target when it comes to blueberries and yet they whiffed it.

Such a let down. I almost want to give it one knife due to the hype factor, but to be fair, nothing was bad. It just wasn’t good either. And in Napa, restaurants should be held to a higher standard.

2 teeth

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

1327 Railroad Ave. St. Helena, CA 94574(707) 963-1200cindysbackstreetkitchen.com

cindysbackstreetkitchencampfirepie

Hearing that this place was the sister restaurant of Mustards, expectations were immediately high. And those expectations only increased by our extremely effusive waiter who hyped up the menu so high, you’d think he was high.

For example, his gushing recommendation of the oysters bingo, which tasted like something you’d expect to be served at a Bat Mitzvah on Long Island. Same goes for the octopus, which was so flavorless it should almost be illegal to serve in a foodie mecca like Napa. In fact, of all the appetizers we had, and we had all of the appetizers, only one managed to rise above ho-hum, the shellfish pot with jalapenos. The polenta fries would’ve been good too, but they serve them dry and they desperately need something to dip them in. So, if you do order them, please ask for the honey mustard that comes with the burgers, it’s got a nice kick to and makes the fries worthy.

And speaking of the burgers, the duck burger was one of only four highs within the meal, served with a shitake mushroom ketchup, it made for a very unique, Asian take on an American classic. The other entrée that was good was the pork shoulder, but it paled in comparison to our waiter’s presell. What worked about it was the moist, savory pork mixed with the sweet caramelized peaches. What didn’t work was that only about 20% of the peaches were cooked. The raw ones were hard and chewy and tasteless. Apart from those, every other entrée at the table was a big whatevs.

Unfortunately the hit/miss ratio didn’t improve on desserts either. Only one is worth getting if you should still choose to dine here. The Campfire Pie tastes like a s’more right out of the sleep-away camp textbook. So A+ good it made the inadequacies of all of the other desserts on the table that much more severe. But if you must get two, go with the fig tart. It’s no campfire, but at least it’s not a complete waste of calories.

Sorry Cindy, but this is literally the worst dinner I’ve had in Napa. But thank you Mister Sommelier, your recommendation of the Hope & Grace Pinot Noir was wonderful. I just wish the rest of the meal lived up to it.

2 teeth

Oenotri

1425 1st St. Napa, CA 94559 • (707) 252-1022 • oenotri.com

bg

Not sure if you saw it, but there was a recent article in Food & Wine Magazine about Thomas Keller’s favorite restaurants in Napa, apart from his own, of course. And on said list just happened to be the one and only Oenotri.

And as foodie recommendations go, it’s pretty hard to beat Thomas Keller so we went guns blazing, ordering every single antipasta, every single pasta pasta. Two of the three pizzas. A salami plate. A side of potatoes (of course). And every single dessert. Obnoxious? Undoubtably. But there were six of us, so it’s slightly less obnoxious than it sounds, because it basically broke down to one dish per person, per course.

Now, prepare for a ride on the Bipolar Express… The first thing to hit the table was the salami plate which was a solid good. And one particular salami was quite special, made yellowish by the saffron within it.

Then an Ultimate arrived on the scene. The best funghi pizza I’ve ever had. Even the other pie (meatball) was pretty awesome, with a terrific crust and buttery cheese that worked harmoniously together like edible Olympic synchronized swimmers.

But alas the perfection was not to last. On the antipasta course Oenotri went an abysmal 1 for 5. The only one rising above an “eh” would be the wax beans with meatballs and quail egg. So right about then I started to question ole Tommy. That is until the short rib pappardelle came around. So good I wish we would’ve gotten six of them. Not that the others were bad, but the only other pasta dish worthy of a shout out would be the paccheri ragu.

Similarly, the desserts fared about the same. The almond panna cotta was the winner and easily the best panna cotta I’ve ever had, even thought I’m normally not a panna cotta person. Also, an honorable mention goes to the sour cherry tart.

Service was very good. The Amarone wine went wonderfully with everything. And apart from the antipastas, the only other big miss is that the setting is a bit tragic, especially if you sit outside, locsted in the courtyard of a strip mall. But Keller never was big on décor, so I guess it didn’t bother him as much as me.

Oh, almost forgot the all important side of potatoes! They were actually excellent. Packing some nice heat. I would’ve eaten more of them had my stomach not lit up the “no vacancy” sign.

So, all in all, in terms of knives, I am very conflicted. I mean on the one hand when a restaurant has two Ultimates in the same meal, it’s pretty hard to go below 4 knives. But on the other hand, when a restaurant serves up over 10 misses it’s hard to justify going over the 3 knives. Now obviously half knives would solve this kerfuffle quite handily, but that’s a cop out. So, being that I am a “ferocious” foodie, I am going to have to go with harsher sentence.

3 teeth

 

The French Laundry

6640 Washington St. Yountville, CA 94599 • (707) 944-2380frenchlaundry.com

WINEormous-at-The-French-Laundry-in-Yountville-CA

Granted it takes selling a vital organ to get a reservation at this place. And the cost of dinner will be more than the airfare you paid to get there from JFK… AND, it’s hyped like no other restaurant on the face of the Earth- BUT, with all of that said, I can honestly say, it’s still pretty worth it.

The amuse bouche of salmon tartar on a cone filled with creme fraiche set the tone by giving my wife and I a simultaneous foodgasm right out of the gate – sorry for the TMI.

There were, however, a few courses here and there that were just okay, but then came the foie gras terrine with assorted salts including one dating back 40 million years! Now, while I do loves me some foie gras, I am more of a seared foie gras kinda guy – but I must say, this was the best terrine I have ever had.

And speaking of the “best,” the highlight of the meal was the rib-eye. Easily the Ultimate steak of my 44 year life.

A deconstructed cobbler for dessert was also quite stellar as were the little cookies and the amazing macadamia nuts rolled in chocolate, dusted with pistachio.

Then, as an added surprise, for my birthday they took us on a tour of the kitchen where they literally have a giant flat screen TV hooked up to a live feed with the kitchen at Per Se in NYC, so they can keep an eye on both places at once.

So why the four knives and not five? The decor is actually a bit of a let down to be honest. I know Keller likes to keep things minimal so as not to detract from the food, but I don’t buy it. I have been to many an amazing meal where the decor is jaw-dropping and in my not-so-humble opinion, actually ADDED to the experience. Just like service and presentation, which he seems to value greatly, as exhibited by the judicious use of great precision and artistry.

Also, one other pretty significant ding, compared to Cyrus (R.I.P.), I found the courses to be far more inconsistent. Some incredible. Some great. Some just okay. Whereas at Cryus, out of nearly a dozen courses, there was maybe one miss, with more than double the number of hits. And it was half the price.

Oh, and one more nit. We had a wine pairing with each course and I have to say, I have had better pairings at Frasca in Boulder, CO and at Aja (R.I.P.) in NYC.

But 4 knives is nothing to sneeze at. I sincerely can’t wait to go back- ideally on someone else’s dime.

4 teeth