Fried squash blossoms.
This town is pizza pazzo. Pizza places in 2009 are like the wine bars and fro-yo shops of 2008—they’re taking over the city like a rampant cold. Sure, people complain about the pizza hype and omnipresence, but I say as long as each neighborhood has at least one good pizza place, it’s fine by me. And ~PIZZA NOSTRA~ is Potrero Hill’s. (Not to be confused with La Cosa Nostra, which belongs to Sicily.)
The location used to house Couleur Cafe, and owner Jocelyn Bulow decided to change up the format and offer his addition to the local pizza scene, bringing over the very skilled pizzaiolo Giovanni Adinolfi from the French Riviera. Adinolfi makes a delicious pie: the lip (cornicione) is just the right amount of chewy, and it has a crisp-enough base—a good thin-medium weight—but isn’t all charred to hell. I also think there’s the right amount of toppings, and not tooooo much cheese. And I loved the flavor of the crust—00 flour in the casa.
Of course I had to order the Calabrese ($14), topped with thin ribbons of onion and slices of salame peperoncino (sounds spicier than it is), but being half-Calabrese, I wanted the whole thing even spicier. That’s where the pili-pili sauce comes in, a Southern French spicy olive oil infused with chili peppers (it comes in a bottle to your table). I proceeded to shake it all over the pizza. Ahh, that’s it. Now we’re talking. Slap!
Another winner is the cannibal ($15), a rich number topped with a meaty Bolognese sauce, plus oregano, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and a runny egg in the middle. The flavors were amazing, but unfortunately I came on a night when Adinolfi was on vacation, and sure enough, the crust didn’t have the same magic: it was underdone, and the cheese wasn’t melted enough. But I’ll still go back—pizza crust is a finicky beast, and this is true at every place in town.
There are 11 pizzas to choose from, plus the rarely seen tronchetto, which is like a Neapolitan “Hot Pocket”—the Zaffiro ($14) is a crispy pizza pocket stuffed with ham, pesto, arugula, mozzarella, and slices of tomato (sadly these were far from best in class for tomatoes). It really sang with a few spritzes from the lemon on the plate (interesting touch), and of course more of the pili-pili oil. I think kids would totally dig the tronchetto (without the spicy oil, natch).
I also like that the restaurant serves a lightly chilled Bonarda by the glass ($9.50; Cant. Francesco, 2007) that pairs fabulously with the pizzas. (If you’re trying to keep things affordable, look for the carafina/500ml of house wine for only $14.)
This place isn’t just about pizza: there’s a long list of appetizers, from the tender eggplant involtini ($7), little cigar roll-ups filled with goat cheese and pesto that rest on a tomato concasse, to the beef carpaccio ($9) topped with tangy slices of marinated artichoke heart, capers, and a spicy aioli made with espelette. The deep-fried squash blossoms ($8) had a jaunty presentation, and their flavor popped with orange zest in the cheesy filling, with a pleasant light exterior. The grilled octopus salad ($9) was tender and a touch smoky, with a classic pairing of chickpeas and celery, and the zing of lemon.
All the apps are designed to be shareable, so go for it. Vegetarians will be pleased with the variety of vegetable dishes to choose from, so don’t let the mention of the cannibal pizza deter you.
A couple stumbles included a celery heart salad ($7) with shaved fennel that was missing its promised dates, and Mission figs ($9) were supposed to be stuffed with Robiola and walnuts, but the cheese was subbed for some Cambazola, and the walnuts were MIA—still a good salad, however.
An easy choice for lunchtime diners is the different bruschettas and salads, plus there’s a fully loaded burger ($12). There are also five kinds of pastas (many homemade) that come in two sizes ($9 or $16). We tried the house-made tagliatelle; it was like the Green Giant’s pasta, with favas, English peas, asparagus, and pesto, but it needed the salty tang of some Parmesan cheese on top to elevate it.
Highlights for dessert include a silky espresso panna cotta ($6), an affogato ($6), and wonderful gelati in some of my favorite flavors, like tiramisu, pistachio, and gianduja. Or you can get a stoner’s delight dessert pocket: a tronchetto with gooey Nutella and banana ($10).
The space is pared down and casual, with a small bar for single diners, and some Potrero kids and parents in the mix on the early side (including frazzled mommies who have been living in their sweats for three days). Speaking of sweats, lots of folks come over post-workout from the gym across the street as well. It’s one of those neighborhood spots you don’t have to think too much about—it’s very come as you are. Service can be friendly and hospitable, but a touch absentminded in that offhand Euro way.
One of the certain charms of this place for me is the easy parking—sometimes you just want a good pizza, and you don’t want to drive around for parking and then wait in line for an hour before you get it. There’s also plentiful outdoor seating for lunch or on a warm night… Sure, the view is of the parking lot, but yeah, there’s a parking lot.
9/2010: Ownership and chef have changed since this review.