Last night, I finally made it to Pizzeria Bianco, perhaps the best pizzeria in the United States. Chef/owner Chris Bianco won a James Beard Award for “Best Chef in the Southwest” in 2003. His restaurant earned a 29 rating (out of 30) from Zagat’s. Food writer Ed Levine called Bianco’s creations the best pizza in the United States. Jeffrey Steingarten called it the best in the world. Peter Reinhart echoed these sentiments in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
Who am I to argue? It was otherworldly.
The first bite I took of his margherita pizza – tomatoes, homemade mozzarella, and basil – was a Proustian moment, where memories of my last trip to Italy, made ten years prior, all came rushing back so fast that they were crowding each other out to take center stage in the theater of my mind. One bite and I was there, in Genova eating outside in an osteria, in Firenze in a trattoria one level below ground, in Rome, in Assisi, there and everywhere. I have never in my life had a food experience bring back such a torrent of memories.
The pizza nearly defies description; it must be tasted to be understood. The crust is amazing, puffy and blistered at the edges yet soft and airy inside, reminiscent of great naan in texture but thinner with that ideal near-cracker texture in the center of the pizza. The fresh mozzarella was firm, smooth, and – thank God – sufficiently salted, also the best we’d ever had. The tomatoes were bright red and sweet, and the olive oil that came both with the bread and with the insalata caprese was bright and fruity and drinkable straight from the bowl, although I admit I didn’t do this for fear of making a scene. We also tried the Biancoverde pizza, featuring mozzarella, Parmiggiano-Reggiano, and ricotta cheese and topped with peppery arugula; it was more of a knife-and-fork pizza because the dough couldn’t support all of the toppings, but the combination of creamy mozzarella, salty Parmiggiano-Reggiano, tangy ricotta, and spicy arugula was sublime.
The restaurant itself is tiny, with around a dozen tables and a bar with a handful of seats, and a good chunk of the real estate in the building is taken up by Chris’ kitchen and brick oven, which means that you can shower him with gratitude after you’ve experienced his pizza. From chatting with him and reading about him (here and here and here), I understand now that that is what he wants – to have you not just eat the food or enjoy it, but to experience it, to leave having had a magical experience that reminds you – as it did me – of how wonderful food can be.