Catching up on recent eats…

‘Pomo Pizzeria*, located just north of Old Town Scottsdale in the pretentious Borgata shopping center, has been certified by the Neapolitan authority that travels the world and gives its imprimatur to pizzerias serving authentic Naples-style pizza. It lacks the cachet of Pizzeria Bianco, but has the benefit of being easier to patronize, since they’re open for lunch and take reservations, with a product that’s nearly as good as their more famous rival.

*Yes, there’s an apostrophe before the word ‘Pomo, something I have yet to decipher. The Italian word for tomatoes is pomodoro, but if the restaurant’s name derives from that word the apostrophe is on the wrong end. Perhaps the Borgata’s owners insisted on the apostrophe to ratchet up the restaurant’s elitist factor.

‘Pomo’s menu is straightforward – a few antipasti, salads, and many pizza options with an extensive list of ingredients, several of which are imported from Italy, including mozzarella di bufala and proscuitto di Parma. The oven runs up to 950 degrees, on the low end of acceptable for this kind of product, and the crust had the requisite slight char with plenty of lift to it. Neapolitan pizza doughs are very thin in the center and should still be wet when they reach the table, although they’ll tend to firm up as the pizza cools; don’t be alarmed by reviews that call it “soggy,” as that’s an application of an American standard for pizza to a completely different product. The texture is fine, while the dough’s taste is a little quiet compared to the toppings.

I went with two other writers, Nick Piecoro and Molly Knight, and somehow we all ended up with pizzas that boasted at least one pork product. I went with a bianca pizza, one of maybe a half-dozen tomato-less options on the menu, featuring mozzarella, prosciutto, and Parmiggiano-Reggiano, a combination that would be too salty and acidic if you layered any sort of cooked tomatoes underneath them. Nick and Molly both went for tomato-based pizzas featuring more charcuterie, including the diavolo, featuring a spicy salame that ‘Pomo uses in lieu of pepperoni (which is fine by me, as I find most pepperoni to be harsh).

There’s a definite focus here on fresh and authentic ingredients; the mixed greens in the salad were immaculate, the Parmiggiano-Reggiano was the real deal (not some American or Argentine knockoff), and the tomatoes come from San Marzano (although I admit I probably wouldn’t know the difference on that score). They also offer a handful of Moretti beers for about $5 apiece, including La Rossa, a red beer that’s about 8% alcohol that is outstanding but requires that I surrender my keys before ordering. Total damage for three pizzas (which run $11-16 each), a salad, a beer, and four glasses of wine was about $105 with tax but before tip, and we had probably 2/3 of a pizza left over. It wasn’t quite the transformative experience that my one meal at Pizzeria Bianco was, but it is among the best pizza experiences I’ve ever had in the United States, one I strongly recommend.

Speaking of authentic pizza in America, in December my family and I went to Via Napoli, the new restaurant in Walt Disney World at Epcot’s Italy pavilion; we were lucky to get two reservations in our week in Orlando but I understand it’s become a tough ticket as word has spread. Via Napoli’s menu is somewhat limited, with fewer toppings available and not much in the way of salads, but more antipasto options including some expertly fried verdure fritte (fried vegetables) and prosciutto e mela (prosciutto and fresh cantaloupe). The restaurant boasts three giant wood-fired ovens and the dough is superb, with thicker crusts (perhaps to suit American palates?) but less of the trademarked char on the exterior. As with ‘Pomo, Via Napoli imports many of its key ingredients and I felt the mozzarella they used was more flavorful, perhaps because it contained a little more salt. (Cheese without salt is like water without oxygen.) The dessert menu includes real gelato and a new take on zeppole, the Italian version of fried dough; Via Napoli’s includes ricotta cheese in the mix, which you’d expect would make the end product heavier but instead creates these soft, slightly sweet pillows of dough that don’t actually need any accompaniments but oh hey you brought some dark chocolate sauce so I feel obliged to use it. Via Napoli is where I discovered La Rossa and where I discovered that a large serving of it will keep me inebriated for at least six solid hours.

On to Los Angeles from mid-February, where I’ll start with the last meal I had, Bludso’s BBQ in Compton on Long Beach Boulevard, a real hole in the wall that focuses on takeout with an emphasis on brisket and beef ribs. The service was definitely more Texas than downtown LA, and when I asked what the specialty was the woman behind the counter insisted that I sample the brisket before ordering; it was smoky and tender and didn’t need sauce to provide flavor or moisture, although the salty-sweet-earthy sauce they use is a good complement. For takeout they package their meats in foil with a healthy dose of sauce, enough that it started to drown out the meat’s flavors, but that’s easily fixed by asking for less sauce or for the sauce on the side. The ribs were smaller than I expected but had good tooth and pulled away from the bone pretty easily. The collard greens were deep-South style, cooked low and slow with plenty of liquor included; the baked beans had become soft and mushy but had strong flavors from the meat included in them. For about $11 you can get two meats, two sides, a piece of northern-style (that is, very sweet) cornbread, and some of that white bread that people in Texas always serve with Q but that just confuses everyone else. Yes, it’s a bad area, but it’s worth seeking out.

I met my friend Jay Berger at his local favorite sushi place, Yoshi’s Sushi on Santa Monica in West Hollywood. We had nothing but nigiri, which has become my style anyway after reading The Story of Sushi last summer. About half came with a ponzu sauce, including the yellowtail and the halibut; everything was fresh and only the salmon was disappointing, although I should know by now that salmon nigiri is not very authentic – I just love salmon in any preparation. The albacore, which I usually find kind of boring, and red snapper were both among the best I’ve had of each kind of fish. However, I tried octopus for the first time and am still chewing it three weeks later. Next time I’ll stick with the raw stuff.

And I should throw another mention at Square One Dining in Hollywood, which is becoming my breakfast ritual when I’m in town for the Compton workout. Square One focuses on natural, local ingredients, and their breakfasts include some real throwback elements, like bacon rashers cut about three times as thick as you’d get at a typical diner or fresh eggs cooked to order. My only criticism is that despite using good tea, somehow it’s already overbrewed and bitter when it reaches the table, which makes me think they have pots of tea ready to go for breakfast service – thoughtful, but counterproductive.