There's an old 1930's song called "I Found A Million Dollar Baby (In A Five and Ten Cent Store.)" That's exactly how my wife and I feel about Bollini's Pizzeria on Garfield Avenue, two blocks North of the 60 FWY, in the Southern part of Monterey Park. Christiano Bollini, the owner/chef was born and raised in that area. He grew up with his Grandmother's recipes and a profound calling to be a chef. He attended Cordon Bleu, apprenticed with Celestino Drago and Piero Selveggio (Valentino's) and spent a couple of years in Italy soaking up the secrets of regional cuisine from Venice to Napoli. But for Chris, home was where the heart was, and unlikely as it seems, he's opened up a spectacular! pizzeria in a non-descript storefront just blocks from where he lives. Opened a mere ten days ago, Bollini's is a cause for wonder – serving the finest Neapolitan style pizza in Los Angeles and a select group of pasta entrees and salads as good or better than anything available at Valentino's, Locanda Veneto, Il Moro, Giorgio Baldi's or anywhere else in this city. The difference is, of course, the minimal decor, the correspondingly low prices and the assiduous personal care Chris brings to his cooking. It's not a restaurant, not a date spot, it would even be an insult to formica. In the hallowed tradition of the East Coast, it's a pizzeria. To me it's a cathedral.
Bollini's uses a wood-fired oven (it burns hotter than gas) to turn out a chewy, smokey and splendidly crispy crust. I've long been a fan of Antica Pizzeria in Marina Del Rey, owned by Pepe Miele, who is, I believe the only certified Neapolitan pizza master in the U.S. Bollini's crust is even better, thin yet firm, a perfect platform for a luscious selection of toppings. Their specialty pizzas are listed on their website (see below) and they will make any combination you can dream up. I'm a traditionalist - if it doesn't have red sauce and mozzarella, it's abstract art to me. My wife is more the gourmet - she created a pizza of fontina cheese, roasted garlic, fennel sausage, fresh tomato and a homemade horseradish sauce. The latter initially made me cringe, but it's the centerpiece of their steak pizza.
Our deal was that if she drove with me from Santa Monica, she could order what she wanted. For once in our twenty-five year marriage, I was glad to have her along. The resulting pie was simply beautiful - perfectly charred, colorful with a sprinkle of basil, and as pleasing to the nose as a fine perfume. We sat there for a moment, stunned by the beauty, inhaling the scent, and falling in love before the first bite.
The pie was sheer perfection - especially the fennel sausage which Chris has made to order in Vernon (the sausage capital of LA?) The fontina was a better choice than mozzarella and the horseradish sauce (which is mixed with parmesan cheese) added a surprising but mellifluous undertone - sharp, but not jarring. For the first time in years of carb-counting, we agreed about the crust - she actually ate all of hers, avoiding her repugnant habit of topping scraping. And that's when things went from right to wrong to right again.
We each inhaled a slice and lapsed into orgasmic moans. Bollini, who was heading out on an errand, stopped by our table to give us a sample of his wild mushroom fettucini with chicken, laced with truffle oil and garlic. It may be the best ten dollar entree in the city - perfect fettucini wearing a silk smoking jacket of truffle oil and garlic. We tasted it and in the midst of congratulating him and shaking hands, the table shook, and the pizza slid onto the floor. We wept and wept for what seemed like half a second before Chris graciously offered us a replacement.
Having had a clam and mushroom slice to start (good but not really to our taste), plus one of their exquisite house salads (imagine golden teardrop tomatoes and a citrus vinaigrette at a pizzeria) we were already almost full. But we couldn't resist - it was on the house. So we ordered again, their Porco ($15) a traditional red-sauce (my turn) pie with mozzarella, fennel sausage, 3 pepper sausage, bacon, tomatoes, onions, basil and parmesan, to which we added roasted garlic. In the twenty minute drive back to Santa Monica we had the best smelling car in the world (new product idea - pizza air fresheners.) It was still warm when we got home, and our teenage son, who just got back from Italy added his approval. Eureka - we found it!
I'm from New York and chronically unhappy about L.A. pizza. I've been looking for years - not for New York pizza (it seemingly can't be duplicated here) but for some place that truly knocked my socks off. It isn't Vito's, Abbot's, Caioti, Casa Bianca, the diffident Mozza, or even Antica. I had a pizza specially made for me at Il Moro the other night - it was great. But even that, as part of an evening that always costs at least $150 per couple, can't compare. Bollini's is the true, classic essence of pizza.
It seats maybe sixteen people, there's a huge stack of wood by the door and a picture of the Last Supper hanging on the back wall. Chris Bollini is a master chef doing what he loves, for the people he loves (half the customers seemed like his lifelong friends.) If pizza is a slice of heaven, when you die, I hope you go to Monterey Park. If my last supper were to be in Los Angeles, I think it would be at Bollinis.
Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S. Garfield Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91754