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Piadina @ Pizzeria Picco, Larkspur

Melanie Wong | Jul 24, 200509:26 PM

Yesterday I stopped at Picco pizzeria and wine shop for a late lunch stop on my way north. On this scorcher of a day (hovering around 100 degrees), the A/C inside wasn't a match for the heat of the day and the 750 degree wood-fired oven. It was more than 75 degrees indoors, not a good temperature for comfortable dining or the wines lining the shelves. I took a place at the 10-seat L-shaped counter, and the manager promptly offered me a glass of ice water to cool off. The board lists an appetizer of warm olives, gazpacho, three salads, seven pizza choices, five piadine (described as "organic salad on a pizza crust"), and soft serve ice cream. I was almost tempted by the Mastroberardino falanghina offered by the glass ($6.50).

I ordered the Titus piadina, "tomato, oregano, garlic, mesclun and cherry tomato salad $11.75", essentially the cheese-less Marinara pizza topped with salad. With a clear view of the pizza oven and the line cooks, I could watch my order being fired inside initially, then baked at the cooler temperature part way outside the opening with a half turn to complete the other half of the round. The crust was cut into quarters, then each slice carefully topped with a bunched handful of dressed greens and finished with tiny tomatoes.

The first piece was hot enough to be pliable and I could cup it in my hand to eat, trying to keep the cherry tomatoes and leafy greens from rolling off. The golden brown thin crust was crisp and chewy while hot with well-developed yeasty flavor, smoky tones and nice salting. But as it cooled, the crust ossified. For the remaining pieces, the crust was too stiff to bend in the hand the same way. I managed to fold them after scoring the midline and cracking the toughened crust in order to bring the ends together to sandwich the contents. By the last piece that had completely cooled, the crust was too tough and hard to bite through the two thin layers comfortably or to eat the edge. Later, the pizza guru came to the front saying he had overheard me say the pizza was overfired. I explained that a piadina should be soft enough to fold especially when topped with large pieces of greens and roly-poly tomatoes that can't stay together on an open-faced slice. He suggested that I ask for "foldable" next time.

Crust texture aside, the Titus made a delicious lunch. Even though I would have preferred some residual moisture in the marinara instead of the baked-in dry layer, the taste of the tomato sauce was the real deal with sweet slivers of garlic and assertive oregano. The local veggies were high quality, despite the bruising and rusty parts that a more experienced line cook would have picked off, and dressed with a well-balanced red wine vinaigrette. The essentials and flavor mix are there, and once the execution improves, this will be one of the contenders for the Bay Area pizza wars.

After the cheese-free piadina, I spent my daily dairy allowance on dessert --- Strauss Dairy soft serve chocolate and vanilla swirl with fresh blackberry compote, $3.50. Served in a chilled white porcelain cup at a colder temperature than usual for soft-serve, the swirl retained its stiff shape even in the overly warm room. The squishy ripe berries had lovely tart-sweet balance to play off the rich ice creams. At this cold serving temperature, the flavors of ice creams were muted, especially the vanilla, and didn't really bloom until nearly melted. Still I liked both very much, particularly the milk chocolate. I didn't detect any iciness. When ice cold, they have a slight graininess from the butterfat globules. The dots of frozen fat coat the tongue and roof of the mouth, then melt away as the mouth warms up. Some might consider this a fault, but to me, it was just an indication that the recipe doesn't include additional emulsifiers.

I asked my server if the olive oil and sea salt topping on ice cream had been popular. He said that he personally wasn't wowed by it but many are, and offered me a ramekin-sized taste to decide for myself. The droplets of Francesco de Padova extra virgin olive oil and bits of Maldon salt accentuated the fresh sweet cream taste of the vanilla sample. I wasn't "wowed" but I did enjoy the sensation and taste.

Bruce Hill walked in at that point and I asked him about the butterfat content of the ice creams. He grinned and said it was on the high side for soft-serve, about 12%, and that they were continuing to tinker with the blend. When I told him that I liked the pinpoints of butterfat, he didn't look happy and stepped over to the ice cream machine to taste for himself. Soon after another person came out of the kitchen to try it . . . guess they consider this a defect and will make some changes.

Service was a little rough around the edges, but enthusiastic, and I was impressed by how many of my questions my server could field on his own. I look forward to returning after the cooks and servers have had more time in grade.

Pizzeria Picco
316 Magnolia
Open noon to 10pm daily



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