I have watched and listened to pizza debates for San Francisco and East Bay area, and heard people complain that theres no decent pizza or no great New York or Chicago style pizza or debate that this pizza place is better than that pizza place. Aaah, to have the luxury of a debate. In Napa (Im talking the city of Napa, not the county or valley), there has been no debate. Simply, the pizza here sucks. Either the crust is too bready (hey, if I wanted bread Id eat bread not pizza!!) or too doughy (hey, did someone forget to turn on the oven??) or the sauce has a sugary, metallic taste and the consistency of paste. Not tomato paste, but white paste, the stuff of preschool arts & crafts. Sometimes, in frustration I actually contemplate frozen pizza. Its bad. In the seven years Ive lived here my pizza consumption has taken a nosedive. If it werent for In-N-Out and the taco trucks . . . well, I shudder to think of it. Occasionally I can satisfy my craving with (gasp!) Round Table or the local chain, Marys Pizza Shack which is decent, and can work. But then I went to New York for really the first time (the 24 hours on my 16th birthday does not count as a visit to New York) last December and had pizza. And in June I went to the Limsterfest dinner at Tommasos and had pizza. Now my palate is just simply ruined for mediocre pizza, and I ask myself Why does pizza have to just be decent? Why cant it be excellent and why cant it be here? Minor rant: in the Napa Valleys quest to create restaurants offering sublime food we have neglected the basics, like pizza. Please dont get me started on the dearth of good, inexpensive ethnic restaurants.
Anyway, a while ago Pizza Azzurro opened downtown, and I heard rumors that the owner was formerly of the TraVigne kitchen team. Hmm, promising. Well, Ive been in twice now and finally there is pizza worth eating in this town. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere casual, with lots of windows and the option of sidewalk seating. And youve got to love a place that keeps Saveur on the magazine rack. They do offer pasta and salads, but so far I cant get past the pizza thing. Rather than building your own pizza, they have several different types but only one size. Ive seen pizzas similar to these sold in other restaurants as appetizers or first courses or light snacks for more money.
On my first visit, I ordered the Pizza Verde, topped with spinach, ricotta and garlic. The crust was thin, balancing crispy and chewy. The spinach was a little astringent but fresh and combined with the creamy ricotta and pungent garlic the overall effect was a simple and tasty pizza. I ate half and took the rest home for breakfast.
Second visit I had what Ive come to think of as a pizza-salad foldie. Cant remember the name, but Ive seen it referred to as a Piadine elsewhere. Different people called it different things, but basically its a pizza crust with salad toppings that you fold over and eat like a taco. Except imagine a taco about 5 times bigger. Its like getting a salad and pizza at the same time. Anyway I was so utterly exhausted when I had this that I cant quite remember what was in it, but I think it was tomatoes and fresh mozzerella, some greens and olive oil. Whatever it was, the impression it left was one of tastiness. Mmmm.
The wine list is very cool, with inexpensive, unusual California wines and several offerings by the glass. I tried the Vinum Chard-No-Way (a dry Chenin Blanc made by a couple of crazy guys; turns out I used to be in a tasting group with one of them) and a Ramsay Pinot Noir. Both really great, and cheap for wine by the glass. I mean when was the last time you got a nice, unusual glass of wine for less than $7? Nice list of beers too, and again, good prices.
Now, if only I could convince them to deliver.
1400 2nd St (at Franklin), Napa