Za: Hospital food, at airport prices.
I took my 6-year-old son out for dinner after school, and decided to try the Arlington nouveau pizza standby, "Za," on Mass Ave. It seems to be well-regarded here, so I feel obliged to add my $0.02.
Our pizzas were undercooked. The dough was spongy and bland, with a bare, tantalizing hint of crispness near the edges, but soft and soggy otherwise. It looked like it had been stamped out by a machine, frozen, and revivified. My guess is that the ovens are too cool by a couple hundred degrees.
The ingredients were acceptably fresh. My chicken pizza was underseasoned, and benefited from liberal salting. My son's pepperoni pizza had a pleasantly tangy sauce.
The $7.50 glass of wine would have been overpriced at $3.50. Tannic and tinny. Get the beer instead, if you must drink.
Dinner for my son and myself, including a single glass of wine, was $30.
Next time we'll go back to the Medford Regina, in spite of the long trip and the parking roulette. Za was mediocre, and I won't eat there again.
I have to disagree with you here. I have been to Za about 6 times in the last year. Every time, I find the pizza delicious and creative. I had the smoked salmon pizza last time and thought it was outstanding. The salads are super fresh with local ingredients and they always have some interesting beer on tap.
If it weren't such a hike from my house I would go more often. I am curious to hear if there have been other recent disappointments, as I am overdue for a visit.
I'm really just split on this. I've only eaten AT Za once, but have gotten takeout several times, as I live about three blocks away. I like the IDEA of Za very much. I like EVOO. I like the we-use-local-ingredients-when possible aesthetic. I like having a place like that in the 'hood. But...
You're right--the pizza is really not that great. How can they justify putting all that creativity and effort into the ingredients and toppings, but then fall SO short with the dough/crust? It really does have an either previously frozen or, worse, not-a-big-priority-to-us quality to it.
On the other hand, Za's salads are reliably good and interesting (love the beet salad, for example), but on the whole, the experience doesn't really add up. $20 for a good salad and a basically single-serving retrograde pizza is just bad math. I'll probably still order it on occasion (it's amazing what personal rules one will bend in favor of proximity), but I'll hate myself in the morning. Maybe we could all chip in and get them a wood-burning oven or something...though I'm sure that Arlington has some 200-year-old law against that...
I am huge fan and regular of Za but have to agree that the crust is the very weak link - it is seldom crisp and sometimes even seems a bit too sweet to me - it does often help to specify "well done" when you order to get a bit more crustiness and more of a toasted cheese top.
The toppings and combos, however, always seems to work and are fresh and delicious (I never create my own - theirs are better).
The beer/wine choices are always good and I love their salads - a salad per person and the pizza shared 2 ways can make a nice meal, and leave room for dessert if you like what they offer.
The hosting and serving is also always warm and friendly - did you mention your disappointment to them - I would be surprised if they weren't concerned by your experience and didn't try to make it right. It's probably not too late even now if you want to give them the chance.
Welcome to the board!
Brutal headline - my fiancee went to Za at my urging based on the board - her reaction was not quite so harsh, but thought it was overpriced for the quality. So there you go.
Head over to Gran Gusto next time!