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Napoletana Pizzeria, Mountain View

  • m

While driving on El Camino this weekend I saw the "coming soon" sign here in the old Cafe Mazeh space. Will we actually get a reasonable facsimile of Italian-style pizza in Mountain View? It would be a first!

Any good pizza here, no matter the authenticity, would be welcome. Their minimal web site says it will be wood-fired pizza. Does anyone know more about the background of the folks running it?

Michael

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Napoletana Pizzeria
1910 W El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040

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  1. Oh, Cafe Mazeh! :-( I used to live in the neighborhood and it was such a nice mom and pop restaurant. Sad - but I do agree that MV is badly in need of good - or even decent! - pizza.

    1. Mazeh will be missed (was missed, a couple weeks ago, when some of us tried to go there for lunch!) and in an eclectic menu, it offered a few very unusual pizza-type creations too.

      Wood-fired pizza sounds great! But also I'm sorry to read that you folks haven't found anything you liked from MV's 18 existing dedicated pizzerias. I don't think MV currently has anything to compete with say A16 in SF or "Howie" Bulka's remarkable little post-Marché pizzeria in the Palo Alto Town&Country. But I tried most of those in MV below (excepting a couple big chains) a few times each the last couple years, finding some very worthy pizzas:

      MV's Amici's downtown has consistently shown pretty high standards in its 10 years (try the [sautéed] mushrooms and garlic, which arrives dusted post-oven with fresh green herbs and with a toasty dark crust). In the last year, Zpizza, the So-Cal organic franchise now on Castro, delivered about Amici's quality at lower menu prices with wider ingredients selection, the widest l've seen -- and screamingly good value at the moment because of all kinds of daily and short-term specials (their hand-pulled odd-shaped "rustica" pizzas like pear & gorgonzola, $8.95 normally, are now 2-for-1 through January and have been _not bad at all_ in several experiences). Actually I just had some of three of their pizzas a couple days ago, finishing with the "apple pie" pizza.

      Then there's Venti, off 101 opp. Computer History Museum, a franchise from Tuscany contractually obliged to use both EVOO and Italian water (no I am not making this up) in the dough, and has a couple different pizza styles. One the modern Italian style which the proprietress told us are normally baked in a pan there; another, American-style, hand-tossed, like Amici's. Venti is a full Italian restaurant with strong pizza dept. (like Frankie Johnnie Et Aliae) and dazzling refrigerated gelato display. Changed name recently from Pizzeria Venti to Cucina di Venti which I find more descriptive.

      Besides which, the local proud independents (Tony & Alba’s, Maldonado’s, D’Angelo’s) satisfy many locals (who talk about and recommend them locally, including electronically) to which Fast Pizza Delivery, a newish Papa John's outlet, and the small chains New York Pizza and Pizza My Heart add some competition. The last two I found to have a kind of clean straightforward classic US style, like we typically made at home when I was a tyke, while Fast Pizza does really hustle (I've timed them to be consistently the fastest local delivery except for Amici's) with a workmanlike rather good classic style. Papa John's, one of the newest and showing a "we try harder" spirit, successfully made inroads in the last year and a half.

      A recent local article compared all 18 pizzerias on menu price per square inch, for largish one-topping pizzas, and below is the result from highest to cheapest. This had some suprises because the lower half has some well regarded pizzerias on sheer quality, to my tastes. (The ranking is slightly misleading because it's strictly menu prices whereas Round Table, for instance, deluges customers and local addresses with discount offers, but then so does Zpizza, which is in a higher league IMO.)

      I have to mention here that pizzas are also one of the easiest things to make well, or interestingly, yourself. I remember being about 8 or 9, my father was kneading some bread dough when I asked how pizzas are made. To answer, he stretched some dough, sprinkled a little olive oil and dried herbs, added slices of a very ripe tomato and some hasty slivers of cheese and baked it hot and fast and of course it was delicious. (Imagine that, without any sauce, MSG, HFCS, soluble sorbates, or even Butylated HydroxyAnisole. :-)

      [Most expensive, as of late 2010]
      Cucina di [formerly, Pizzeria] Venti www.mvpizzeriaventi.com
      Amici’s www.amicis.com
      Round Table (two locations) www.roundtablepizza.com
      Tony & Alba’s www.tonyandalbaspizza.com
      Milan www.milanrestaurantofmtview.com (Live jazz venue Wed nights
      )Kapp’s Pizza Bar & Grill, 191 Castro
      Frankie Johnnie & Luigi www.fjlmountainview.com
      Domino’s www.dominos.com
      Pizza My Heart www.pizzamyheart.com
      Maldonado’s www.maldonadospizza.com
      Papa John’s www.papajohns.com
      D’Angelo’s, 2464 W El Camino Real
      Zpizza, 146 Castro www.zpizza.com
      Fast Pizza Delivery, 327 Moffett
      New York Pizza www.newyorkpizza.biz
      Pizza Hut www.pizzahut.com
      Little Caesars www.littlecaesars.com
      [Least expensive

      ]

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      A16
      2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

      Amici's East Coast Pizzeria
      790 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

      New York Pizza
      1040 Grant Rd, Mountain View, CA 94040

      Tony & Alba's Pizza & Intalian Food
      619 Escuela Ave, Mountain View, CA 94040

      Maldonado's Pizzeria
      615 S Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View, CA 94040

      Z Pizza
      146 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

      D' Angelo Pizza
      2464 W El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040

      3 Replies
      1. re: eatzalot

        I didn't say there wasn't any pizza I liked in Mountain View, just that none of it is very Italian in style, much less Neapolitan. Pizza My Heart and Maldonado's are OK for the occasional slice, but those are closer to New York in style. The closest place to Mountain View that I've found with pizza in a recognizably Italian style is Pizzeria Antica in Santana Row. It was very good when it opened, but more mediocre now.

        Most of the others you mentioned I have tried and found wanting regardless of style. Note that D'Angelo has closed and has been replaced by another pizza place; it was closed on Sunday when I went by to try a slice.

        Michael

        1. re: mdg

          Got it. And given that the pizza styles most people know in the US are essentially American inventions, I suppose the modern Italian styles would even strike some folks as strange. (My cookbooks from Italy are also filled with pizza types rarely seen on these shores.) In fact I remember that's what they told me at Venti: Crowds coming in for pizzas after Shoreline concerts etc. didn't know what to make of the official Italian pan-pizza style originally offered, so they added the hand-tossed, US kind as a supplement a few months ago.

          Since you mentioned "any good pizza would be welcome," I wonder what you have tried of the specialties at the local Amici's, Venti, and above all Zpizza on Castro, and what you think of them.

          Below, a comment from the local comparison I cited, mentioning pizza's Neapolitan roots. (Mariani published a broad historical article on Italian-American food evolutions in 1989.)

          --
          Like many “Italian-American” dishes, our pizzas are mostly a US idea. Food historian J F Mariani traces their evolution, starting as “poor people’s food from the slums of Naples” and unknown in most of Italy. Neapolitan immigrants brought them to the US where pizzas grew larger, changed from knife-and-fork to finger food, narrowed stylistically from free-form ingredients to a sauce-cheese-toppings ritual, and exploded in popularity in the 1950s. From the US they grew popular internationally, including throughout Italy.

          1. re: eatzalot

            I found Amici's and Venti mediocre for their styles and not worth return visits. I walked in and out of Zpizza on a recent visit to Mountain View - way too similar looking to Papa John's if I am recalling correctly.

            On a more positive note, I'm definitely looking forward to the new location of A Slice of New York, coming soon to the eastern end of Mountain View. That of course is a New York style as well.

            Michael

      2. You might wish to try a few Zpizza pizzas, then judge (again it's a good time, because of deep discounts). For example a pear-and-Gorgonzola "rustica" or the unusual, non-traditional, very popular "Mexican," or the tasteful vegetarian "Provence" which includes capers. I'll testify after several of Zpizza's and several of Papa John's, I see more differences than similarities. This reflects less contact with the shops in person (though some) than with the pizzas themselves, because I've mostly ordered them for delivery or take-out. Papa John's is far more of a mainstream chain with electric conveyor oven and conventional ingredients. Zpizza, which I first experienced in So-Cal a couple years ago, slides the pies with a pizza peel into a hot gas-fired oven, and offers maybe twice as many ingredient choices (like three kinds of mushrooms). I have NOT been excited by two pizzas sampled so far at Venti (one of each basic style), but that is far from enough exploration to be sure there aren't strengths to be found there. (I'm willing to work to find them, it has often paid off handsomely these past decades of Bay Area dining.)

        I was intrigued by this new wood-fired place, and enjoy Howie's Artisan Pizza in PA and the nearby, less known but creative, classy small pizzas at chef Ayers's Calafia (the famous Google cafeteria spin-off). But to put this topic in some perspective, it needs to be said that other than exceptional customers with extremely specific tastes, the pizzeria population now in MV has proven to satisfy a wide range of people. That's based on the lively local pizza discussions over the last couple years on the neighborhood email list (several hundred central-MV residents) and also on a venerable Bay Area food forum with separate population. Those discussions prompted me to explore most of the pizzerias listed above and I'm now certain, after lots of data, that most people will find worthy moderately-priced pizzas among them. That's why why I was surprised to see the assertion here "MV is badly in need of ... even decent pizza" and the subjunctive verb mood in "Any good pizza here ... would be welcome."

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        Calafia
        855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA

        Howie's Artisan Pizza
        855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301

        1. Napoletana Pizzeria opened Monday in the former Café Mazeh space with kitchen area remodeled, large walk-in visible from front. It's an independent operation unconnected with the current and fashionable SF Neapolitan pizzerias, I was told. Chef (evidently Italian) really knows his ancient pizza history, we chatted on it.

          As with any restaurant that just opened (the sign outside is temporary, the paper menu copy I took didn't have the phone number printed yet), I urge anyone seeking a smooth experienced operation to _wait_ a month or two. As in most new businesses I encountered a couple minor tactical glitches that will resolve in a short time and were of no consequence (yet could prompt dismayed or even indignant "reviews" on some online sites). But I perceive the underlying concepts, kitchen basics, and sensibilities to be very solid.

          Pizzas bake in the wood-fired oven in view of diners for a very toasty crust, light and tender inside. Stacks of Caputo brand Italian flour sacks are up front near the oven. As at Howie's in Palo Alto (the nearest, geographically, that I can compare in any way), components and toppings are almost completely house-made, e.g. the "sausage," uncased (crumbled), used lightly, flavored with nutmeg or maybe mace. Like "Howie" Bulka, this chef also has a taste for shaved prosciutto applied post-bake in some of the pizza offerings. Pizzas come in one size, hand-shaped, about 12 inches (30 cm), cooked hot and fast. Tried a selection from the menu of pizza offerings and you can bet I'll return. There is also an intriguing selection of Italian pasta specialties and espresso drinks.

          For anyone new to this Neapolitan (as we say the word in English) style, I suggest to start with a simple classic option like the "Margherita" (with tomato sauce, cheese, basil leaf) -- it demonstrates the style particularly well, without the distraction of the more complex, albeit so far delicious, topping options.

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          Napoletana Pizzeria
          1910 W El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040

          1 Reply
          1. re: eatzalot

            Thanks for the report - this sounds very promising indeed! I'll be trying it soon and reporting back.

            Michael

          2. I didn't realize until a second visit (for another good and interesting pizza) but this guy (owner-chef of Napoletana Pizzeria) also has the VPN credential (Vera Pizza Napoletana). A "licensed" Neapolitan pizza chef! There are not many in the world, and just a few in California (SF's A16 has the nearest one, and is the only one whose pizzas I've consumed, and with great relish). It's part of the current popularizing of classic Neapolitan pizzas.

            Among other implications, it explains why he offers only Neapolitan topping combinations and may disappoint some people seeking un-Italian stuff like pepperoni.

            I gather that the restaurant itself may also become certified (and listed in the VPN directory) after it has been open a while. The chef said he's still awaiting the right kind of marble to handle the pizza dough, a proper sign outside the business, etc. The place is just recently open. But mdg (assuming you can overlook such gross improvisations as the wrong kind of stone surface for handling Neapolitan pizza dough :-), you better hustle over there if you haven't already. I believe your ideal of "authenticity" mentioned above is confirmed.

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            A16
            2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

            Napoletana Pizzeria
            1910 W El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040