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Aug 25, 2013 12:33 PM

Best Pizza in Peninsula...? Back up plans for arriving relatives...

Sorry to be such a bother, but I am forming a contingency plan for the aforementioned picky foodie relatives arriving soon and just realized that they may want "American Pizza' too... havent had pizza myself in years and am drawin a blank. Suggestions for great pizza welcome- my preference is for more authentic italian but am open to anything that will satisfy and impress

thanks again to all

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  1. There have been some very enthusiastic reports on Napoletana in Mountain View:

    Also on Cicero's:

    20 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I have written about successful visits to both Napoletana and Cicero's. In this highly charged topic, personal preferences -- not necessarily geographic histories -- are both informative and limiting.
      I have tried A Slice of NY three times, with different companions, and never were we satisfied with the quality of the pizzas.
      Though the place is small-chain sophisticated, Amici's puts out better pies, has many salads and pastas, and a pleasant atmosphere to sit and relax.
      And, if you do not want to sit and relax, the pizzas and calzones from Maldonado's are tasty.
      Fairly new and popular with Italian friends, is Terrone, on California Avenue in Palo Alto. Definitely authentic pizza, not NY-style. Enjoy the variety of styles and flavors of pizzas in this area.

      1. re: anyhow

        anyhow: "Enjoy the variety of styles and flavors of pizzas in this area." Well said -- thank you.

        Beyond the OP's short-term quest (presumably fulfilled by now), of 50 or 60 peninsula pizzerias, some are distinctive and unusual.

        I'm surprised to see bbulkow mention not trying Napoletana, given its role crystallizing interest in authentic Neapolitan pizzas in the immediate region. After Napoletana began drawing people from around the Bay Area, as well as all of the Italian expatriates around Stanford etc., three other restaurants got going around Palo Alto area, aiming for VPN restaurant certification, and may well get it. And please, readers -- this after 50-plus visits there -- focus on the PIZZAS at Napoletana, all else there is afterthought, if sometimes savory afterthought; those frozen desserts have seemed interesting and unusual, being all made it Italy and shipped frozen; but when I see people dwell online over pastas or salads, or theoretical discussions of theoretical cannoli, I think they've not yet gotten the point of Napoletana.

        No one can build new wood-fired ovens in the county now, so any restaurant of recent years with such an oven (like Napoletana) got it from a previous business there.

        Howie's I like well (10 visits) although Howie Bulka really shone, and displayed his high-end cooking credentials, in its earlier days with rotating special pizzas that had things like thinly shaved charcuterie, bitter greens added after cooking -- these were some of the best pizzas I've had in the Bay Area but evidently they didn't play in Palo Alto Town & Country Village, so HB throttled back to safer, more conventional menu and we don't go there as often now.

        A Slice of New York in Sunnyvale: After some 8 visits I'm impressed by the owner's passion, sometimes displayed in real-time (as when managing his employees), and the pizza slices can be very fine when heated to order. You can also take them out UNheated, and revive them on a hot pizza stone in a well-preheated oven, or in a large preheated skillet with cover -- the bottoms turn cracker-crisp, and contrast nicely with the well-made tomato sauce and the cheese which some employees, who evidently have never been to the Northeast, lay on thicker than necessary. That and other consistency issues (a group of friends, brought in for lunch there, were disappointed in the lackluster slice quality that day across many different topping types, and so was I) have not given "ASONY" quite the edge in my experience that Napoletana and Howie's hold. Distinctive style, though.

        I also think it's worth mentioning (after about 40 visits, albeit spread over the dozen years since it opened), no matter if occasional newcomers dismiss it with broad-brush comments after negligible experience, the Amici's location in MV has shown consistency and some very satisfying, toasty-crust pizzas -- the menu also includes unusual house combos worth exploring -- to many people who assess them on their own merits, rather than against some individual personal benchmark. Amici's also has been good for non-pizza items, like the broccoli-lemon salad and linguine al pesto, and has a pleasant atmosphere as anyhow mentioned. Just the ticket once when entertaining visiting friends with five close-in-age kids -- who were delighted there (the family returned there of its own accord on later occasions). A little expensive for a more or less mainstream local chain, but also stunningly swift consistent delivery execution to addresses within a couple of miles when I've ordered them both for business meals and entertaining.

        Yes Maldonado's -- the surviving old-line neighborhood pizzeria (two longtime rivals nearby having closed in the past year -- d'Angelo's and the original Tony & Alba's). Attractive prices too. Set up mainly for take-out and delivery.

        PS I've been to the new Blue Line in MV, and was actually more impressed by the crust in the thin-crust style than by anything else, including the basic house deep-dish tried; but have not had enough experience there to qualify for any real opinion (let alone hold forth about how the crust, topping, etc, "is" -- a phrasing that always suggests an omniscience I don't pretend.)

        1. re: eatzalot

          So I finally ate at Napoletana, and it is certainly worth a visit. I don't think I would ever go there 50 times - I've been to no single restaurant in my life 50 times, maybe Cafe Barrone will get that high - but it's clearly worth a visit.

          THe place is TINY, and it's dark, and it's squeezed in next to the Cost Plus and Bikram Yoga on El Caminto near El Monte. It's so dark that you'd think something nefarious was afoot, from the outside. All else besides the pizza is an afterthought, and that includes the decor. There was one server who was friendly enough and efficient enough, and the guy manning the oven (behind the bar), and maybe one busboy. This isn't a high profile operation - in a good way.

          I stopped in at about 8:05 on a Monday, and the place appeared to be clearing out. There was a single, a woman at the bar, a small family with a kid. All of those people left in the next 10 minutes, and I was literally alone, slightly uncomfortable, then two other groups came in, which surprised me. Europeans think of nothing in starting dinner at 8:30pm on a monday, but not americans. Like one of the groups that left - speaking only italian - one of the groups was a troika of guys who ordered beers and a couple of pies and were talking animatedly - again in italian. In this small sample size, at least 1/3 of the tables are italian expats.

          The wine list is very friendly, a few well chosen bottles, you can get a decent glass for less than $10, which is always welcome. I got some blend I've never had, and it was just what I had in mind.

          I got the margerita. The pizza is revelatory, not exactly because the style is unknown in the south peninsula (terrone claims VPN training, for example), but because I finally see more balance in the style, which is finicky. The burn marks on the crust were perfect small dots, more like a pox, than huge blister slabs. With the burn so well distributed, each bite had a small amount of char but never an overwhelming amount. The sauce had no metal and a taste of blooming tomato, each slab of cheese clearly at its peak. The thinness of the pizza helped, although the crust tasted so good that I found myself lingering over the edges, chewing them slowly. By the time I got to the last two pieces, the pie was flaccid and unwelcoming - it's a pizza of ultimate freshness, due to be consumed in maybe 10 minutes.

          Price is very reasonable. I also had a "house salad" which was a good accompaniment to the meal. I wondered about the pasta, as I would often want a pizza and a larger bite for two people, but didn't have that solo.

          Overall, the place is fully as advertised, an ultimately purist experience, which must - and can - be enjoyed as such. I'll continue to eat at Vesta, with its nice beer selection, old building charm, slightly unusual toppings, slightly thicker crust, but this place might steal some of my business from Howie's, where we go when we want the lightest of meals. It'll be a good joint to hit on days when the GF is off drinking somewhere else.

          1. re: bbulkow

            Be sure to visit a few more times (even if not dozens), to get familiar with:

            - The pizza styles. Margherita is an excellent starter (as at any Neapolitan-styled pizzeria). Variations on it include "Napoletana," which adds _crumbled_ (not cased) housemade sausage meat, in moderation, seasoned in delicate Italian mode with mace or something. (Italian cooks like Giuliano Hazan write tirades about how unsubtle and overseasoned most sausages are in the US.)

            Another excellent variation is to ask for the option of anchovies, which is still off-menu I think. He uses decent European anchovies, not just salt bombs, and lays out half a dozen like bicycle spokes on the Margherita pizza. Exquisite faint seafood counterpoint to the bright fresh tomatoes and herbs.

            Another of the menu pizzas has (Italian, subtle) ricotta rolled up in the crust edge, quite unlike any US-type pizza I've had.

            - The friendly, obsessive proprietor-baker, Kostas. (Thus, he cherishes his superb European espresso machine -- a Ferrari of its type, which does make excellent smooth espresso. Yet he lusts after an even finer machine, a Lambourghini as it were - but it's $10 grand or something like that and besides, he doesn't think anyone else would be able to operate it, and he is too busy making pizzas.)

            - Try the frozen fruit-based desserts like the lemon mousse, in flute glasses. All made in Italy, shipped frozen. I'm not even a dessert eater and I go for those.When you want a less light meal, or something to precede the espresso.

            1. re: eatzalot

              If there are anchovies, my GF will be there with bells on. Thanks for the info.

              As you can tell, we really spread around our restaurant dollars - this place is too far from home to ever be in high rotation, but could easily become a favorite.

              1. re: bbulkow

                I perceive Napolerana also as having a little bit of local historical importance, because only after its popularity has that pizza style become "a growing trend on the Peninsula" per journalist quote upthread.

                Regrettably, it happened to be closed for lunch service today for some emergency, but I hope to get another "fix" soon, after having been on the wagon for months now.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Sorry for typo above, misspelling "Napoletana." [One of many I make.]

                    Napoletana opened January 2011. It has its own CH topic.


                  2. re: eatzalot

                    The "growing trend" regarded a restaurant that does not make Neapolitan pizza. I'm not sure the trend really is growing, I think it's a niche market, one place opens and another closes or changes its style.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      To clarify: The recent journalist report I cited was only the latest of several around Palo Alto. Touched on earlier, in this or related threads.

                      Three (?) other restaurants started in that part of the peninsula in the last year or so, most or all claiming to aim for VPN certification. Then, this recent large deal to bring in a chain -- a chain that, if not VPN, nevertheless is among restaurants promoting the cachet of Neapolitan "style" pizzas. (And given the stereotypical US pizza traditions, there is still room for making pizzas more Neapolitan "style" than most people are accustomed to, even without VPN orthodoxy).

                      These developments, totalling four fairly recent and up to 14 total projected pizzerias, are what Jamie Morrow dubbed a "growing trend" in this part of the Bay Area -- of which Napoletana, which has had good public and critical reception for its strictly VPN pizzas, was the start.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        The chain in the large deal misuses the word Neapolitan. Its pizza is not in that style.

                        There's indisputably a trend for a wider variety of upscale pizza, but I think there are about the same number of places really making Neapolitan style around here as there were ten years ago.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Robert, that's probably true for the Bay Area as a whole, but eatzalot is spot on that Napoletana was the first real Naples-style pizza in the Silicon Valley area, saving us a drive of some 30 or 40 miles. That's why I was so excited when I saw the "coming soon" sign.

                          It's good to know you can get it uncut there, but they should start serving it that way to people who don't look Italian, or put an option on the menu like Punch does in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I haven't been there in a while in part because I was weirded out by the sliced pizzas we got there.


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            1. Robert's last comment touches on the longstanding real ambiguity of the term "Neapolitan" in US pizzas generally, as follows.

                            Some pizzerias that don't pretend strict Neapolitan style nevertheless offer pizzas in homage to that style, for instance the California chain Zpizza calls its version of a Margherita pizza a "Napoli." The Associazione VPN (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) exists precisely to recognize "True" Neapolitan pizzas (with the explicit, protected trade name VPN), within a larger range of pizzas loosely identified, internationally, not just in the US, as Neapolitan in style. Both strict and loose usages of "Neapolitan" are FIRMLY established in the US now, demanding recognition when discussing this subject, which is why for some years I have carefully specified VPN on Chowhound to distinguish it from mere nominally Neapolitan styles.

                            2. Morrow's journalistic mention above of a "growing trend" on the _peninsula_ is accurate both in loose and strict senses, I thought I'd demonstrated that point. Since 2010, the peninsula has gone from zero VPN pizzerias to one formally certified (Napoletana in MV), and two or three avowed VPN aspirants (regret I don't have the print articles handy, but Terrone in PA is one, IIRC). Now, a KC-based chain proposes up to 10 more pizzerias in just a nominally Neapolitan style, which is how Morrow used the term in her print article. QED.

                            3. mdg, the sliced vs unsliced issue is the inherent dilemma facing VPN pizza makers in this country. US customers overwhelmingly assume that pizzas by definition come sliced; they raise hell with the pizza maker otherwise. I agree utterly that this point needed mention on Napoletana's menu -- I begged Kostas to add it when he first opened -- offered to make Post-Itâ„¢ inserts; evidently he has had so much business that the menu was not a priority, but I'll raise this again there and so should you. He will GLADLY, even preferably, serve them unsliced to ANYONE who asks, but don't expect him or any restaurateur to read your mind.

                            Meanwhile, this aspect of pizzas as made in Italy surfaces in most informed writing about the subject, and I've even made pointed efforts to spread this info around in the Bay Area, including online, and writing to print restaurant reviewers who omit it. If it is not more widely know locally, some blame is due print reviewers failing to do their homework. Including Himmel and Holbrook.

                            In Italy itself, pizzas until recent times were strictly a local Naples specialty, and even outside Naples they now seem to follow the tradition of being served unsliced; so it is not exactly a secret -- the problem (as usual!) lies in overcoming US, including US food writer, preconceptions about a class of food that has become popular here in its original name, but evolved to depart from its original form.

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              I don't know the provenance but we ate a fair bit of pizza in Italy six years ago that we paid for by the kilo and came in squarish slices. There's also a Roman style that gets referenced periodically around here, though I don't know if it's available on the Peninsula. It's crust is almost dry like a cracker and it would be hard to serve it sliced, I would think.

                              1. re: grayelf

                                Pizza a taglio is baked in sheet pans, served during the day, cut in rectangles, and sold by weight. Adesso in Oakland is serving slices something like that.

                                Roman pizzas are at most places cracker-thin and crisper than Neapolitan, though not as crisp as American pizza. They're individual and eaten with knife and fork. Bao'Necci in SF is the best local version of that style I've found.

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  One square sliced pan pizza type is promoted in Italy as Tuscan style, and other Italian regions have been hard at work developing and promoting distinctive styles they can call their own.

                                  John Mariani, the US historian of Italian and Italian-American food, wrote (quoting directly from a 1980s print history article of his) "A reasonably well-founded legend has it that the pizza as we know it in America -- with mozzarella, tomatoes, and seasonings -- was first made in 1889 by a Neapolitan pizzaiolo named Raffaele Esposito to honor Queen Margherita, then visitng Naples... [Pizza was] originally poor people's food from the slums of Naples... [in the US, immigrants] enlarged it and sold it as finger food, in contrast with the pizzas customarily served on plates and eaten with knife and fork in Italy."

                                  He then details G. Lombardi's pioneering New York pizzeria (1905), the Chicago deep-dish (1943), and mainstreaming of pizza in the US after WW2. "The pizza became an international favorite only after its boom in the US... spurring a keen interest in this once-lowly item both in Italy and abroad... pizzerias in America outnumbered pizzerias in Italy in the 1950s, and they probably still do."

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Who's promoting square sliced pan pizza as Tuscan? Sounds like American marketing humbug.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      "Who's promoting square sliced pan pizza as Tuscan? Sounds like American marketing humbug."

                                      Robert I just went to the trouble of quoting Mariani on Italian pizza history, from an original print article saved a quarter century ago (not some idle Google or Wiki search); the Tuscan pizza is a very minor side point in that posting, written soon after grayelf's and before yours appeared. I got that detail from Italy, not the US. There is even a franchised chain based in Siena. I don't doubt that you can learn all about it, if you want to do the research.

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        A specifically Tuscan style of pizza a taglio's the part that's news to me. I can't find anything on the subject.

                  3. re: bbulkow

                    bbulkow, you have indelibly captured my love/hate relationship with Neapolitan style pizza. We learned quickly to order one pizza at a time and preferably to have enough mouths to eat it all at one go!

            2. Sounds like your kin don't want fancy. In which case A Slice of New York might scratch their itch. Cafeteria benches, kitchy NYC tchotchkes on the wall. And straight up good pizza by the slice or the pie. Looked like good meatball subs too, but I've never gotten past the slices in my limited time at the Sunnyvale location.

              1. Vesta in RWC is doing really good pizza right now. Not sure how "American" it is though.

                Little Star-related Blue Line Pizza has branches in Burlingame, MV and Campbell and the deep dish pizza there would certainly qualify as American.

                1. Napoletana is good but it's Naples style, not American style. I agree with the Blue Line and Slice of New York recommendations, though I've only been to Blue Line in Campbell, not Mountain View. My first choice would probably be Howie's Artisan Pizza in Palo Alto. After the pizza you could head over to Tin Pot Creamery for an ice cream dessert.

                  Cicero's is not recommended unless you grew up somewhere where they made cracker crust pizza and are nostalgic for that style. It's not representative of the most popular American pizza styles.

                  Hope you like these choices better than SuDam!


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mdg

                    Vesta gets top votes for a nice char on the bottom, good toppings, a slightly american twist, but a more italian style. Howie's is our number two. Less atmosphere, a little more american. Love the bianco with the smoked mozerella. Figo I only ate their first week which isn't fair. Paxti's I honestly don't like much, really don't get the thin, the deep dish might be worth eating. Terrone is really italian, and quite good. I haven't gotten down to Napoletana yet. I didn't love the Blue Line in MV, but the ones in Burlingame and Campbell are pretty good, I often go down for a half bake. I also like Slice of NY but it's NY style not italian or californian, NY style is OK but I prefer the other two.

                    I don't know where I would send someone who wants American pizza.

                  2. There's really no good pizzas in the peninsula. I'm partial to Slice of NY because that's the style I like but tourists will not like it. It's in a sad strip mall next to a BevMo.

                    Just take them to the Town & Country Village and let them pick. Everything you could ever want to impress tourists who want to eat "global" Californian food is there: Calafia, Indian, pizza, cupcakes, etc. Calafia's probably your best bet since it does have pizzas too.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: KathyM

                      If you're going to the Town & Country Village, Howie's is fine for non-fancy pizza. I also like Campo on University. Food down there isn't great in general, but I wouldn't say there's no good pizza.

                      1. re: Glencora

                        You're right, I take back what I said but will edit to say there's no good pizza for picky, pretentious foodies in the peninsula. (The OP had also used the word pretentious to describe the guests in another recent thread.)

                        It would really help if the OP explains more what he means by picky, pretentious foodies. Do they like hipster-ish places, do they think they know more about food than they really do, or do they have myriads of feigned food allergies? Sorry, this is not meant to be snarky but we can help you out more if we have a better understanding.

                        1. re: KathyM

                          Terrone would seem perfect for "picky pretentious foodies".

                          1. re: KathyM

                            OK, perhaps I am being too judgmental and emotional in my choice of words.. i should replace it with snobby and picky, i.e. i am petrified they will pooh pooh whatever i choose as not impressive. yes more hipster-ish and just generally critical. also doesnt help that there are 5 of them each with different ideas... i want to wow and impress them and on the one hand, the authentic italian might but on the other, they might be looking for the 'american experience'. so i think i will stick with napoletana or terrone (both close by so i can get away with saying its just a neighborhood place in case it backfires..but have not been to either).

                            i hate to sound so negative and stressed, but since the decisions are left entirely up to me, the responsibility weighs heavily to show them a good time and have good food experiences... Lord knows I have better things to worry about :)

                            1. re: laterible

                              Ambience-wise for your hipster-ish relatives, I'd pick Terrone over Napoletana. If this visit starts to go badly, there's a full bar, so you can DRINK and forget about it. Here's more about Terrone,

                              1. re: laterible

                                Terrone is not good as a warning. The crust is flavorless, the toppings are not in the right proportions - cheese is so so.

                                I'd go with Little Star/Blue Line. There's nothing more American than deep dish - Patxi's in a pinch could work.

                                Better to go full on American, than to take them to a really subpar Italian place (esp. with so much good Italian in SF).

                                1. re: goldangl95

                                  I agree -- as with BBQ, giving them something they have no frame of reference for seems like the best bet.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Agree about Terrone being a better choice than Napoletana, mainly because it's setting is much livelier and they have an outside patio for those who would prefer to escape the inside noise. Pizza at Napoletana is good, if you like Naples style, however salads are bland and atmosphere is staid, quiet, dark, not at all impressive for your needs.

                                    We tried Blue Line for the first time this past weekend. Ordered both a deep dish and a thin crust. Although our preference is thin crust, we were happiest with our deep dish cornmeal choice w/sausage and mushrooms. Toppings were fresh tasting and plentiful, with large chunks of tomato and sausage. We weren't as happy with the thin crust. No char and the one we ordered, the white, was mostly an overdose of cheese with a few slices of zucchini and garlic. Little flavor, not worth the calories, so stopped after one piece. I would have gladly eaten more of the deep dish however my dining companions had eliminated that option, happily gobbling it up. Inside seating is dark, yet outside on Castro St. would provide entertainment for the relatives and a gelato across the street could cap off the evening.

                                  2. re: goldangl95

                                    Even though I recommended terrone, I've only been once. The toppings are out of balance, although I wouldn't call the crust flavorless - they do a nice char there and a good chew, in my (one) sample. It is much more upscale.

                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                      When did you have your not good pizza at Terrone? The crust was dramatically different in two shots for us in the first month or so after it opened. Wondering if you were there in the same time frame or later.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Probably when it was 4 to 6 weeks old.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          Sometime in Late June-Mid July. It was a very subpar experience -but I've only been once.

                                          1. re: goldangl95

                                            Thanks, so 3+ months after my own, and not an improvement.

                                      2. re: laterible

                                        You are going to have to let go because, as I mentioned before, there is almost no impressive food on the peninsula, and that which is, is way above your price range, and you're getting conflicting requirements. I think you just have to tough it out with the "well, it's just a local place" thing over and over again.

                                        Letting go sounds easy and is hard.