Above: Italian-American owner and pizzaiolo Steven Dilley studied pizza baking in Naples and is a perfectionist when it comes to delivering the classic Margherita. Tracie P and I were both duly impressed and I do not hesitate to say that this is one of the best pizzas in the U.S. today (and I eat a lot of pizza in a lot of different American cities).
On Saturday night, thinking that a bottle of Natural wine, a great Neapolitan-style pizza, and a “date night” might be just the thing to tempt fate and bring on Tracie P’s labor, we went out for an early dinner at Austin’s new Bufalina.
Our friend Steven Dilley — an Italian and Natural wine lover and a brilliant collector of fine wine — has been talking about his dream to bring authentic Italian food to Austin for nearly two years. And he’s finally succeeded in opening his small, cozy restaurant.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Bufalina will be remembered as a watershed in this Italian-hungry town.
Above: As with a Gibson Custom Shop Gold Top Les Paul guitar, the instrument is only as good as the person who uses it to perform. Steven not only brings his professional training as a pizzaiolo to the table but he also delivers his experience as an Italian-American and a connoisseur of Italian gastronomy. That’s him [hu]manning the oven.
Steven’s menu is simple: a handful of fresh appetizers, salads, cheese and charcuterie plates and — on the night we visited — five classic pizzas.
Even the “Fresca,” which some might view as falling outside the rigidly traditionalist canon, is a ubiquitous dressing in Naples today and is among the most popular pizzas among young people (Tracie P noted drawing from experiences of living in Ischia and Naples for nearly five years).
But what will really make Bufalina stand apart from the small crowd of Italians in Austin is Steven’s deft hand, his verve with peal, and his sensibility and experience as someone who has traveled and lived in Italy and who dines regularly in major U.S. markets (where the pizza wars, however quiet these days, still continue to inform our nation’s pizzaioli).
There’s no question that he’s raised the bar for his peers and his colleagues. Just look at the pizza above: perfectly undercooked in the middle, burned but not too much so on the edges, not too thick, and topped with classic wholesome ingredients. The apotheosis of the Margherita.
Above: I never thought I’d live to see the day that Cornellisen would be available in Texas! Regrettably, I’ve ruffled more than one feather by writing about the hard-to-crack wine distribution system here in Texas (and I feel really shitty about that). But with so many young, adventurous distributors and importers popping up lately, I have to concede that I was wrong. The system is working great and it’s working wonders. As Steven wrote to me the other day in an email, “it’s hard to complain these days.”
But the thing that the opening of Steven’s pizzeria will be remembered for, perhaps more than anything else, is his truly extraordinary wine list (see his menu and list here).
It’s a small, tightly focused list and it’s dominated by Natural wine, biodynamic wine, and acidity-driven, food-friendly, lip-smackingly delicious wine.
We drank the rosato by Cornelissen, arguably the world’s most radical Natural winemaker) and it showed beautifully (click here for a thread of posts on the wines of Frank Cornelissen).
At 41-weeks pregnant, Tracie P is extremely attentive about the foods she eats and the wines she tastes. I can’t think of a better wine to pour for her: Frank’s wines have nothing added to them whatsoever (not even sulfur) and they are raised in growing sites on the slopes of Mt. Etna (as he explained to me last year in Los Angeles) where chemical farming was never employed. Like Soldera, he told me, he sought out vineyards where he could achieve his vision unfettered by the yoke of herbicide and pesticide. And his wines have an unmistakable clarity and Technicolor quality in their aroma and flavor.
But there were so many other wines on the list that would have fit the bill: Roagna, Foradori, Occhipinti. And beyond Italy: Pépière (yes, it’s in Texas, I learned from Steven’s list!), Jean Paul Brun, Lioco.
The wine scene in Austin has changed significantly significantly since I moved here nearly five years ago. And Steven’s list wouldn’t have been possible when I first arrived.
His carta dei vini is a bold statement in a city where most Italian wine comes from country’s great négociant producers.
Above: Tracie P and I had a fantasy that her water would break at the restaurant. But, alas, we’re now officially 41-weeks pregnant. We’re headed to the doctor shortly and we’ll make a decision about whether and when to induce her labor. We’re so grateful for all the thoughts and wishes we’ve received here on the blog, Facebook, and the Twitter.
There are many new restaurants opening in Austin this summer and this fall. As Austin’s food scene continues to evolve and expand, more and more wine directors and sommeliers are making a shift from wine lists dominated by the usual suspects to wine lists that challenge and hopefully broaden their guests’ sensorial horizons.
Once things settle down at the Parzen household, we’re looking forward to trying (and writing about) all of them.
In the meantime, a wholesome Margherita for daddy and a glass of Cornelissen rosé for mommy really hit the spot…