Awesome pizza at Caffè Calabria (San Diego) and Produttori del Barbaresco Asili 04

Beyond the olive oil-cured red hot chili peppers (peperoncini), there’s not much Calabrian about Caffè Calabria in San Diego.

Back in Seattle, he said, where he first became a coffee connoisseur, owner Arne Holt had seen the rise of so many pseudo-Italian venues with meaningless name that “I just randomly pointed my finger on a map of Italy and landed on Calabria.”

Plenty of other folks have chronicled Arne’s inspirations for Italian-style, in-house roasting of his coffee beans. And Arne was noted for the excellent coffee at the caffè long before he fired up his Neapolitan pizza oven (which evidently sat dormant for a number of years before he began making pizza here).

Tracie P and I were thoroughly impressed with the quality of the products and execution of the pizza when we visited with our San Diego crew on Sunday night: the pies were undercooked in the middle, as per Neapolitan tradition, and the toppings were fresh and rigorously canonical.

The pizza was great but the thing that really took it over the top was the way Arne’s staff slices the prosciutto. His Berkel slicer is out of commission, he told me, and so he’s using a conventional deli slicer. But he slices the prosciutto just thick enough so that the heat of the blade doesn’t melt or cook the cured pig thigh.

We liked the prosciutto so much (served above with a domestic burrata) that we ordered a second serving of just prosciutto.

My only lament would be that I wish Arne had a more adventurous wine list that reached beyond the usual suspects (mostly modern-style commercial wines).

The bright, fresh Bianco Classico by Terlano at $38 was ideal in any case with the salty prosciutto and the heat and richness of pizza.

Arne does allow corkage and BFF Yelenosky had brought a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco 2004 Barbaresco Asili (!) to celebrate Georgia P’s first visit to San Diego.

The wine was extremely tight and very tannic, more so than the last time I tasted this vintage from Asili about a year ago. Earth dominated the fruit as the aromas and flavors began to express themselves and the wine’s savory notes almost had an au jus tone to them. They were held in check nonetheless by the dark berry notes and brilliant acidity of a wine that I believe will be one of the greatest vintages delivered by the Produttori (similar, in my view, to 1989). A stunning wine even in this closed moment…

The icing on the cake was watching one of my oldest and closest friends, a brother really, Irwin, holding little baby Georgia.

He and I have known each other since our early teens and we’ve remained super close since those tender years. What a thrill for me to share the joy of our little baby girl with someone who’s known me nearly all my life.

Buon San Valentino a tutti! Happy Valentine’s Day, yall!

A pizza revolution in Rome?

Above: Pizza (?) with mortadella (mortazza in Roman) and pistachios at Pizzeria La Fucina is all the rage in Rome.

Since I had to return my rental car to Rome before heading north today, I decided to treat myself to an evening in the Eternal City (one of my fav places on earth), where I connected for dinner with my go-to-ex-pat-blogger when it comes to where to eat and drink in the City on the Tiber, Katie Parla. (I owe my connection to Katie to our mutual friend and fellow Italian enogastronomic journeyman Michael Housewright.)

Katie suggested that we hit Pizzeria La Fucina, one of the more controversial pizza destinations in the pizzaiolo universe.

Italy, after all, is where the true “pizza wars” are being waged.

Above: The margherita at Fucina isn’t exactly what you would call a “traditional” expression of the hallowed pizzaiolo legacy.

Fucina and its owner Edoardo Papa have been pushing the envelope of pizza and its cultural significance in Italy in all sorts of ways. I guess it really comes down to your definition of what pizza is is. The toppings are decidedly not traditional (like the pizza with mortazza and pistachios, above, the venue’s signature dish), the artisanal beer list is impressively lengthy and entirely awesome, and Edoardo encourages pairing wine and pizza with a beefy wine list that includes some unusual selections (for any pizzeria let alone a pizzeria in Rome), like Cappellano Dolcetto (!) and Etna Rosso by Terre Nere.

Above: Whether or not there’s a true pizza revolution happening in Rome has yet to be seen but there’s no doubt that an artisanal beer movement has taken flight. The beer was super delicious, salty, and crunchy.

“Pizza and beer is not the ideal pairing,” said Edoardo, noting that “it’s not good for the stomach to pair yeast with yeast.”

I didn’t bother pointing out that the yeast isn’t active in the beer nor in the pizza, nor did I bring to his attention the fact that yeast is also employed (whether by nature or by humankind) in the vinification of grape must. (He is a papa, after all, in the papal city.)

Above: Katie’s blog is a great resource for anyone traveling to Rome. I highly recommend it. Between the two of us taking photos of our pizza, it was like a scene out of the movie Man Bites Dog (remember that one?). Her lens is bigger than mine though.

I’m not really sure how I feel about Fucina: the dishes were more like savory flatbread than pizza. They were tasty and I really loved the feel of the restaurant and the good vibes of the waitstaff (not always easy to find in Rome). But I’d definitely recommend checking it out for the culinarily adventurous (it’s a hike to get out there from downtown Rome but well worth experiencing a real slice of Roman life, pun intended).

I’m on a train making my way to Padua now to visit with friends and will be taking a few days off. The next leg of my trip will take me even farther north…

See you on the other side and happy new year everyone!