Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Veneto Wood Fired Pizza & Pasta, East Ave.
Veneto opened in 2001, a few doors away from its present location on East Avenue downtown. From the start, it has specialized in pizza baked in a wood-fire oven. In theory, at least, a wood-fired oven means very high temperatures, and fast-cooking pizza. The pizza almost has to be thin, because a thick crust wouldn't have time to cook all the way through at those high temps. You may notice a slight smokiness to your pizza, too. And the pizza chef needs to be attentive due to the short cooking time, and the need to rotate the pizza so that it cooks evenly from the radiant heat.
Veneto offers several different pies, several of which sounded good, but I went with the Margherita, the simplicity of which makes it one of the best tests of a pizza's overall quality. Oddly, Veneto's menu describes their Margherita as topped only with "Pomodoro sauce" (a/k/a tomato sauce) and mozzarella cheese, to which you can add pepperoni for an extra 75 cents. I've never heard of a Margherita pizza that didn't include basil (or that did include pepperoni, for that matter), a point on which no less an authority than Wikipedia backs me up. So I asked for, and got, basil on mine.
Since I was able to see the oven, I saw my pizza go in, and about 5 minutes later out it came. True to expectations, it was thin, about as thin as pizza can get. The underside was nicely charred but not burnt. It was slightly more done on one side than the other, but not by much, and the chef seemed pretty good at checking on and rotating the pizzas, as well as on poking the fire once in a while to keep it from dying down.
The crust had a good flavor, in part from the charring (I didn't pick up any smokiness - seemed like a pretty clean-burning oven), but its thinness meant that there was no interior breadiness, except for a bit along the edge. Mostly it was crunchy, and more "bendable" than "foldable" - when I tried to fold a slice in half, it cracked down the middle. The cheese, which was fairly liberally applied and, hot out of the oven, still very stringy, had gravitated a bit toward the center, and some care had to be taken to make sure that it didn't all slide off at once.
The sauce was bright, both in color and in flavor, with a vibrant tomatoey flavor.
The shredded basil was wilted from the heat of the oven, and definitely a good call.
The overall flavor was frankly delicious. The ingredients were very well integrated, so that at times I wasn't sure if the flavor I was detecting came from the cheese, sauce, or basil, but whatever it was, they all worked beautifully together.
If I have a single complaint, it's the thinness of the crust. This is where things get purely subjective, but to me, this pizza could have gone from "merely" delicious to truly magnificent had the crust been just a shade thicker, to give the toppings a solid base of breadiness, in both flavor and texture. Only along the slightly thicker edge was there a tantalizing hint of what the whole pie could have been.
All in all, though, I thought this was great pizza. If you don't care for thin crusts, you may not like it, but then again you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Me, I give it an A-.