Thursday, August 13, 2009
Rocco, Monroe Ave.
There are a number of ways to categorize pizza, mostly involving the thickness of the crust: thin vs. thick, Neapolitan vs. Sicilian, New York vs. deep dish (often misleadingly called "Chicago" pizza).
Then there's what I'll call "takeout" pizza vs. "restaurant" pizza. The kind you bring home to share while watching TV, and the kind you sit down and appreciate as part of a formal meal.
The latter is what you'll get at Rocco on Monroe Avenue. Located a half-block outside the Inner Loop in what was previously the Greek restaurant The Olive Tree, Rocco is a high-end Italian restaurant that serves what are commonly referred to these days as "artisanal" pizzas, that are baked in a gas-fired, brick-lined oven (thanks to Metromix for that information).
I recently had dinner there, and although there were a number of tempting entrees on the menu, I had to try the pizza. I got a margherita, which in its simplicity generally makes a good benchmark by which to judge a pizzeria.
(It's hard to write here just about the pizza, because the whole meal was outstanding. But this isn't meant to be a full-blown restaurant review, so I'll try to stick to the pizza.)
The pizza arrived at the table uncut, along with a pair of food scissors, which I couldn't bring myself to dirty, so I got used my knife and fork, which worked just fine.
The crust was well charred on the bottom, with a noticeable dusting of flour, and so firm that I could hold the entire pizza by the edge without it flopping over.
That is not to say, however, that it was burned, or that it was little more than a giant cracker. When I say it was charred, I mean it was lightly blackened on the surface of the underside, not all the way through the interior. And there was an interior. It was thin, but not paper thin, and had some bready, gluteny chewiness to it, forming a nice contrast to the exterior, which was very crisp, and crackled when I bit into it.
The sauce, which was applied moderately, was fresh in taste and texture. It was not a thick, slow-cooked sauce, but had a vibrant flavor of fresh tomatoes; it was a little sweet, but the sweetness seemed to come from the tomatoes rather than from any added sugary or other sweeteners.
The fresh mozzarella was melted and creamy, adding some chewy texture, and the strips of wilted, shredded basil provided an additional layer of flavor to the overall profile. The surface of the pizza was just a little oily, which - I'm guessing here - might've come from a light drizzling of olive oil. The pizza was capped off by an edge with the flavor and texture of a good, crusty, chewy loaf of bread.
I'll refer you to their website for the rest of Rocco's menu - which changes seasonally - but this was a great meal from start to finish. Even if you or someone you're with doesn't like pizza (if that's even possible) it's well worth a visit.
Again, this is not a pizza that you grab on the way home and scarf down while watching TV, so it's tough to compare it with what you'll get at most other places. But any way you slice it (I can't resist that pun), this was some of the best pizza I've had. With each bite, the crackly, chewy, bready crust was noticeably present, yet each of the other components came through too, creating a complex yet complementary medley of textures and flavors. I could find no faults with this pizza, which rates an "A" from me.
Osteria Rocco, 165 Monroe Ave., 454-3510
Mon-Thu, 5-9 pm; Fri & Sat, 5-10 pm; All nights, pizza 1 hour later