Monday, January 4, 2010
Napa is a restaurant featuring wood-fired pizza (actually I suppose it’s the oven that’s wood-fired, not the pizza, but you get the idea). It’s near the corner of Rt. 31, a/k/a Pittsford-Palmyra Road, and Rt. 250 (Moseley Road) in Fairport, about two miles south of the village center.
For a time, Napa had a second location in Victor, but that’s now Lucca, which I reviewed recently. Since there is, or was, some connection between them, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two.
As I did at Lucca, I ordered a Margherita pizza from Napa. Lucca’s comes with fresh garlic - though it wasn’t particularly noticeable - but Napa’s menu made no mention of garlic on the margherita, so I requested it.
As expected, the crust on my pizza was very thin. It had a well-charred underside, with a dry, crackly texture. In fact, for my taste, this crust was too thin and crackly. It seemed to be all dry, crunchy exterior and no bready, chewy interior.
The pizza was topped with a thick, sweet, herbal sauce. That’s a bit unusual, I think, for a Margherita, which in my experience is more typically made with fresh tomatoes, or perhaps crushed, uncooked canned plum tomatoes. As I’ve mentioned before, I find it preferable to use a cooked sauce rather than flavorless, out-of-season fresh tomatoes, but this full-flavored sauce was a bit overwhelming for the thin crust on this pizza. In that respect, this pizza was similar to the one I had at Lucca, although Napa’s sauce seemed to me to be a bit sweeter and more flavored with herbs.
Unlike Lucca’s Margherita, which used whole basil leaves, Napa’s was generously sprinkled with shredded basil. I like fresh basil, but in some spots it was so heavily applied here as to give the pizza a pesto-like flavor.
The sauce was dotted with a dozen or so islets of fresh mozzarella. It was nicely melted, but its mild flavor tended to get swallowed up in that of the sauce and the basil. Nor was the fresh garlic - which is ordinarily pretty hard to miss - particularly noticeable, again a trait shared with the pizza I got from Lucca. The pizza in general left an aftertaste of that herbal sauce and the fresh basil.
The outer edge of the crust was formed into a medium-size lip. It had a toasty flavor and, like the rest of the crust, was very crunchy. In several spots it contained large air pockets, making it literally all exterior and no interior.
Napa offers an impressive fifty pizzas, which are divided on the menu into “Neapolitan” and “Gourmet” categories (though the line between those two seems a bit fuzzy - I’m not sure I’d agree that the “Maui,” with ham, pineapple, banana peppers and pineapple bbq sauce, belongs under the Neapolitan heading). They run the gamut from simple and understated, like the cheeseless marinara with shaved garlic, fresh basil and oregano, to the innovative, like the Thai chicken curry pizza, to the over-the-top, like the Superdome, with shrimp, onions, banana peppers, hot chicken sausage, Buffalo sauce and red sauce. One oddity I noticed is that the quattro formaggi (four cheese) pizza lists only three cheeses: fresh mozzarella, parmesan and gorgonzola. Maybe it’s implied that those are in addition to the processed mozzarella that’s standard on most American pizza.
Napa does more than just pizza. The rest of the menu includes salads, “wrapini,” which are described as sandwiches made using a grilled pizza crust and finished off in the oven, and various small plates (crab cakes, Tuscan bean stew, and sesame-crusted Ahi tuna, to name a few). There’s a good-sized bar along one side, serving wine and beer, and ample booth seating on the other, in an atmosphere that straddles the line between casual and formal.
This is one of those reviews where I look back at what I’ve written and think, gee, this sounds way more negative and critical than I meant it to be. This wasn’t bad pizza, by any means, and I appreciate the fact that Napa hasn’t dumbed down their pizzas. What I mean is, some places make a big deal about using a wood-fired oven, but then they turn out pizza with a soft, pale crust that’s not as crisp as what I can get using my home oven. Napa hasn't done that, and for that, I give them credit.
But to me, it’s possible to go too far in the other direction, too. Some wood-fired pizzerias, Napa included, seem to strive for ultra-thin, cracker-like crusts. That’s just not my preference. I like at least some interior breadiness - or “crumb,” in breadspeak - and that was missing here.
My other complaint is that this pizza seemed a bit out of balance. Part of that stems from the thinness and crackly texture of the crust, which was easily overpowered by the sauce and basil. I think I might better have enjoyed this pizza with a more delicately flavored and lightly applied sauce, and a bit lighter hand with the basil as well.
Admittedly, though, some of that is just a matter of personal preference. If I thought that Napa had simply screwed this one up, I’d give them a poor grade, but my impression is that this is exactly the pizza they set out to make. I’m not going to fault them much simply because it may not have been the pizza that I would’ve preferred, but it still seemed a bit out of balance to me. So trying to give some weight to both those competing considerations, I’ll peg this one at a B-.
Napa Wood Fired Pizzeria, 687 Moseley Rd. (Perinton Hills Plaza), Fairport 223-5250
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.