Friday, March 30, 2012
Napa, South Clinton, Revisited
I have previously posted about Napa Wood Fired Pizza on South Clinton Avenue, and I've been impressed with their pizzas. Wood-fired pizza has become trendy in recent years, and when that happens, people tend to jump in, thinking it's a good way to make a buck, without necessarily knowing what they're doing. With wood-fired pizza, what happens all too often is that either they don't take advantage of the high heat afforded by a wood-fired oven, so that the pizza comes out with a soft and pale crust, or they go over the top, turning out burnt pizza that they assure their customers is the way wood-fired pizza is "supposed to be."
The South Clinton location of Napa, in my experience, gets it right. The crust is crisp, and charred in spots, yet still pliable, with the flavor of baked - not just burnt - dough.
On a recent visit with two friends, I got Napa's Diavola pizza, with house-made red sauce, crushed red pepper, roasted red peppers, spinach, and a blend of Mozzarella and Provolone cheeses (the "Napa cheese blend," on the menu), finished with house-made garlic oil. One of my companions ordered the Cuban pizza, topped with BBQ sauce, pulled pork, ham, dill pickles, Mozzarella and Provolone, and finished with fried onions, while the third member of our group got the "Tasty," with pepperoni, sweet sausage, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, Mozzarella and Provolone.
All three were nicely cooked. The undersides were charred, in spots yet evenly, and I would not describe any of the crusts as burnt. (By the way, is it "burnt" or "burned"? Here's one take on that question.) The crusts were thin and pliable, yet crisp, and in short, were pretty close to what I expect, or hope for, from a wood-fired pizzeria.
I would also note, in that regard, that the charring here wasn't just along the edges. I've had wood-fired pizza that is relatively pale underneath, but charred along its circumference. I think what happens there is that the oven floor is not all that hot, but by getting the pizza close to the flames, the pizzaiolo can achieve some charring along the edge. That's fine, as far as it goes, but I'd prefer to see charring underneath, which means that the whole crust - not just the edge - got the benefit of the wood fire's heat.
The toppings? No complaints there. Napa offers a dizzying array of 32 pizzas, as well as 35 toppings if you want to go the create-your-own route, so the possibilities are, if not endless, virtually so. My Diavola had just enough peppery heat to excite my taste buds. The Tasty was, well, tasty, and though I found the Cuban a bit overloaded, that's not the kind of topping-heavy pizza I would have ordered in the first place. But if you like a well-topped pizza, or unusual toppings, you'll almost certainly find something to satisfy your tastes on Napa's menu.
Following our meal, I stopped by Napa's kitchen, located just off the dining room/bar area near the patio, and spoke for a few moments with the pizzaiola, Bridgette. She informed me that Napa uses a 100% wood-fired oven, with no "assist" from natural gas or any other fuel source. For that reason, the fire is kept going, 24/7 - each morning, the embers are stoked, and give birth to a new fire for that day.
The oven temperature is typically somewhere in the mid 600s. That's hotter than what's achievable in the typical home oven, but not outrageously hot, and from the results, it's obviously hot enough to yield a nicely charred pizza.
I'll defer to the experts, but I sometimes wonder if the quest for hotter and hotter pizza ovens, and shorter and shorter cooking times, doesn't result from the same kind of peculiarly American, more-is-better mindset that's given us inedibly hot pepper sauces and mouth-puckeringly bitter microbrews with alcohol levels that often exceed that of wine. As a home pizza baker, it's nice to know that it's quite possible to achieve excellent results at temperatures well below that of the surface of the sun. (On that score, check out this video of a very nicely charred pizza made in a conventional - though no doubt expensive - home oven by no-knead guru Jim Lahey.)
At some point, I think I need to make a return visit to Napa's sister location in Fairport. I reviewed a pizza from there once before - and wasn't terribly impressed - but a revisit is in order. I can only hope they're comparable to the pizzas turned out by the South Clinton Napa, which, based on my experience, I'd say are among the city's best. I'll give these pies an A.
Napa Wood Fired Pizzeria, 573 S. Clinton Ave.
Sun. - Thu. noon - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon - 10 p.m.