Friday, April 12, 2013
Back to Fiamma
I've been pleased, though hardly surprised, to see that Fiamma continues to do well. For a long time, Rochester's and Monroe County's east side has held a lopsided advantage over the west side where wood-fired pizza is concerned, but Fiamma's opening in Gates has dramatically shifted the center of gravity for lovers of the style.
I gave Fiamma a rave review last October, and only the need to check other pizzerias off my list kept me from going back sooner, but I did make a return visit recently. This allowed me to stray from my usual diet of Margherita pizza, and check out some of Fiamma's other varieties.
In fact, I didn't even choose what kind of pizza to get from among Fiamma's wide array of traditional and specialty pizzas. Instead, I left it up to pizzaiolo Giuseppe Paciullo. He recommended the Positano, a "specialita" pizza that's topped with butternut squash puree, smoked mozzarella, basil, and spicy pancetta. Probably not something I'd be inclined to order, but I trusted him to steer me in the right direction.
My trust was amply rewarded, with one of the best pies I've had. Giuseppe told me that not many people order the Positano, probably because the toppings sound a little weird to the average customer. That's understandable, but it's also a shame. They don't know what they're missing. This pizza had a wonderful flavor that could hold its own with any more conventional, tomato-based pie. It also demonstrated how a few well-chosen ingredients can yield far more flavor, or at least more satisfying flavor, than you can get from an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach.
Not that I dislike squash, but aside from the orange hue, I never would have guessed that to be one of the toppings on this pie. Maybe it was the effect of pureeing and then cooking the squash, or the influence of the other toppings, but the squash flavor was toned down and subtle, rendering the overall flavor of this pie simultaneously familiar and difficult to pin down. The squash provided a sweet but not cloying base for the contrasting yet complementary smoky, savory and piquant flavors and aromas of the cheese, basil and pancetta. For all the relative simplicity of this pie, the result was a richness and depth of flavor that I've seldom found in any pizza.
One of my companions ordered the Diavola pizza, from the "Tradizionali" side of the menu. Topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy Italian soppressata, basil, and spicy olive oil, this was basically a kicked-up version of a red pizza, not tongue-scorchingly hot, but with enough spice to add an extra dimension to the sure-fire combination of tomatoes, cheese, basil and thin-sliced cured meat.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the toppings on these pies, I don't mean to neglect the crust, which, for my money, is what truly makes Fiamma's pizza among the best that our area has to offer. After my first visit last year, I'd heard from a friend that one of her dining companions on another occasion had complained that Fiamma's crust was wet and soggy.
Well, yes, in a way. But as you can read here, that's what to expect with authentic Neapolitan pizza. That doesn't make my friend's friend "wrong" - I mean, you like what you like, and you don't like what you don't like - but yes, you will probably need to use a knife and fork to eat Fiamma's pizza, just as you would if you went to a pizzeria in Naples, Italy.
But I did mention that "wet" complaint to Giuseppe, to get his response. He attributed it to Americans' unfamiliarity with the Neapolitan style, telling me, "I never said that's the way [i.e., with a crisp crust] I make pizza. I say, 'this is Neapolitan pizza.' You know, it's like going to Chicago, eating the Chicago style pizza, and saying it's too thick."
And he raised another good point. Fiamma's pizzas cook in an incredibly hot, 1000-degree oven, where they spend about one minute before they're done. The result is a charred but not burnt crust, and toppings that are cooked but not blackened or dried out.
And a crust that, frankly, is not crackly crisp throughout. As Giuseppe put it, "Nothing that cooks in one minute can ever be crispy." Perhaps a "naked" disk of thin dough would get thoroughly crisp, but with toppings, a pizza dough simply cannot exude enough moisture in one minute to develop the firmness that is typical of American style pizza. In fact, Giuseppe said, in Italy, a pizzeria that served a customer a pizza with a thoroughly crisp crust would likely be met with an annoyed, "What did you serve me, a tile?"
Giuseppe also cited Fiamma's use of fresh mozzarella as a reason why his pies cannot be left in the oven long enough for the crust to get completely crisp. I love fresh mozzarella, but I know from experience that it can go from delectably creamy to unappetizingly rubbery in the blink of an eye. Fiamma's pizzas stay in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt - any longer, and you'd end up with white Silly Putty, or worse.
Having said all that, I should add that on this visit, my pizza crust was not wet. No, this was not the kind of pizza that one could eat with one-hand, folded down the middle like a New York-style slice, but it certainly wasn't soggy, either. So just know, if you go there, what to expect, and what not to expect. And by all means, dare to stray from your pizza comfort zone. I'm glad I did.
Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road, Gates 14624
Mon - Thu: 11:45 am - 9 pm, Fri: 11:45 am - 10 pm, Sat: 4 pm - 10 pm, Sun: 11:45 am - 9 pm