Friday, May 20, 2016
Food About Town blog, from his restaurant reviews in City Newspaper, or if you're a curling participant or fan) and John Vito, former proprietor of the much-missed O'Bagelo's on State Street, as well as the author of the Food and Stories blog. (Every shmo with a computer has a blog these days, I guess. And I should know, having been at this for seven years and counting.)
We met at Vive Bistro and Bakery on East Avenue, which coincidentally is very near the former site of another of John's restaurant ventures, the shorter-lived but also memorable Baked and Carved.
Thanks to their awareness of my never-ending mission to seek out new pizzerias, and to boldly go where no pizza blogger has gone before, John and Chris correctly took it as a given that if we were going to meet up for dinner, it would almost certainly have to be at a place that serves pizza. So they let me suggest a place, and they agreed to meet at Vive, a vegan restaurant in the East End that bills itself as serving "artisanal French cuisine."
Now I'm not a vegan by any means, nor would I ordinarily be drawn to a vegan restaurant. But when I learned that Vive serves focaccia pizza, I added it to my to-do list, and I'd been meaning to check it out for some time. My wife and I had tried to stop for dinner a few weeks earlier, on a weekend night without a reservation, but the prospective 40-minute wait dissuaded us. On this early Thursday evening, my reservation proved unnecessary, and we got a table immediately.
I frankly didn't realize until after we got there that Vive is 100% vegan. When I had seen references on their online menu to Parmesan, ricotta, etc., I figured, OK, they don't do meat, but they still use animal products, including cheese. But I was incorrect in making that assumption. Vive's "cheeses" are all non-dairy; soy-based, I believe.
As I mentioned, what drew me to Vive was its pizza, specifically two focaccia pizzas, a Mediterranean and a tomato rabe pizza. The former is topped with herb pesto, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, and Vive's take on Boursin cheese. (Boursin is actually a trademarked brand of Gournay cheese, so maybe it would be more accurate - or safe, from a legal standpoint - to refer to it as Gournay.) The tomato rabe pizza includes broccoli rabe, roasted onion, house ragout, and shaved Parmesan.
Vive also offers "Socca Pissa," which is not to be confused with the "wicked" variety. Socca Pissa is described as "a new twist to the traditional pissaladiere." Socca is a chickpea-based, gluten-free flatbread. Pissaladière, in turn, is a pizza-like dish that hails from Southern France. Traditionally, it's often topped with onions, olives and anchovies, on a medium-thick, tart-like crust.
At Vive, the Socca Pissa comes in three varieties: Pear and Fig (fig-and-black olive tapenade, arugula, pears, and blue cheese), Blanc (confit garlic, caramelized onions, artichokes, and ricotta), and Mushroom Florentine (roasted cremini, balsamic red onions, wilted spinach, and Parmesan spread).
With its wheat-based crust, the focaccia sounded closer to "regular" pizza than the Socca Pissa, so I opted for that. For no particular reason, I chose the Mediterranean.
It had a thick crust, rather pale all around, though not underdone. I wondered if it had been baked at a relatively low temperature, which caused the surface not to brown. So it lacked some of the flavor and aroma of good, freshly baked focaccia.
It wasn't bad, though. The crust had a tight crumb, but was not heavy or dense. The texture was somewhat biscuitlike, and there didn't seem to be a lot of gluten development. It was not overly dry, brittle or crumbly, but it wasn't very chewy either.
The crust's very plainness, however, made it serve admirably as a base for the toppings, which were quite flavorful. Bits of fresh herbs were visible in the pesto, which combined well with the salty olives, the slices of sweet, roasted red bell pepper, and the Boursin. I don't think I've ever had actual Boursin cheese, but I've seen it described as creamy yet slightly crumbly. Vive's version leaned more toward the crumbly than the creamy, and was reminiscent of a crumbly blue cheese. Overall, the combination was quite pleasing on the palate, with complex but harmonious flavors.
And that seemed, I'm happy to say, pretty typical of the food at Vive. This blog post is already longer than I'd anticipated, and I want to focus on the pizza, so I'll try to keep this brief, but we began by sharing a plate of tartines, which are essentially open-faced sandwiches similar to crostini. Of the four varieties that we had, the surprise standout was the avocado and grapefruit. Those aren't two ingredients I would've thought of putting together, to say the least, but they made for a happy marriage, with the citric acidity and tanginess of the grapefruit cutting through the buttery richness of the mashed avocado.
I also liked the acorn squash risotto with toasted pecans and parsnip ribbons, with its mix of creamy, crunchy and crisp textures. I'd rank the sweet potato gnocchi as the least successful dish, as the gnocchi had a slightly gummy texture; for me, texture typically takes precedence over flavor. But having said that, the flavor of the dish wasn't bad, with a puree of smoked cauliflower and caramelized onion as a base for the sweet potatoes.
All in all, I came away from Vive rather impressed. I knew that vegan meals can be good, so good that even omnivores like me won't miss the meat, but it takes creativity and skill to pull it off.
Vive did so. Vegan here doesn't mean just hockey-puck black bean burgers and fried, rubbery tofu. The ingredient combinations were innovative, well-thought-out, and well-executed. I'd like to go back. I might even discover that chickpeas make for one wicked pissa crust.
Vive Bistro and Bakery, 130 East Ave., Rochester
Lunch daily 11 - 3
Dinner Mon. - Thu. 5 - 9, Fri. & Sat. 5 - 10
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
On a recent Sunday, my wife, daughter and I went to the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, which is just west of Geneseo. This is the place where they bake Monks' Bread. It's an active, living monastery, where the brothers devote their lives to the monastic life, which means round-the-clock work and prayer.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, it's a beautiful place to visit. Guests are welcome to sit in on services, or just to wander the grounds. It's a beautiful, peaceful place. (Plus the gift shop often has bread or other baked goods you won't find at other retail outlets.)
Afterwards, we had lunch at GioVanna's in Geneseo. I thought I had done a post on GioVanna's before, but I guess not.
GioVanna's had been located in the Genesee Valley Plaza, a few doors down from the Geneseo Wegmans. That's when I visited it before. It's owned and operated by John Pontillo and his wife Jennifer, and yes, they are part of the Pontillo family for whom the local chain was named. But this is not a part of the Pontillo's chain.
Recently, GioVanna's moved across the street and down the road. In doing so, they added a lot more seating (from about 12 to 100), and a wood-fired pizza oven.
On our visit, we sat at the bar, where we could watch our pizzas being prepared. We ordered two pies, a "Pizza Bruschetta" and a "White Traditional."
GioVanna's actually has two pizza ovens, one wood-fired and a conventional gas oven. I asked John about this, and he told me that if you want a wood-fired pizza, you need to specify that when you order.
I can understand the thinking behind that. They wanted to add wood-fired pizza, but they also need to please their long-time customers. But it seemed a little odd that we weren't advised of this when ordering, either by our server or on the menu.
I learned of this in time to change our order, so I asked for our pies to be one of each.
Our bruschetta pie was baked in the wood-fired oven. It was topped with garlic olive oil sauce, mozzarella, diced Roma tomatoes, onions and fresh basil.
The crust was thin, with an underside that was on the light side in color, with a few dark brown spots. The crust was firm on the surface, chewy, and a bit oily underneath. It wasn't excessively oily, but enough that my wife and I both noticed it. Perhaps some of the olive oil on top made its way to the bottom, or maybe it was just oil in the dough itself. But certainly the crust didn't have a "fried" flavor or texture, which can happen when the dough is baked on an oily surface, like a pan. And again, it was nothing excessive, just noticeable.
I liked the flavor, which was similar to that of a Margherita, with the addition of mild onions. Finely chopped basil provided a good accent over that of the diced tomatoes.
The "White Traditional" was baked in the gas oven. It was topped with mozzarella, ricotta, broccoli, spinach, and "garlic flavor." I'm not sure what to make of that last-listed ingredient, but I didn't notice it until I was preparing this review, so I didn't get a chance to ask.
The crust on this one was noticeably thicker, what I would call medium thick. There was just a bit of what I took to be cornmeal on the bottom. It was again firm, with a deep brown color underneath.
John informed me that he uses different dough recipes for the two different ovens. The primary reason is the difference in temperature. The wood fired oven gets close to 700 degrees. I didn't ask, but conventional gas pizza ovens typically run at about the same temperature as a home oven, in the low to mid 500s. In general, the WF pizza dough is made to be stretched thinner and baked more quickly. The "regular" crust was more of a traditional, Western NY style crust, no doubt reflecting the Pontillo family's deep roots in the area's pizza scene.
With abundant mozzarella and ricotta, the White Traditional was a was definitely a cheese lovers' pie. The al dente broccoli and wilted spinach were cooked enough to bring out their flavor, but they retained their bright green color. The overall flavor was enjoyable but mild, although I found that a shot or two of red pepper flakes and Parmesan livened things up quite nicely.
GioVanna's menu extends to pasta, hot and cold subs, a Fridays fish fry, calzones, grilled boneless wings and more. I know they plan to have a full bar, but I didn't notice if that had happened yet.
I'd like to go back and try a red pizza. With 30 toppings to choose from, the possibilities are virtually endless.
But would I get it wood fired, or not? That is the question. And frankly, I'm not sure. For me, both crusts were good, and there was no clear winner. The WF crust wasn't quite as charred or "leopard spotted" as some (although thankfully neither was it burnt), but it was enjoyably chewy, and the slices went down easily. The regular crust was well baked and more breadlike. So I guess I'll have to wait and see what I'm in the mood for at the time.
GioVanna's Pizza & Pasta, 4153 Lakeville Rd., Geneseo
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.