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Friday, January 30, 2015

We Have a Winner

I received 18 entries for the $25 gift card to Bella Pasta, and using, I have picked a winner, whom I have notified by email. Thanks to everyone who participated, and thanks especially to Bella Pasta for their generosity. Gift card or no, I hope you'll stop by sometime for lunch or dinner. And keep following the blog for more giveaways, pizza reviews, interviews and more!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bella Pasta Review and $25 Gift Card Giveaway

I learned a few weeks ago that Romeo's on Ridgeway Avenue, a wood-fired place that I've reviewed before, had closed, and that Bella Pasta had moved into its space.
Bella Pasta is not new; it opened in March 2009 on West Ridge Road in Greece, and its roots go back to the fondly remembered Portico restaurant on St. Paul Boulevard in Rochester. I reviewed Bella Pasta's pizza in December 2009, giving it "a solid B+."
This move does give Bella Pasta more room, with a large dining room on one side and additional seating adjacent to the spacious bar on the other. More importantly from my perspective, Bella Pasta is now using the wood-fired oven for its pizza.
I had lunch there recently with two friends, and was able to sample three pies. I was not in a carnivorous mood that day, so I went with a "veggie" pie. I opted out of the mushrooms, which left artichokes, onions, peppers, and broccoli, along with garlic sauce and mozzarella. One of my companions got a "meat lovers," with meatballs, pepperoni, and sausage, and the other got a pepperoni pie.
The crusts were dotted underneath with dark brown spots, indicating a quick bake at a high, but not super-high temperature. So these weren't quite charred, in the way you'd get from an extremely hot oven (which not everybody likes), but neither were they burnt or pale, two faults I've run across at some wood-fired places. The crusts were pliable, with a chewy but not tough texture and a pleasantly bready flavor.
I found my veggie pizza quite flavorful and satisfying, thanks to the tasty mix of vegetables, which were fresh tasting and not overcooked. Where a red sauce might've overwhelmed the flavor of the toppings, the garlic sauce on this pie complimented the toppings nicely.
At the other end of the spectrum, the meat lovers' pie offered plenty of meaty flavor. While the toppings were certainly not skimpy, the pie was - wisely - not overloaded either. Like most wood-fired pizza, Bella Pasta's pies are thin-crusted, and the toppings here were added in good proportion to the crust - enough for flavor, but not so much as to throw the pizza out of balance.
I also tried a slice of my friend's pepperoni pie, which was likewise tasty, with a scattering of crisp pepperoni slices and a light dusting of grated Parmesan. Both it and the meat lovers' pie were also topped with a tomatoey red sauce, and the mozzarella on all three pizzas was nicely melted, with a good balance of stringy and chewy.

So yes, these were three good pizzas. But don't just take my word for it, see for yourself, on the house. I've got one $25 gift card, compliments of Bella Pasta, to give away to one lucky reader.

In the past, I've had readers enter by leaving a comment on the blog, but there have been some problems with winners not realizing that they'd won. So to ensure that the winner gets notified, I'm going to try something a little different this time. To enter, email me at Leaving a comment here will NOT get you entered; you must email me. One entry per person, please. The deadline to enter is next Friday, January 30, at noon. I'll pick a winner at random shortly after that, and email the winner directly. If you win, I'll need your full name and mailing address, but I will not publish those or use them for any other purpose but to mail you your gift card.

Thanks to Bella Pasta for this generous donation. Whether you win or not, do check them out sometime, for pizza or otherwise. And when you do, please be sure to mention the Rochester NY Pizza Blog. Now send me those emails!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Just for Fun: Politics and Pizza

As I mentioned on my Facebook page, I wondered if 2015 marked the first time that pizza has been mentioned in a State of the Union address.
Politicians have a long history of making a point to be seen eating certain quintessentially American foods: hot dogs, Philly cheese steaks (John Kerry famously flubbed that one), chicken wings, and of course, pizza (which, despite its Italian origins, has become an American staple).
When I have a little more time, I'd like to see if I can track down the first time that a sitting President was photographed or reported as eating pizza. But for now, just for fun, here's a little photo montage:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Product Review: Tabañero Hot Sauce

I'm a hothead, I admit it. No, I don't lose my temper that often, but I love hot, spicy food, and hot sauce in particular. So when the opportunity arose recently, I gladly accepted a review sample of Tabañero Hot Sauce, to commemorate "National Hot Sauce Day" on January 22 (who knew?). Released in early 2011, Tabañero Hot Sauce is made from all-natural ingredients from Tabasco, Mexico, in the Yucatán Peninsula.

I can't claim to have tried every hot sauce out there, but I've tried a bunch, and made some of my own. I always have a few bottles at home, and I put it on a lot of dishes, including pizza (although if I'm doing a pizza review, I'll take notes before adding hot sauce).

Tabañero has a distinctive flavor that rates it a space on my shelf. It's got the flavor of habanero peppers (one of the hottest peppers out there) without the extreme heat. It's quite hot, believe me, just not tongue-scorchingly so. On a 1-to-10 scale, maybe a 7.

Tabañero uses carrots to balance and moderate the heat of the habaneros, which is common with habanero-based sauces - for some reason, carrots and habaneros just seem to go together - and from there things get more interesting. The rest of the ingredient list includes onions, key lime juice, agave nectar, garlic, salt, and grapefruit seed extract. No coloring, no thickeners - just all-natural goodness.

The result is a sauce that packs some serious heat, but that has a complex flavor profile. I've tasted and used it several times now, and each time, I've noticed something different about the flavor. There's sweetness, there's acidity, there's the all-important garlic, and the lime juice adds a citrusy twist that takes things in a different direction. As much as I love hot peppers, I like my sauces to have some flavor, and this one packs a punch in that department too. It's hot enough to make pepperheads like me happy, but tasty enough that less heat-jaded eaters (my wife, for instance) will enjoy it as a condiment, a few shakes of the bottle at a time.

Tabañero is not yet available in local Rochester stores, though that may change in the near future. For now, you can order it online, by the individual 5-oz. bottle to cases and gallon jugs. If you love hot sauce as much as I do, you need to try this.

Friday, January 16, 2015


A reader advised me last October to check out Tantalo's, which opened last year in the former site of a Pontillo's pizzeria in Greece.
I went there at lunchtime shortly after it opened, and the only slices they had available were Buffalo chicken slices. I got one (pictured in the bottom photo), which was OK, but not great. The crust was rather soft, and while the toppings were tasty enough, the chicken seemed a bit overcooked and the toppings just didn't come together that well.
But as I said, this was not long after they opened, so I figured I'd wait a while and go back.
Which I did, recently. And to judge by the two slices I got on this occasion, things had indeed improved.
This time, there were four selections, from which I chose a pepperoni slice and a white slice with broccoli, ricotta and tomatoes (the other choices were plain cheese and another white pizza with banana peppers and black olives).
These were a definite improvement over the time before, in my opinion. The crusts were on the thick side of medium, and after a brief rewarming, they were crisp and crackly underneath, yet still pliable and not brittle. I should point out that I don't think my earlier Buffalo chicken slice had been rewarmed, which
The undersides were browned,in a mottled pattern, with a light dusting of corn meal. The interior of the crust was chewy, well risen and well baked.
As for the toppings, the pepperoni slice was topped with nicely crisped cup & char pepperoni. The cheese was a bit overly browned, but it's always going to be a challenge to strike the balance between the cheese and pepperoni (might I suggest par-cooking the pepperoni before it's added to the pizza?). The sauce was a basic tomato sauce, with a good balance of sweet and salty. 
The white slice was flavorful, with a light coating of olive oil, topped with small chunks of broccoli and sliced tomatoes, overlaid by mozzarella and a few bits of ricotta cheese. The veggies were added before the cheese, which was a smart move, as it kept them moist. Pepperoni, I like crisp; veggies should retain most of their moisture.
Tantalo's offers 17 pizza toppings, and 13 specialty pizzas. Among the most interesting of the latter are the "Mama Mary's Greens & Beans Pizza," with sauteed greens, cannelini beans, sausage, mozzarella and Parmesan.
Beyond pizza, Tantalo's offers wings, which can be ordered with any one of some 13 sauces, and mac & cheese - which seems to be a trendy dish of late, although even as a kid I was never crazy about it - in a variety of combinations.
Tantalo's also offers an interesting lineup of hot and cold subs, and salads that go beyond the usual "chef's salad." For example, there's a beet salad with blue cheese, candied walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. I've never been able to decide if I like beets or not, but that's intriguing. I'm waiting for someone to put them on pizza. I may even try that at home, much, I'm sure, to the dismay of my wife and daughter, who are decidedly in the anti-beet camp. And Tantalo's menu is the first I've seen since I don't know when to offer Waldorf salad, which immediately brings to mind an episode of the funniest sitcom ever made, Fawlty Towers.
If you've got room left after your pizza, sub or salad, Tantalo's has also got some decadent sweets, like deep-fried Twinkies or Oreos, or simple, freshly baked cookies.
My primary focus, of course, is the pizza. And this was good. Not so head-and-shoulders above other area pizzerias that I'd give it an A rating, but better than average. Nice crust, good toppings. So I'll give it a B.

Tantalo's Pizzeria, 3366 Latta Rd.
(585) 227-0080

Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 6 p.m.

Delivery available (min. order $12)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Blu, Pixley Road

I don't know what the breakdown is in terms of what sort of establishments sell pizza in Monroe County -- full-fledged pizzerias, convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants and bars, and whatever other vendors are out there -- but there are more bars and restaurants offering pizza than you might think. It's not as commonplace as, say, chicken wings or burgers, but you can find pizza on quite a few menus around town.
Which brings us to Blu, a restaurant and bar that opened about three years ago on Pixley Road in Gates, not far from the Buffalo Road exit off 490. They offer several varieties of pizza, and I went there recently for lunch with two companions.
One of my friends got a burger - which looked, and according to him, was very good - and the other got a basic pepperoni pizza. I opted for the "Westside Margherita," which was topped with garlic oil, red sauce, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, with a drizzle of a reduced balsamic-vinegar sauce.
First, the good news. Where they had toppings, the pizzas were fairly tasty. More on that later. Now the bad news. The crust wasn't so good.
Both the menu and our server made a point of emphasizing that the dough for Blu's pizza is made in house, but you could've fooled me. I'm not sure what the explanation is, but the one adjective we agreed upon for these crusts was "dry," and the interiors lacked the puffiness that I like to see with freshly made dough. I don't know if Blu is making their own dough and then freezing it, but that's a possibility, to judge from these.
Now I'm not saying that the crust was godawful, or that it was bone-dry, to the point of being crumbly; the crust just lacked the aroma and liveliness of freshly made dough. It was serviceable, but no better than that.
The pies did taste good. The pepperoni pie was appropriately simple, with nicely melted mozzarella and crisp, meaty, spicy cup-and-char pepperoni. If only the toppings had been spread more fully around the pie, which had in some areas a wide area of naked crust along the perimeter. A little thicker application of the basic, tomatoey sauce might also to some extent have offset the dryness of the crust.
As for my Margherita, it was atypical but enjoyable. This isn't the first time I've had a pizza with a balsamic vinegar sauce, and I'm not complaining about it, since I knew from the menu that the pizza was drizzled with balsamic vinegar, but it's not traditionally associated with classic Margherita pizza. It did add an interesting flavor twist to the pie, with its sweet-yet-acidic tang playing off the other toppings, and the added liquid was particularly welcome atop this crust.
Flavorwise, the other dominant feature of the Margherita was the garlic oil. I love garlic, and the flavor here was prominent, but not harsh.
The red sauce and mozzarella were, I believe, the same as on the pepperoni pie, although the cheese seemed a bit more scattered than on the pepperoni pizza.
The sliced tomatoes were nothing special, but in fairness, one can't expect terrific fresh tomatoes around here in December. But if I might make so bold as to offer a suggestion to pizzeria owners, consider skipping both the sauce and the fresh tomatoes, and substituting canned tomatoes, of high quality. Crushed, drained and lightly seasoned, they'll more than make up for the absence of both the sauce and the fresh but flavorless sliced tomatoes.
That leaves the basil. This pie was dusted with tiny bits of basil. I think it was fresh basil, but it was chopped very finely. It did add a little background flavor, but I would've preferred some larger bits of shredded basil, added at the end.
Blu offers a few other specialty pizzas, including a beef on weck pie and the "J.M.G.," topped with garlic oil, banana peppers, spinach, asiago, ricotta, and fresh mozzarella. They also have an interesting selection of mac & cheese, from bacon cheeseburger to lobster.
Having written this review, it may appear to be more scathing than it should. I don't want to slam Blu too much. While based on this visit, I can't advise going there for the pizza, my friend's burger was good, and I can't speak to the rest of the menu.
Maybe, if anything, this points up the issue of places that don't specialize in pizza adding pizza to their menus. Good pizza takes time, effort, and expertise, in a way that some other menu items may not. So while I would be fine going back to Blu sometime for one of those meaty, half-pound burgers, the pizza was a disappointment. Perhaps with some tweaking, they can get it right.
In terms of a rating, well, it's always easier to point out a pizza's flaws than its strengths. And again, these pizzas tasted pretty good; the flavor wasn't really the issue. The biggest problem was the crust, which was not so great, but not so bad as to ruin the pizza either. So while I can't say these were average, a "D" seems a little too severe. Let's call these a C-minus.

Blu, 250 Pixley Rd., Gates

(585) 247-0079

Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - midnight
Fri. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sat. 4:30 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Closed Sun. & Mon.