You may remember that I excitedly joined Slow Food Vancouver Island this past June. The AGM was being held at Hilary’s Cheese just down the road, and I was ready to meet some other food-obsessed neighbours. That event was lots of fun, but there haven’t been any since. Until this past week.
The invite was tempting: dinner at Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria, $25 for all the antipasti and pizza you could eat, a tour and discussion of the wood-fired pizza oven and cooking techniques, and then the annual cookbook exchange. Now that’s a party!
It was a beautiful, rejuvenating evening that did just what slow food is supposed to do: nourish all of the senses as well as the soul. The new Bridge St location of the pizzeria is beautiful. It embodies that wonderful mix of warm and casual west coast with a recycled industrial edge. Note the concrete countertops/ bar and the amazing light fixtures (holes punched in the steel by the owners 🙂 ):
The star of the kitchen is the oven–I wish I could remember everything that our generous hosts–owners Geoff and Cristen Dallas–told us about how it came to be. I do remember that it was built to the detailed specifications of the traditional Napoli craftsmen and that even when the early staff come in to prep in the morning, the oven is still at 500 degrees. They use the heat to proof their baguettes and then cook them once the temperature comes down a little more. Then it gets fired up to its full heat to cook the pizzas for just a couple of minutes all afternoon and evening. Amazing!
The meal that came out of that oven was stunning. We started with antipasti platters of cheese, cured meat, quince paste and jelly squares, chunky tapenade and slices of oven baked thin focaccia. I paced myself with some idea of what was coming, and I’m glad I did.
Next up were large salad bowls of bitter greens dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then came the pasta. Homeade tagliatelle with rabbit and pomodori sauce. On this night, although I didn’t deliberately help myself to slices of meats on their own, I was not a vegetarian. The pasta (and the rabbit) was delicious, and despite knowing there was still pizza to come, I had two small helpings. Gorgeous!
There were 5 types of pizza, and I didn’t try them all (didn’t pace myself quite enough 🙂 ). On my first bite of the Margherita, though, I was surprised. I’ve read lots about Neapolitan pizza over the years, but I’ve never been to Italy, and never tried the real thing. I always assumed that the thin crust would mean there would be some crispiness that would complement all those flash-roasted toppings. But this pizza was chewy and soft–melt in your mouth! I asked Geoff about what makes the perfect pizza, what I should be looking for. He said the goal is a slight bit of crispiness only on the pizza’s outer edge, which should also be characterized by large holes. The pizza crust of this pizza looks like it has a deep edge, but it actually doesn’t. The illusion is formed because without the toppings weighing it down, the edge puffs up light and bubbly. The rest of the crust should be chewy and soft; “we’re not making a cracker,” he told me. Who knew?!
There was a funghi pizza that melted my heart–I love wild mushrooms and this was loaded, and just touched by the occasional crumble of gorgonzola. My favorite, though, was the special that night. I don’t remember all of it, and it’s possible I’m mixing up carmelized onions with the gorgonzola on the funghi. But I remember the smokiness of the grilled radicchio, the salty smokiness of the house cured ham, and that the whole thing tasted as good as anything I’ve ever eaten. Sorry there aren’t more photos!
The whole evening was memorable for its conversations, new connections, and much laughter around the communal wood tables flanked by the stacked split wood for the oven. I can’t wait to bring the Skipper down for another experience, can’t wait for the next Slow Food event, and can’t wait to build our own wood-fired pizza oven in the back yard! (Oh yes, there are plans….)
PS: For more detail on the pizza and the oven’s story, check out Don Genova’s blog–he’s also the illustrious Slow Food Vancouver Island convivium leader.