For a few weeks, it seemed that Robert del Grande’s Pizzeria Alto (in the West Ave development, upstairs from his terrific new restaurant called Ava) and I would be ships that pass in the night. The place didn’t get open until I was out of town, and then out of the country. For me, though, finding the perfect pizza is like a singer finding the perfect song.
In addition to a busy bar that makes a mean gin and tonic (I was told to come back in a few weeks, when del Grande will launch his own gin – I said yes!), there are some terrific appetizers at Pizzeria Alto. These shimp were citrusy and salty and perfectly crisp, just the right thing for dipping in cocktail and tartar sauces. My friend Almost Veggie and I discovered we both like to mix the two. One of the joys of eating is that, at least in the right company, you can.
One of my favorite things in the world is mushrooms, and Alto serves them stuffed and Bolognese-d. I don’t know for sure whether the Italian town of Bologna does such a thing, but after tasting these huge mushroom caps stuffed with melted cheese and meaty Bolognese, I think they need to start. Somebody at Pizzeria Alto makes Parmesan cheese look like snow. I wanted to bring my skis – except I’ve never skied and don’t really want to risk death after living through so much.
I’ve eaten a lot of artichoke dip in my life, it being one of the kneejerk things to make and take to parties when I was growing up. Many parties, in fact, featured more than one person’s version. But… none was quite as good as Pizzeria Alto’s, which uses large chunks of artichoke hearts in a creamy mix of cheese and probably cream or butter or something else fattening. The green arugula leaves provide a crunch and a pleasantly bitter counterpoint, kinda like my life.
Funny, as we both love “Greek salads,” Almost Veggie and I had to be talked into this one. We figured there had to be something more exotic, more, well, proprietary. At least something with a more tangled-up, cheffy-sounding name. But in the end, we succumbed to the charms of perhaps the best Greek salad this side of Ios when I was young, thin and tanned on that island in 1974. Which, of course, is asking way too much of a salad. It was super clean and crisp, not drenched and defeated by its dressing.
Eventually in a pizzeria, you really need to try a pizza. So of course we tried three. The margherita was comfort-food satisfying, though I personally prefer a cooked tomato-basil sauce to fresh, whole cherry tomatoes. The Vegetarian was a festival of texture and taste. Still, the eye-opener came topped with gorgonzola and Mission figs. I didn’t think I’d even like it. I loved it.
After a Matterhorn of raspberry sorbet to cleanse our taste buds (though after such a meal, who wants to?), we plunged into Pizzeria Alto’s “sourdough doughnuts.” I forget how the menu spells those words – a function of mixing gin and tonics with red wine, I’m sure – but they sure were good dipped in their chocolate sauce. I personally like my doughnuts lighter and airier, having grown up on beignets in New Orleans. But hey, I think any chef willing to give you a doughnut deserves gratitude.