Pizza Party Pooper
|The Lu Lioni came with Italian sausage and red peppers.|
Last week I took some time out for a long weekend in Florence to visit a friend who is soon to return to the United States (effectively ending my free Florentine accommodation) and to see an exhibition on the impact of Flemish painting on Florentine painting in the 15th century – something about which the Florentines have been in denial since the days of Vasari and Michaelangelo. I also lounged on the Piazza della Repubblica in glorious sunshine, sipping Campari-sodas while all the world and his sister rolled by.
And ate, of course (a couple of reliable, not overpriced addresses below). The meals included pizza, which set me musing. My friend and I ate one day at a hole in the wall at the bottom of the steps to Piazza Michaelangelo and San Miniato. Inside were two tables for two, one of which we took. The other patrons sat at a few communal tables outside.
We were delighted with the pizzas the padrona served us, which were no bigger than a 12-inch plate, with a thin, delicately flavored crust and superb ingredients. It was a big snack, which was exactly what we were after. My pizza bianca had blobs of spinach and soft mozzarella and a few pieces of sizzling bacon. Patrick’s was a rossa, with Florentine sausage and some artichoke hearts on the tomato sauce base. Overkill this was not, so you could enjoy both the crust and the topping for themselves and in combination.
The last mouthful was still warm, too. One of the drawbacks of the 15-inch or more pizzas rife in Paris is that they go cold on you before you know it, and cold melted cheese is not my idea of heaven. In many pizza joints, too, there is an attempt to pile as many cheap ingredients on top as possible, which rather defeats the purpose of good food, but goes down well with less discerning youngsters, who need the bulk and who don’t know San Daniele from pata negra.
This was the chief characteristic at my local Pizza Hut, which I visited in the interests of research. This is truly what French philosophers, if they ever ate there, would call the degré zéro of pizza. Others would be tempted to call it the pits – with a caveat, since the service by the smiley staff (none of them, not even the manager, looked older than 23) was excellent. I admire that. But the pizza is pablum. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Which brings me to Amici Miei, a neighborhood Sardinian restaurant. I had asked around and checked the Web, and this one bills itself as having the best pizza in Paris. They don’t take reservations, and it gets pretty crowded (and hence noisy) in the earlier part of the evening. The diners are mostly thirty-somethings, and most of them were not eating pizza. In fact, I shall be going back to sample some of the Sardinian specialties. But we had gone there to eat pizza, and eat pizza we did.
Not without some antipasti first, of course – calamari with peas and tomato sauce, and baby squid al verde, cooked in garlic and parsley. Calamari and peas may sound odd, but it works. My baby squid were tender and tasty.
Be warned, though: the portions are generous. So generous that the starters would have satisfied, but we had to have our pizza. This, too, was massive (by French standards, anyway), completely covering a 15-inch plate and requiring heroic amounts of dexterity to cut it without sending it skittering into your companion’s, your neighbor’s or your own lap. In Florence, they use a wheel to divide pizzas into manageable proportions. Paris ought to adopt the practice.
My Quattro Mori had spicy sausage and arugula on top and the Lu Lione sausage meat and red peppers. We switched halfway through, but the scourge of pizza – heat loss – had set in by that time, and we only tinkered with the other half. We were also feeling rather full. The ingredients were excellent, so we were half-way there, but as size seems to matter here as elsewhere, we had the option of stuffing ourselves with lukewarm, soggy “crust” and ingredients or abandoning them to their fate.
The wine list is interesting, with a good selection of bottles below the €30 mark and an equal number well above that. We went for a €29 Nieddera 2005 by Casa Contini, a fairly rare (so the wine list told us) Sardinian growth that is a distant cousin of Grenache. It was a bit young and tannic, and would have benefited from being served in a carafe, but it went down well.
I shall abandon the ubiquitous pizza from now on, except in Italy and New York. And except as a snack. It’s urban peasant food that in small quantities can be blindingly good when that is what is needed and it is eaten on the hop. Next week, back to grown-up food.
Two places in Florence you might try if ever you get there are La Casalinga, a traditional trattoria straight out of a Fellini film, located next door to the Pitti Palace, and Lo Skipper, an excellent fish restaurant with a great wine list, a stone’s throw from San Marco. The latter has no sign on the street at all; to find it, you have to venture into the lobby of the palazzo.
Amici Miei: 44, rue Saint Sabin, 75011 Paris. Tel.: 01 42 71 82 62. Metro: Chemin Vert. Nearest Vélib stations: 69, Bd Beaumarchais; facing 23 Bd Richard Lenoir. Open lunch and dinner to 11pm, closed Sunday and Monday. A la carte: around €30*.
La Casalinga: Via dei Michelozzi, 9r, 50125 Florence. Tel.: 055 21 86 24. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday. Around €25*. www.trattorialacasalinga.it
Lo Skipper: Via Alfani 78/r, 50122 Florence. Tel.: 055 28 40 19. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Saturday lunchtime and all day Sunday. Around €30*.
* three courses, not including wine
Readers Anika Savage and Michael Sales write: “Following the link at the end of the article on Amici Miei, we found Lo Skipper Club in Florence. It was a terrific meal. I had brocala, swordfish wrapped around shrimp, capers, orange and other delectables. Molto buono! And it was also a great value. Thank you so much.”
© 2008 Paris Update
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