Time was you couldn’t find an authentic Italian pizza in Paris to save your soul. Just about every pizzeria, so many of them run by people without a drop of Italian blood, had identical lists of pizzas (margarita, quatre saisons, etc.) and turned out standardized, Frenchified versions of them. I dreamed in vain of finding a pizza like the one I once had in a lovely little town on the island of Ischia. The pizzeria was on a backstreet with no view of the port and no tourists, and I still remember the ecstasy of the first bite of that simple pie, with the power of fresh garlic perfectly balancing the mild, creamy burrata, now a cliché but then a revelation to me, and acidic cherry tomatoes, as only the Italians can grow them.
Today, however, good pizzerias are popping up like posies all over Paris. This week I tried Simonetta on the Canal de l’Ourcq, a popular new place that offers Neapolitan-style (thick, yeasty crust) pizzas made with organic flour and boasts on its website that its wood-fired oven, the “bambini” working in the kitchen and all the ingredients are imported from Italy.
It turns out, however, that the restaurant is not actually owned by Italians, but by Aleksandra Stojanovic and Aurélien Gautier, who also own the nearby French restaurant Maison Becquey (34, quai de la Marne, 75019 Paris). No matter: sometimes the French are better at national cuisines than the originals: witness the great French-owned barbecue place Melt. And the couple is helping to bring new culinary life to the once-deserted Canal de l’Ourcq, now a hugely popular place to hang out, stroll, picnic, take boat rides and go to the movies.
Between the four of us, we tried three different pizzas (pasta is also available), after sampling a couple of bruschette, one with gorgonzola and confit red onions, and the other with tomato sauce, eggplant and Parmesan, both of which were fine but not too exciting.
I chose my pizza, the Castagna, because it had a topping I had never before encountered: chestnut cream with red wine. I couldn’t really detect any chestnut flavor, however, and thought this white pizza (no tomato sauce) would have been rather bland if it weren’t the other toppings: lovely Italian sausage and arugula. The voluminous crust was chewy (as it should be) and light.
The two pizzas my friends ordered were both delicious. The meaty one, the Brisaola, sported bresaola (dried beef), lemon cream (not really present), Parmesan, cherry tomatoes, arugula and fresh basil.
On the vegetarian side (plenty of no-meat options were available) was the Mulignana, with San Marzano tomatoes, fior di latte mozzarella, grilled eggplant cooked to a turn, Parmesan and fresh basil. Excellent.
I wanted to try the desserts, but my diet-minded friends fought me tooth and nail. They finally agreed to share one, but it took so long to arrive (the waiter forgot) that we finally gave up. The extremely slow service in the obviously understaffed restaurant was the only real drawback, but the servers were so sweet and friendly that it was impossible to get angry with them.
The decor, by the way, is an attraction – with big basket-like shades on the lamps hanging from the high ceiling, plenty of natural light from the big windows with a view of the canal, antique cabinets and lots of green plants – as is the lively ambiance.
I still haven’t relived that ottimo pizza experience I had on Ischia, but I won’t be surprised if it happens soon at one of the new Parisian pizzerias.