Here comes a rant…… I ain’t buying it! When I read Alan Richman’s article “American Pie” I was floored to learn that there was a pizza place in San Francisco that made his top 25 IN THE COUNTRY (YES ALL CAPS) and I haven’t been there! How could it be? If anyone knows the pizza of San Francisco, especially Neapolitan style, it’s me, right? You read my blog, you know.
I dug further. Michael Bauer raved in his “Pizza Friday” blurb in 2007. Then he did it again in 2009. I searched my back-issues of Tablehopper and found mentions on Sep 18 2007, Nov 13 2007, Mar 4 2008, Aug 12 2008, Mar 31 2009 and May 26 2009. Marcia calls it “one of her favs”. I started to think that if I was ever going to do this blog justice, I might have to abandon my business and search for pizza night and day.
Of course I had to go. I took one of my pizza compadres, BH, and our lady-folk along and journeyed to exotic Glen Park. I was gonna have great pizza! But I didn’t. Sorry, no intent to offend. No disrespect to Marcia, Michael or Alan – but you’re all crazy. The pizza at Gialina simply doesn’t hold up.
Given, the place is very charming, especially for Glen Park. It’s modern, clean and bustling. There are lots of windows and it feels very inviting. The clientele seems generally proud and excited to eat there. We had a number of people tell us we were in for a treat. It felt cultish, which furthered my embarrassment that Gialina was off my radar.
We started with meatballs, covered with provolone. I found the balls to be tasty enough, but they were drowned in sauce and cheese. Lose the sauce, lose the cheese. If you’re making good meat, showcase the meat. Which brings me to their antipasti plate, filled with Boccalone goods. I’ve said it before – I’m just not bowled over by Boccalone. For some reason it worked better at Beretta, but here the accouterments and presentation just lacked. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t all that good.
The best app they served was “Long Cooked Romano Beans w/ preserved lemon”. I commented that it reminded me of Italy. Seriously, it was one of those experiences that transports you straight to the heart of a Roman trattoria. I can’t say the same of the “Leaf Lettuces w/ cherries, goat cheese & pistachios”. All I could muster was ‘meh’. The little gems looks infiinitely better and I was sorry for taking the waitress’s suggestion.
But this was about pizza. I was going to have one of the best 25 pizzas in America. All is forgiven. Bring on the pie. We ordered the margarita, which is my reference point pie, despite the waitress’s comment that it wasn’t her favorite. We did try her favorite and the reason for the GQ kudos, “Wild Nettles w/ Boccalone pancetta, mushrooms, red onions & provolone”.
I must preface my comments with some information. In 2004 the Italian government drew up a series of laws to protect the integrity of pure Neapolitan pizza making. You can read an article from the BBC here. This is the standard for which I base my opinions of this style of pizza. It comes as a result of generations of tradition and they really got it right. Everything from acidity and sweetness in the tomatoes to fat content of the cheese, the temperature of the oven and the resulting smokiness and pliability of the crust are all considered. If you’re interested in learning more, a school is opening in North Beach by America’s premier Pizzaiolo, Tony Gemignani, called the International School of Pizza. I’m signing up for a class. I’m building a wood-fired oven in my backyard.
So, back to Gialina. The crust was the most troubling element. It was yeasty, dense and a little chewy. I’ve had this happen to me when I pick up a Trader Joe’s dough that was from an off-batch. So, perhaps tonight they were working with sub par goods? It just wasn’t right. Still, neither the sauce or the cheese worked (look at the photo). It seems that pizzerias are skimping more and more on the cheese. Bad move. Not too much, but NEVER too little.
Then we tried the famed nettle creation. Same problem with the dough. The nettles were fine and tasty. The pancetta was nice. I didn’t really get the addition of mushroom and all-combined it was an acceptable pie. But best in the country? Not even close. Maybe best in Glen Park. Maybe best South of Piccino. But not even close to best in the city. Nate Appleman could dance circles around this pie. Craig Stoll makes better dough in his sleep (which may be also when he is awake because I don’t get much personality there – ouch).
I know I am a snob. But that’s what makes me a zealot. I have to have an opinion, and unfortunately today I’m not a fan of Gialina. No harm, no foul. Ok, I’m done. Rant over. Back to Mr. Nice Guy. Have a nice day.