By Mollie McWilliams
By Molly Gore
By Pete Kane
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As we walked back to the car, juggling leftover boxes (the small pizzas were big enough for two), Robert shocked me by saying, "That's as good as any meal we've had together," and it wasn't the RazorEdge lager talking. I reminded him of some pretty swell and much fancier meals we'd shared, but he stuck to his guns. "I said as good," he said, "not better." I told him that Levine had mentioned A16, Pizzetta 211, the Café at Chez Panisse, and Tommaso's in his California chapter, which I'd glanced through but not read, and Robert said that was a good list, though he wondered why Levine hadn't included Berkeley's Nizza La Bella. "Oh," I said, conscience-stricken, "he did; I guess I didn't remember because I've never eaten pizza there."
Reading Levine on his five-pizza-parlor day in Philadelphia (kinda successful) and four-pizza-place 24 hours in Washington, D.C. (not so hot), inspired me to take Robert out to a two-place lunch the next day. Robert's not so big on lunch on a workday, but he was still glowing from dinner. We started at A16, which he was surprised to find calm and quiet (dinner, when every seat is filled, is something of a riot). We ordered a funghi pizza and another topped with broccoli rabe, though everything on the six-pizze list looked enticing -- even more so when, for example, the most beautiful margherita pizza, gently cupping soft white pools of mozzarella, arrived at the table next to us. The funghi came topped with lots of whole chiodini mushrooms (pale, looking a bit like oyster mushrooms, and elusive in flavor) along with grana padano (an Italian cheese), garlic, oregano, parsley, and olive oil; the broccoli rabe was carpeted with the green, minced almost to a mash, plus pecorino, garlic, chilies, olive oil, and nice fatty chunks of pink pancetta. But the glory was the crust -- puffy, chewy, blackened in bits. "That's what I like," I said. "Scotto," Robert said. "Scorched. In bakeries in Rome I'd see people rejecting loaves of bread -- piu scotto." (Only A16, of the three places we visited, has a wood-fired oven. Both Pizzetta 211's and Little Star's ovens are gas-fired.) We were mindful that more pizza awaited us, but we couldn't resist a light dessert -- a ball of whipped ricotta and a scoop of barely crystallized orange granita atop a heap of blood orange slices. Amazing.
846 Divisadero St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
Region: Haight/ Fillmore
Deep-dish sausage $15/small, $19/large
Thin-crust combo $17/small, $21/large
Broccoli rabe pizza $10.50
Funghi pizza $13
Egg, nettles, and lamb sausage pizzetta $13.75
Pepperoni, tomato, and mozzarella pizzetta $10
Little Star Pizza, 846 Divisadero (at Fulton), 441-1118. Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Reservations accepted for parties of eight or more. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 5, 24. Noise level: moderate to high.
A16, 2355 Chestnut (at Scott), 771-2216. Open for lunch Wednesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult, except valet parking on weekends. Muni: 28, 30, 43, 76. Noise level: low at lunch, very high at dinner.
Pizzetta 211, 211 23rd Ave. (at California), 379-9880. Open Wednesday through Friday for lunch from noon to 2:30 p.m., and for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m.; open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday. No reservations. Bathroom not wheelchair accessible. Parking: difficult. Muni: 1, 2. Noise level: low to high.
By the time we slid into an equally amazing parking place right in front of Pizzetta 211 (Hollywood parking), I was hungry again. "Oh, it's a tiny little place," Robert said. "I thought you'd been here," I noted. "Nope," he replied. "It opened when I was unemployed." After a brief menu consultation, Robert staked out the biggest mosaic table outside, under a shady tree, and I ordered two pizzettas at the counter: Rosie's farm egg, nettles, and lamb sausage, and a tomato, mozzarella, and basil with pepperoni. "The first time I ate here," I said, pointing to the Four Star theater down the street, "was after a dispiriting morning at an Asian film festival there. The first movie was in Chinese and it didn't have English subtitles; our money was refunded, but I stuck around and watched it because I was planning on seeing the next movie -- during which I fell asleep. And then I happened to pass by here on my way back to my car and had the most delicious little pizza and a swell espresso and decided that's why God had made me come out here way too early on a weekend morning."
The two pizzettas at 211 were even better than the ones I remembered. The lamb sausage version was happily topped with two sunny-side-up eggs, so we each got one, their yolks still soft enough to ooze golden-orange richness when cut into. The nettles didn't seem to do much, or at least not as much as the faintly peppery pea shoot tendrils scattered atop the ethereal pie. Even more ethereal was the pepperoni, whose crust was the thinnest either one of us had ever seen. I'd brought Levine's book to show Robert, who was incensed to see that the author had lumped the Bay Area and Los Angeles together in one chapter, and disparagingly so, at that (the chapter begins, "California is, on the whole, a lousy pizza state"): "S.F. and L.A. are further apart than New York and Boston, and I bet he didn't put them in the same chapter." I was too full of perfect food, whether a or the, to care.
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