Dining: Pizza for the Particular
I went looking for pizzas that would make the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana happy.
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35 N. Hotel St. // 537-3535 // Monday through Friday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. // Street parking (good luck), major credit cards // www.bar35hawaii.com
Bar 35 has become a hip hangout—even though the entire clientele, me included, looks awfully straight.
It’s not a great bar; only George Seabold (he’s the bartender who’s not one of the young women with tattoos) can mix a reliable cocktail. Still, it’s dark and loud, and the only thing to eat is pizza.
Thank heavens, it’s great pizza, created by Tuscany-born chef Francesco Valentini. Valentini’s crusts are Roman—oblong, served on rectangular wooden paddles. But his pizzas are also Californian, in the sense that Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse first started topping pizzas with almost anything she felt like, a trend that was picked up by Wolfgang Puck and then by the two lawyers who started California Pizza Kitchen.
Valentini calls his, “fusion” pizzas, though his “Italian Perdition” ($12) is reasonably classic: fennel-heavy Italian sausage, anchovies, San Marzano tomato sauce and melted mozzarella—all on a nicely irregular crust, edges burned brown by the brick electric oven. “Good as this is,” said my friend, “the crust is the best part.”
Valentini went wild on his other recipes. I was sad to see eliminated from the menu the “Black Sea” pizza, topped with seafood, the crust dyed black with squid ink. “Local people weren’t ready for black pizza,” says Valentini.
Among the pizzas nouveau, we contented ourselves with “Smokey Heaven” ($12), with—heresy!—cream cheese. But the cream cheese is saved from insipidity by smoked salmon, red onion and the blue cheesy bite of Gorgonzola. Don’t tell the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, but this was one of the most interesting pizzas I encountered all month.
Valentini keeps threatening to open his own pizza place with a wood-burning oven. Please.
Sergio's Italian Restaurant
Hee Hing Plaza, 449 Kapahulu Ave. // 737-4461 // Dinner nightly 5 to 9:30 p.m. // Free and valet parking // www.sergioshonolulu.com
“Where are you taking me to dinner?” said my most particular friend. “Pizza,” I said.
She gave me a fierce eye. “I expect a decent dinner,” she said, and steered me to Sergio’s, the less-expensive, more family-friendly sister of the Hilton restaurant, recently opened in the old Sam Choy Kapahulu location.
It hardly looks like a place to eat pizza. As I looked over the menu—Ossobuco alla Milanese, Pollo alla Romagnolla—I was sad I was on a mission.
Then chef Alfredo Lee sent to all the tables in the dining room a slice of his Pizza Margherita, perfect crust, lively with fresh tomato and a knot of fresh basil. Maybe pizza wouldn’t be too bad.
Since this was a full-on restaurant, we started with salads. I wanted Lee’s version of Caprese. “No, I’m ordering that, try something else, I’ll share,” said my friend.
I had the deconstructed pear salad, one of those standard cheese-fruit-nut-greens combos, this one with dabs of Gorgonzola, Nalo greens, candied walnuts, and—the best touch—slices of pear that had been grilled before being fanned out on the plate.
All this paled beside the Caprese—not the usual slices of tomato and mozzarella, but instead a giant egg of Buffalo mozzarella stuffed with ricotta and mascarpone cheeses, surrounded by paper-thin roasted eggplant slices, roasted peppers and local tomatoes, the plate squiggled with basil-infused oil and roasted bell pepper sauce.