9-5-05 Neapolitan Pizza!
Who are the Italians? Once a bunch of clueless sheep herders, they somehow became the world's first superpower following the Roman conquest of Carthage during the three Punic Wars. Eventually they succumbed to laziness, decadence, and butt fucking. The latter is a joke that writes itself: the Romans picked up the art of anal sex from the newly conquered Greeks! Marcus Cato the Elder, the Rush Limbaugh of his day, complained loudly and often about the vices the Greeks had introduced into Roman culture (some things really never change).
After the Goths (the bearded heathens who wore bear skulls as helmets, not the pansies who listen to Morrissey) sacked Rome in 476, the Italians took a 1000 year coffee break. Then Venetian merchants, sailing all over the Mediterranean trading with new people in far-off lands, started to find all these strange ancient texts, written by weirdoes that the Church didn't approve of like Democritus and Plato. The old Greek and Arabic technology that Europe had forgotten about spread across the continent, which of course brought about the Renaissance.
Food production increased with the development of the metal plow and the yoke. Yes, the yoke. The most important invention that can be strapped on since the strapon. Without it, horses couldn't be used to pull the plow, so the farmers either had to push the plow themselves or lash it to an ox. Horses were faster and smarter than oxen, so using them to pull the plow saved time and allowed the faster accumulation of surplus food. With more food and extra time, people were finally able to do faggy stuff like sitting around thinking and drinking espresso and creating art. Artists, using the new techniques of perspective, stopped drawing people the same height as buildings.
Yet the Italians were no longer a political force, just a cultural one. They were too busy with constant in-fighting to conquer anyone else, splintered as they were into regional kingdoms and duchies like the Piedmont, Tuscany, Venice, Florence, and Naples, that could never get along. While England and France had been unified as modern nations for centuries, Italy was late to the game. It took until Italy until 1861 to unify, and by then nationalism was old hat. Even the USA was already 85 years old.
So what do you do when all the cool kids have passed you by? Ride one of their coattails, of course! After squiggling out of being on the losing side of WWI they made the worst possible mistake: siding with Hitler! Why'd they do that? Honestly, did they really think the Nazis would tolerate being allied with a bunch of guidos if they won the war? Mussolini always reminded me of the kind of guy who bought Amazon's stock when it cost $100 a share. Always a day late and a dollar short. Buy high, sell low. We all know someone like this. The literal definition of a chump.
Anyway, though the Italians are now unified, the regions still find shit to argue about, but one thing those dagos don't argue about is that the modern pizza was invented in Naples in 1871 by chef Raffaele Esposito. The classic cheese pizza was originally called “Pizza Margherita” after Queen Margherita di Savoia, who proclaimed it her favorite. 134 years later, enter the European Union. Bothered by the dilution of the word “pizza” by shitheaps like Pizza Hut, a series of rules were created to properly define the true “Neapolitan pizza.” The rules set the size of the pie, thickness of crust, number and type of toppings, and the cooking parameters. For instance, only a wood fired oven may be used, and the dough must be kneaded by hand, not rolled with a rolling pin nor a machine.
Contrary to what libertarians might proclaim at 2:00 am on public access television, the new rules actually seem to have encouraged innovation, because now there are three pizzerias here in Seattle that follow the new EU rules: Tutta Bella, La Vita E Bella, and Via Tribunali (which I'm guessing is too new or too ghetto to have a website).
So, being the public advocate I am, I took it upon myself to try out all three of these, plus two control groups (just to make it scientific):
Via Tribunali is the closest one to my house, so I went there first. Obviously these motherfuckers are very dedicated to all things Italian, because not only is the menu written entirely in Italian, but the fucking waitress was Italian. The interior décor is goth (here I'm talking about the Sisters of Mercy- listening pansy Goths, not the burly berserkers who sacked Rome), and strangely like a church with its cavernous ceilings and stained glass everywhere. We ordered the prosciutto e funghi (that's ham and mushrooms for you gringos and borscht belt motherfuckers), which set me back $15.95. The crust was light and flaky, but I found the very center of the pizza undercooked. As in, drippy and not cooked at all. Plus the “prosciutto” they used was a clear impostor: real Prosciutto di Parma should be stringy and delightfully salty. The fake prosciutto seemed more like Black Forest ham, and while I'm not against Black Forest ham, when I'm told I'm getting prosciutto, I goddamn want real prosciutto! The biggest plus of Via Tribunali was the house wine, which at $15 per liter is a pretty good deal for a decent (though somewhat flat) table wine.
This place is located in the hinterlands down south. I had to stare down a crazed lunatic on the bus to get there safely. But braving the terrors of the evil Ranier Valley becomes totally worth it once you sit down at Tutta Bella. Here, as at Via Tribunali, the house wine is cheap and plentiful: they don't even let you sit down without handing you a glass as you walk in the door. We tried the prosciutto e rucola (prosciutto and arugula). At $9.95, this pie was the cheapest of the three by far. It was perfectly done, though there was quite a bit of arugula on there. As in, it was almost like a salad on a crust. Still, it was damn tasty and they used real Prosciutto di Parma! The distance of this place from civilization is a bit of a barrier though.
La Vita E Bella
My favorite of the three, La Vita E Bella is located conveniently in Belltown. While Via Tribunali only hires real Italians to wait tables, and Tutta Bella just hires whoever walks in the door, La Vita E Bella takes a strange middle route: they hire people who appear to be Italian but who are actually from other countries. The waiter we had last time I was there was from Lebanon. Another time I overheard two of their staff conversing in Spanish. Something you can count on at this place: the Gamberoni al Pistachio (13.95) is fucking delicious. This dish is simple: prawns sauteed in olive oil with pesto, parsley, pine nuts, and of course pistachios, served on a bed of arugula. Superb. The caprese salad ($9.95) is of standard quality, but the pizza is naturally the real standout. The prosciutto e funghi is $13.95, and the crust is bubbly and chewy, with a delightful smear of soot on the bottom from the wood fire. They use real Prosciutto di Parma. The specials are usually good, but don't bother with the Anatra al Balsamico ($16.95). It's a sliced duck breast sauteed with pancetta in a balsamic reduction. It's too salty and the balsamic heavily dominates the flavor.
Now the control group! We tried the Pizza Hut thin crust with pepperoni and mushrooms (do I need to tell you they didn't have Prosciutto di Parma available as a topping?). Absolutely shitty, and it cost $16.48! The crust was thin but still too heavy, like a roofing shingle (or a stale cracker), and the pepperoni smelled like anus. Pizza Hut sucks. May God have mercy on your stomach if you patronize those shitholes!
The second control group is a surprise contender! Pizza Passion opened in this convenience store on Capitol Hill at Broadway and East Harrison. The store once housed this Turkish gyro place, which unfortunately (unfortunately because those doner kebaps were fucking badass) closed after the guy who owned it got deported back to Turkey. You see, his wife was his green card sponsor, but when the dude started cheating on her she revoked her sponsorship. Then back to Turkey! Moral of the story: only American citizens should cheat on their wives. Anyway, Pizza Passion eventually replaced the gyros place, and it's actually worth it! A slice of cheese is $1. Pepperoni is $1.50. It's cheap, the slices have a good sauce and a decent cornmeal crust, and plus it's open until 3:00 am. So if you're out drinking until after Dick's closes, you've got a backup plan.
I'm tired of writing now, so to sum it up: go to La Vite E Bella. If you can't get a table, get in your car and drive down to Tutta Bella. If they're full, try Via Tribunali. If they're full, then there's always Pizza Passion. But if you're willing to drive all over the goddamn town looking for pizza, then you suck. Or you're pregnant. Though the conundrum here is that maybe if you had sucked, you wouldn't be pregnant.