Landini’s Pizzeria & Spanish red

The recent boom of trendy bars and restaurants in San Diego’s Little Italy has been all the chatter about town. From the killer wine list at Juniper & Ivy to the shiny upstairs patio of Kettner Exchange, there is plenty to talk about and more foodie fodder still to come. While old neighborhood standards may harrumph about with speculation as to what the competition means for business, the influx of roaming drunk hoards seems well-suited for a pizza joint to thrive in and Landini’s Pizzeria is situated within easy stumbling distance of it all.

San Diego kitchens shut down disappointingly early for a city that parties nightly until two. As bars unleash batches of wooing hot messes and their socially oblivious companions into the streets, Landini’s becomes a magnet for inebriated pizza zombies drawn to the ever-appreciated business model of late-night slices.

Initially enticed by the menu’s fancy sounding toppings of brussel sprouts and butternut squash, I opt for a less cerebral treat after standing in line between drunk toddlers in celebratory feather boas indicating some holiday nigh. Instead, the very chill people of Landini’s recommend a standard issue pepperoni pie, to which I add tomato and mushroom to half and contribute what I can to send some cat to ninja school.

landini's pizzeria

The toppings don’t seem to matter beyond pepperoni as the base components make up the whole of the pizza’s personality. A soft core that runs from crust to cheese is enlivened with collected pockets of juicy tomato sauce and a chewy texture. While the tomato and mushroom are decorative at best, contributing nothing much beyond texture to the pie, the pepperoni is spiced perfectly, calling for a bigger style of red wine to be its match.

landini's pizza and wine 3

Bodega Margon Pricum (Tierra de León, 2007) is a Spanish red made up solely from the Prieto Picudo red grape of the region. Upon opening, the wine is immediately taut, tannins strained and fruit ungiving, and in need of time to breathe. Decanting is an option, offering more surface area for oxygen to interact with the wine and hasten its evolution, while swirling in glass offers smaller format aeration for those seeking to enjoy a glass or two.

As the wine opens up, aromas of black tea, pepper, and dusty earth are at first most notable. Dark fruit flavors emerge in the form of black cherry and blackberries that provide a counterbalance to the meaty landscape of the pizza and inherent spice never overwhelms the wine. With plumply ripe fruit aromas and moderately higher alcohol, there is just enough acidity to match the tomato sauce while the scrubby tannins play nicely off each cheesy bite.

landini's leftovers

Leftovers are an undeniable truth of pizza eating for one. To step up my pizza game, I ditched the microwave and learned a stovetop method for reheating pizza that revives any lifeless crust on the fly. All it takes is a pan prepped to low-medium heat with slices placed in dry for a crisp bottom while covering with a lid to heat the toppings evenly. Serve with eggs and call it breakfast.

Buona Forchetta & Falanghina

Buona Forchetta is a quietly trendy South Park restaurant priding itself in traditional Italian fare and a pretty dope ambiance. An incredible amount of hype built up by local pizza fanatics sets expectations high, especially when personal experience with a range of dishes has placed overall consistency into question. Even still, ravings over Buona Forchetta pizza persists, making their cuisine an on-going, sometimes obsessive study. Curiosity strikes with every recommendation for the place and I find myself perusing the menu again and again, tempting my hunger with the array of options.

buona forchetta pizzas

Close proximity to Hamilton’s, South Park’s keeper of great beers, usually green lights the decision to make the trek for pizza. With sours kept well stocked, Hammy’s is my first stop regardless of whether I’m waiting for a table or saying ambiance schmambiance and ordering a pizza to-go. Although much of Buona Forchetta’s overall experience can be extracted from the quaint atmosphere reminiscent of the chef’s homeland, isolation from the romantic distractions of strung up lights and Italian accents can be quite revealing and just as satisfying. Carry-out means no corkage fee, but it’s worth mentioning that the corkage fee here is extremely reasonable at ten dollars per bottle.

buona forchetta ambiance

Buona Forchetta (left) credit: San Diego Magazine

From the belly of the kitchen’s shiny centerpiece oven, Sofia, built by third generation oven-maker Stefano Ferrara, comes an order of the Sergio pizza. The pie is one of the more popular choices featuring prosciutto di parma, arugula, parmesan and buffalo mozzarella. The pizza is a winner from the very first bite with flavors singing harmoniously together as bright parmesan and milky fresh mozzarella balance with a base of light and acidic tomato sauce. Meanwhile, the prosciutto and arugula not only contributed with bursts of flavor, their layers also enhance the texture of the chewy dense crust, making each bite immensely satisfying.

buona forchetta sergio

With buoyant pizza flavors presented in a classic Neapolitan style, the streak of lesser known Italian wines continues on with Falanghina (2010 Feudi Di San Gregorio, Falanghina del Sannio DOC), a fragrant white wine hailing from Campania in Southern Italy. As the grassy arugula cuts through powerful cheesy core with refreshing bitterness, the cheese in turn bridges the lean vegetal notes of the arugula with the bright acidity in the wine. In general, lively wines with plenty of acidity can gracefully manage cheesy situations while also playing the same role as a squeeze of lemon with bitter greens. The meaty, salty prosciutto enhances stone fruit flavors of peach and apricot in the wine while red apple and tangerine aromas contribute to its juicy, refreshing style. With delicious flavors in full balance, this pizza and wine pairing requires no more than sweatpants and a couch to appreciate this winning combo.

Mona Lisa & Vouvray

Mona Lisa is an Italian market, deli and restaurant prized for keeping harder-to-find goods like white anchovies, fresh pasta, and Italian amari. Having contemplated the deli-section artichokes with hungry eyes, I opted for Pizza Bianca, a white spinach pie, with the addition of artichokes. Expectations for a delicate, light pizza were shattered upon its arrival.

mona lisa collage

An entire atmosphere of mozzarella with puffy clouds of ricotta engulf the toppings below making this pie look intimidatingly rich compared to original expectations. Surprisingly, the crust maintained a thin and crispy base with a doughy upper layer that unified well with the pillowy topography above. Each bite was like a lunar exploration, never quite knowing what might be unearthed from within the rocky cheesescape.

When given the task of pizza topping, artichokes offer some tangy relief that regulates super cheesy situations. As the main representative of spring on the classic Four Seasons pizza, artichokes have a long-standing relationship with Italy, where its cultivation is the highest worldwide. Even still, artichokes are notoriously frustrating to pair with wines, requiring a tart, acid-driven white wine to offset the organic acid known as cynarine that makes everything taste sweeter. With a geeky weakness for acidic, mineral driven whites, I plucked a bottle of Vouvray to pair, no problem.

domaine huet

Vouvray is a French wine region of the Loire Valley producing medium-bodied whites made entirely of Chenin Blanc. The style rewards in its complexity, displaying a wide range of aromas spanning from quince to cheese rind, wet wool to chamomile. 2013 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Sec is youthful and dry with notes of citrus peel, wet asphalt and bruised yellow apples. For a pizza burly with cheese, Vouvray offers a vibrant backbone to the experience, refreshing enough for intensely creamy bites and dry enough to stand up to the sweetening effects of the artichokes. Vouvray has long been my number one homie, but now we’re officially pizza homies.

Pizzeria Luigi & Temecula Zinfandel

Let’s begin the great 2015 San Diego pizza adventure with the basics: pepperoni pizza from Pizzeria Luigi, a no-fuss pizzeria often listed by locals as a favorite, paired with 2009 Reserve Primitivo from Wiens Cellars of nearby Temecula Valley. The bottle was a gift from a fellow sommelier with the sole stipulation that it could only be opened with pizza by its side. So be it.

altogether luigi and weins

Though its origins have been genetically tracked back to Croatia, Primitivo is the Italian name for the varietal we know better as Zinfandel. With this nominal borrowing, it’s not surprising to find some stylistic leanings towards the more acid-driven wines of Italy. Acid in wine is a great accompaniment to most food, especially foods high in acid themselves like tomato-based cuisine. The acidity in this Primitivo is balanced enough to stand up to hearty pizza sauce while the tannins, textured and dusty, are a perfect complement to rich cheese. Though somewhat leaner than the ass-kicking abv levels of 16% found elsewhere in California, this Zinfandel is thoroughly New World in style, driven by ripe fruit aromas and a full body. The generous heaps of dark raspberry and blackberry fruit provide a lovely, uncomplicated counterpart to every saucy bite of pizza.

It’s easy to get smitten over an abundance of sauce on a pizza, especially thin-crust, since it’s so rare to find naturally in the wild. The chewy crust holds up well under the weight of the bright, herbaceous tomato sauce so generously spread on while the pepperoni slices supply a faint but distinct spiciness. Any lengthy focus on minute details beyond this would only take away from the experience. Like the wine, this pie isn’t built for complexity. Pizzeria Luigi supplies straightforward New York style pizza relying on classic flavors without being overly complicated, which is perfect for an indulgent night of Parks & Rec in sweatpants.