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.

Napizza and uncommon Italian DOCGs

For a by-the-slice concept, Napizza is a pretty swanky spot holding down a coveted corner in Little Italy, the land of shiny new restaurants. With more than a handful of pizza options nearby, Napizza has established itself as a “healthy and organic” option, a modern trend that tends to litters walls and websites with a fatiguing number of buzzwords. With marketing so fiercely tuned in, it is best to hit mute and let the flavors speak for themselves.

napizza cover

Behind the display window, each pizza offering sings its own siren song, drawing me in until I focus my hunger on the Truffle Porcini and Parmigiana, two slices destined for a set of Italian pairings.

napizza both pizzas

Built on a focaccia bread base, the medium-style pizza has a crisp olive oil crust that helps maintain the structure, allowing for weighty toppings such the mess of eggplant and chunky tomato on the slice of Parmigiana. A smothering of pesto with each bite offers a glitter of garlic spice and tangy green brightness. Meanwhile, the personality of the pizza stays true to the name, singing of simple Italian cuisine, hearty, earthy and satisfyingly cheesy.

napizza eggplant and cerasuolo

Azienda Agricola COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG, Sicilia, 2011 is produced from the first and only DOCG of Sicily. The ruby red wine is made predominately from the black grape Nero d’Avola, Frappato making up a 30-50% minority. In this bottling, the dominant varietal expresses itself with finely grained tannins found in the wine while the latter varietal can be seen through red berry aromas of dehydrated raspberry and cranberry, further emphasized by the savory pizza elements of eggplant and pesto. The refreshing acidity is quite appealing with such a rich style of pizza while a soft note of wood provides a plush finish as does a lingering note of tobacco and black tea. The pairing isn’t perfectly aligned, each element playing its own instrument and not quite harmonizing. It comes together like an awkward first date, whereas the next one is like a long-awaited, romantic night out.

napizza nebbiolo and mushroom

The Truffle Porcini slice hits the palate with a roar of mushrooms, herbs and truffle notes. Such an aggressive umami overload puts our first wine in an aromatic stranglehold, demanding a larger player. Travaglini, Gattinara DOCG, Piedmonte, 2008 is a playful companion to this slice, swinging at its oily center with all the elevated acidity that accompanies the varietal, Nebbiolo. Known locally as Spanna, Nebbiolo makes up 100% of the wine even though a minimum of 90% composition is required for Gattinara DOCG.

In the last pizza pairing, Nebbiolo was featured through Palmina’s New World interpretation whereas in Gattinara, Nebbiolo is in its homeland of Piedmont, where Barolo and Barbaresco represent the pinnacle of its expression. Even though Gattinara is a more approachable style, it still comes dressed up with purple flowers, violets and roses as well as fresh leather, orange peel and baked cherry pie. The tart red fruits are tangy with personality and a quick burst of tannins add fireworks to this hot little love fest.

postscript: the uniquely-shaped bottle was designed in 1958 to diminish the need for decanting by catching sediment naturally. For three years, I walked around thinking the misshapen bottle recovered from a vineyard fire as lore would have it. Oh, how humbling fact checking can be. Also, embarrassing.

Surf Rider Pizza & Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Tucked away from the Ocean Beach bustle of daytime drinkers, surfers and street gypsies, Surf Rider Pizza Café is a neighborhood gem with a local following earned with their east-coast style pizzas and welcoming hospitality. Unruffled by its OB pizza competitors (Newport Pizza and Pizza Port, gobbling up much of the Newport Avenue foot-traffic with their respective sets of fancy beers), Surf Rider prides itself in churning out a quality product with a zen-like OBcian attitude that spanks a little love into each of their hand-tossed pies.

The signature “Surf Rider Pizza,” is a mainstay in the by-the-slice offerings with roasted garlic, gorgonzola, basil, and tomatoes to entice hungry browsers. Even more tempting, the “Bacon Rider” specialty pie sports all the goodies of the house style with the brilliant addition of bacon, a decisive detail that wins my order. Mere blocks away, 3rd Corner wine shop and bistro keeps shelves stocked with fun wines, from which I source this week’s pairing: The Flood Pinot Noir (Chapter 24, Willamette Valley, 2012).

surfrider wine & pizza

Atop the thin chewy crust of the Bacon Rider, flavor colonies populate the cheesy plains in small groupings of finely chopped bacon and juicy tomatoes. Toppings are kempt and well integrated with the occasional sleeping giant of roasted garlic disrupting the scenery. While subtle in flavor, each bite of garlic clove disperses a tidal wave of sweet aromatic pulp that coats the palate with a soft-focus filter. At the opposite end of the spectrum, gorgonzola is immediately vivid and boisterous, giving the pizza a briny backbone.

slice & a glass

The new world Pinot Noir plays a refreshing role in the balancing act of this pairing, enveloping all the savory elements with a blanket of dark berry fruit. In turn, the contrasting saltiness of the pizza brightens these rhubarb and stewed strawberry qualities in the wine, which sing extra loud in the presence of bacon or roasted garlic. Layered aromas of black pepper, nutmeg, saline and damp earth builds upon this Pinot Noir like a cinematic portrayal of Hi-C’s Flashin’ Fruit Punch dabbling in a high school goth phase: a bubbly, fruity core indulging in dark makeup and a more complex sense of identity.

To contribute to the annual social event of going glossy-eyed numb while friends gather around the television for Super Bowl Sunday, I have gone samurai on my leftovers, chopping them into finger-food-sized pieces. Topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil, these puppies make for a pretty Pinterestable Super Bowl snack to share. In tow, the remaining wine will be a delightful byob treat to shed the gloss from my eyes and make this year’s Super Bowl that much less dreadfully boring.

super bowl sunday

Berkeley Pizza & the Rhône Valley

In a Chicago pizza joint last year, I joined four hungry locals in ordering a pizza from Lou Malnati’s, a classic Chicago chain. A deep-dish novice, I sat quietly outraged at what I thought was a rather prudish order of a single pie. At most, we could evenly divide the pizza into a slice and a fraction of another. It was only until halfway into my first slice that I had finally realized what everyone else at the table had grown up knowing: Chicago pizza is a beast.

A lifetime of thin-crust preferences has led me to demolish slice after slice without thought, taking down minimally half a pizza order, depending on size. To have a starvation-level hunger smacked down by a single slice felt like an embarrassment. A couple of us made idealistic moves towards a second slice but despite our efforts we still walked away with leftovers.

Deep-dish pie looks more like actual pie than the flatbread pizza of the rest of the world. Toppings are layered upside-down with a chunky tomato sauce keeping quiet the secrets of what lies below. Chicago-style pizza is all but overlooked in San Diego, but the spirit lives on strong in the few places that do champion the style.

Berkeley Pizza is an oasis from the soulless clumping of restaurants and bars tourists so lovingly refer to as the Gaslamp District. They bait the hot mess of drunk fools and hoards of clubbers roaming the streets with a chill vibe, respectable lineup of beers, late hours, and pizza by the slice. Berkeley Pizza has recently cast a net in North Park, a fresh pond of drunk fools, with a new location posted up between Coin-Op Game Room and The Office. It was from here I ordered a couple slices, a classic pepperoni and their signature combo of spinach & mushroom, to be whisked home between two paper plates for a pairing.

berkeley pizza slices

Such a rich and robust pizza requires a rich and robust wine to match. Acidity is also important so to the Old World we go, specifically the Rhône Valley in southern France. Once a papal summer palace, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a Southern Rhône region that produces red wines made from a blend of up to 13 different varietals, with Grenache at its core.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of Robert Parker’s favorite styles of wine, which he prizes for its immediate parade of “intellectual and hedonistic elements” that generally takes great age-worthy wines decades to develop. Robert Parker reflects this same attitude in many of the wines chosen for high scores on his 100-point scale, providing consumers looking for those ripe and approachable styles a shortcut in research. While I dabble in the other end of the stylistic spectrum these days, I began my love of wine with juicy, sun-humped wines of the New World and moved away only to explore other styles for education purposes. Though I never returned, I can always enjoy a plumped up red, hedonistic and generous with fruit.

Hedonistic is right. The 2012 Domaine de Saint Siffrein (Châteauneuf-du-Pape) opens up hot and lush with stewed berry aromas of raspberry and blackberry pie on a backdrop of matted earth and dried leather. With just enough acidity to balance the wine’s weighty presence, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape is bold enough to handle the monster punch of flavor divvied out in each bite. Meanwhile, the tomato sauce is alive, racy with acidity, fighting an internal battle with globs of cheese and thick, buttery crust threatening to overwhelm the senses. Shockingly, the crust is sturdy enough handle the lasagna of weight above and all can be managed without a fork and knife. And thank the pizza gods for that, lest we disappoint Jon Stewart.
forkgateWith all toppings drenched beyond recognition with pizza sauce and cheese, there is almost no perceptible difference between the two different slices except for the intense animal charisma and lingering spice brought on by the pepperoni. The spiciness, while subtle, doesn’t bode well for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape as perception of alcohol, considerably elevated for an Old World wine, is exacerbated by spiciness in food. In the wake of this realization, I reach for a different bottle of the same region in France to play nice with the pepperoni slice.

St. Joseph

In the neighboring Northern Rhône, red wines showcase Syrah almost exclusively, where the varietal displays aromas of cured meats, olives and leather with black pepper and a medley of dark berries. The comparatively cooler climate of these northern vineyards offers up a bit more acidity to their fruit, and allows for leaner alcohol levels in wine while keeping a firm and powerful frame. Some of the most classic representations of Syrah come from small regions such as Cornas and Hermitage. Though variable in quality as the largest appellation of Northern Rhône, St. Joseph is stylistically similar at a fraction of the cost. The nose on the 2012 Domaine Vincent Paris (St. Joseph, les Côtes) is rich with a sense of copper and rust with raspberries on the palate. The leaner alcohol and higher acidity allow the meat and pepper aromas to play amongst its flavor companions in each bite.

The story ends happily, with the signature pie finding a dance partner with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape while the pepperoni slice took the spotlight with St. Joseph pulling off coordinated dance moves too good not to have been choreographed ahead of time.

she's all that