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.

Zia’s Gourmet Pizza & Valdeorras

From 5 to 10pm, a mere five hours each day, Zia’s Gourmet Pizza cooks up an array of quality-driven pies that gently push the boundaries of pizza composition. The pizzeria is driven by the high standards set by founder Khlaed Waleh and showcases ingredients such as yogurt, cranberries and turkey pastrami without bowing to expected norms like pepperoni. Welcoming and unpretentious, Zia’s offers visitors to Normal Heights a chance to expand their pizza horizons through slice-at-a-time exploration.

zias pizza and wine

Every pizza features a whole-wheat crust, airy and light with a rustic flair. For how easily it crumbles with each bite, the texture is surprisingly crisp and well structured. First off the by-the-slice line up is a crowd favorite, the Papay, a playful and zesty pizza alive with peppery spinach, mozzarella, garlic, capers, and a yogurt sauce counterbalancing the spice with a creamy tang. Pairing up with this savory ass-kicker is a wine matched in both structure and aromatics: Rafael Palacios, 2011 As Sortes, Valdeorras.

papay

Hailing from Galicia in northwestern Spain, Valdeorras is an up-and-coming region reviving the native white grape of Godello. Featured as the main component in the style, the varietal was nearly extinct until the late 20th century, but has been slowly building a cult following in recent years. Displaying fruit-driven roundness and acidic backbone, Valdeorras keeps a core minerality of wet river stones fleshed out with aromas of lemon curd, apple blossom and lime zest. With some of the delicate floral characteristics dashed away by the Papay’s zestier components, the Potato slice proves to be an overall better dancing partner.

zias potato

Succinctly named, the Potato features rosemary potatoes, garlic, scallions, feta, cream cheese and mozzarella over a red sauce. Upon first glance, the potatoes appear as dishearteningly dull as getting a plate of home fries for breakfast when you wanted hash browns. On the playing field, these puppies pack earthy appeal with a smooth texture melting into every bite. Fragrant wisps of rosemary, scallions and garlic build upon each other, lingering long after each bite while the tomato sauce chimes in with an occasional bright hello and without much contribution otherwise. Meditating on flavors alone, the experience is best likened to a well-crafted stew: herbaceous, comforting and delightfully rustic. With the pairing, both pizza and wine are able to showcase their distinctive personalities without hindering the other’s. They’re not going to have each others babies or anything, but they sure do dance prettily together.

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

the Haven’s Popeye pie & Provençal rosé

Within a quiet stretch of blocks on the Kensington side of Adams Avenue sits an airy neighborhood pizza joint called The Haven. Of the selection of specialty pies featured, a small circular feast named Popeye catches my eye and the recommendation of the employee that day. The white pizza boasts an irresistible lineup of roasted garlic topped with chicken, mushrooms, fresh spinach, mozzarella and goat cheese. Squiggly lines of sweet aromas radiate from the pizza box as a combination of baking spices and roasted garlic creep into the nostalgic territories of my senses and stir up some hunger.

The swaths of garlic, caramelized into a candied sweetness, is a welcomed fiesta instead of an intrusion on my palate. With a salty, almost briny quality to the pie, there is no want for extra cheese. Overlaying the medium-thin chewy crust, chunks of chicken and fleshy mushrooms make up the bulk of textural layout.

Chicken may at first seem to play an integral role in any dish when in actuality the protein generally bows to any sauce or strong flavor present, the same way a neutral grape varietal such as Chardonnay can showcase terroir or a winemaker’s influence with clarity. The mix of aromatic and vegetal pizza aromas allows for a dry rosé to swoop in and play hero. Our hero today is a Provence rosé, 2013 Commanderie de la Bargemone of the appellation Coteaux d’Aix en Provence.

the haven set 3

Provence is a region in southern France dedicated to dry styles of rosé that will quickly win over any drinker’s taste buds when paired with light cuisine or a sunny day. Don’t let those pretty hues fool you: not all rosés are sweet. Not even slightly sweet. Most styles of rosé found in the wild are dry, especially when taking on a global perspective beyond the grocery aisle. Fruity aromas in wine tend to distract from sweetness level, making it easy to confuse the ripeness of fruit detected on the palate for the sugar level of the actual juice in the glass. Similar they may seem, only the latter is referring to actual sweetness as opposed to the perception of sweeter flavors.

This particular rosé is pretty close to bone dry, keeping fairly intense notes of tart strawberries and floral rosy aromas. Provençal rosé is especially refreshing when chilled down to refrigerator temperature, a low preferable for simple and crisp beverages. The rosé beside the pizza’s earthy aromas and boisterous, tangy flavors make for an uncomplicated yet all-encompassing pairing. Come salad or ham sandwich, carpaccio or root vegetable, rosé is generally well equipped to wrangle a range of flavors into a composed pairing. It is best to keep it stocked at all times. Always.

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.