Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pizza Vinoteca Food Review

Hawaiian Grilled Pizza

There's pizza, and then there's pizzaPizza Vinoteca sells the latter, 13"x5" wonders with tasty, innovative ingredients... the kind you won't find at your local pizza parlor. As a rule, I prefer simple over complex; but every now and then, I like to be challenged. Pizza Vinoteca does that (and then some) with toppings that might not necessarily click in your head, but do somersaults in your mouth. Bottom line: I may never eat regular pizza again.

Make no mistake: Pizza Vinoteca doesn't look like your local pizzeria either. It screams cozy wine bar before, during and after; but truth be told, that's what I found so appealing about it. You don't place a Jowlciale Grilled Pizza atop a red and white checkered tablecloth. For the record, that's a well-charred, pencil-thin crust with fontina cheese, honey, pistachios and spicy chili pesto. In other words, a grown-up pizza, best paired with one of 36 different vintages of wine (all priced under 10 bucks a glass.) If your idea of good pizza is Papa John's, I suggest you stop reading right now.

Jowlciale Grilled Pizza

When I first walked into Pizza Vinoteca, I was whisked away to a window table by a friendly hostess, handed over to an experienced server and literally spoiled all day. I suppose that's what happens when you order three different pizzas and a couple of starters; but special is special, and I'll take it anywhere I can find it. From a design standpoint, it's hard not to fall in love at first sight. The color theme is black & white with super-sleek dinnerware and flatware (think downtown Los Angeles, 5-10 years ago... minus the crime and debauchery.)

Nduja Meatball Grilled Pizza

The restaurant utilizes tall, sprawling windows and high ceilings, which creates an open, spacious feel to the dining area. Chairs are comfortable, and there's plenty of room to navigate your way in & out. The center of the room is dominated by a chic, circular bar that seats another 30 or so patrons comfortably. Even when it's full, it's easy to conduct a conversation without having to yell.


But enough about the layout. I'm all about the food; and executive chef Ben Nichols obviously is as well. Starters appear simple enough, but it's impossible to label his Grilled Cauliflower and Meatballs as simple. Gondola-shaped plates house heads of cauliflower, cipollini onions, Pecorino cheese (one of my favorite Italian cheeses) and walnuts. The difference is in the grilling... Nichols' 900° gorilla-of-an-oven produces works of art, as opposed to mere grill marks. If I ever became a vegan or vegetarian (shudder) I'd come here daily just for the cauliflower.

Grilled Cauliflower

Thankfully, Pizza Vinoteca's Meatballs brought me back to meat-lovin' Earth. Sure, the sauce is fine; but these meatballs are tender & flavorful all on their own. Coupled with generous squares of foccaccia bread, you could eat these all day and never order anything else. Lest you think I'm madly in love, I was disappointed that the bread never touched the same grill as the meatballs (not a huge mistake, but a definite oversight.) A drizzle of oil, and some crunchiness would have done wonders to an already strong appetizer.


On to the pizzas, three of eight house specials available (in addition to customizing your own pies, of course.) We ordered the aforementioned Jowlciale, the Nduja Meatball (spreadable salami with fontina cheese, kale pesto and fresh tomatoes) and the Hawaiian, my surprise favorite with mozzarella, pineapple, prosciutto, and spicy fresno peppers. The Hawaiian could be the sweetest pizza I've ever liked (and I'm a savory kinda guy.) The pineapples were still juicy, and fresnos could be my new favorite pepper. This one simply has to find its way onto the Brunch menu.


The Jowlciale ranks a close second, showcasing pistachios of all things, with startling effectiveness. Crunch was the last thing I was expecting or searching for; yet it transcends the pizza. Ditto for the inclusion of honey, which adds the proper note of sweetness (again, something I wasn't necessarily looking for.) Oddly enough, my least favorite pizza (and trust me, that's a stretch) was the one with meatballs. Looking back, I'd much rather a mild pork sausage in place of the salami. Otherwise, the rest of the pizza is stellar, even with kale pesto in place of standard basil. It's a daring move; and once again, it pays off in spades.


Nichols' menu is actually quite creative across the board. He makes great use out of all 16 burners and the ultra-hot grill. His Jade Range Grill even has a few handy compartments for smoking. That said, I couldn't help but hope for grilled (or smoked) wings. Perhaps soon. Meanwhile, there are other goodies to choose from... Eggplant Parm, Lasagna and Grilled Chicken, Salmon & Steak, in addition to a handful of sides including Brussels Sprouts and Bacon.

Behind the scenes...

And then there's dessert... no ordinary desserts mind you, but five assorted Bombolonis (Italian doughnuts) the sum of which totaled a paltry 10 bucks. Sharing was easy, as my dining companion went for chocolate (Milk & Mexican Chocolate, as well as a delectable Dulce de Leche with coconut sugar.) Me? I opted for the fruitier options, namely Lemon and Raspberry with dustings of pistachio and raspberry sugar respectively. Honest to God, the latter might be the best doughnut in all of Virginia. All five were enormous in size, and scream "Put me in a bag, and sell me at the door." The only problem with that, is they're served hot (the filling literally pours out of 'em) and something this good should never be reheated. Regardless of how you eat them, just make sure you do.

Jade Range Grill

So what's the final verdict? Well, I rarely gush this much over so much; so it goes without saying, Pizza Vinoteca has won me over BIG time. Their pizzas are sophisticated, affordable and home-grown (all ingredients are made in the U.S. of A., and that's not by coincidence.) I've only tried two starters so far, but they were both winners in my book. Toast the bread a little, and we're talking perfect. Perfect sounds good to you, doesn't it? It sounds like Pizza Vinoteca to me.