The perfect pizza, like its near relations the perfect golf shot, the perfect holiday, and the perfect sentence, is an apparition of memory. We all have some recollection of a pie (or three-wood from the rough to within 10 feet of the pin) that achieved sublimity. We might have eaten this pie in Rome or Naples, on Chestnut Street or Columbus Avenue, or even in our own kitchen. What we know for sure is that no pie before or since has topped it.
I was reminded, in the course of a recent jaunt into the mountains, how imperfect so many California pizzas seem to be and in what ways. The jaunt was spontaneous and came to an inglorious end at a "road closed" sign hanging from a shut gate in a blizzard at 8,000 feet. But an hour or so before that rebuff it had been lunchtime, and we’d stopped in the as yet unthreatening slush to eat at what looked like it might be one of the last restaurants we would pass before scaling the summit.
The pie, presented with great cheer, consisted of a soft, thick, bready crust, like a piece of insulation, carpeted with "Mexican" ingredients, mostly seasoned ground beef, melted cheddar cheese, and raw onions. Since we were hungry and had brought little food of our own, we ate it up and were grateful, and I probably wouldn’t have thought any more about it if we hadn’t eaten the night before at Gialina, Sharon Ardiana’s new restaurant in the reborn Glen Park.
Apparently, while I was blinking, this quaint and intimate village in its sleepy hollow under Diamond Heights has seen fit to give itself an extreme makeover. The most stunning change is the advent of Canyon Market, which opened last fall in a sleek if chilly space of concrete, plate glass, and bakers’ racks and is a full-scale supermarket, something like a cross between Rainbow Grocery and Whole Foods. The market offers meat, fish, and poultry, as well as a good selection of produce, much of it organic. For many Glen Parkers, the market (like the BART station) is no more than a few minutes’ walk away a blessing, though parking in the village center isn’t difficult. We spent a few minutes wandering through the market while waiting for a table at Gialina, just across the street. The new restaurant is a lot like the original Delfina: narrow, deep, noisy, busy. And word seems to be out that these are among the best pizzas in the city maybe the best outright and, given the improvement in the city’s pizza culture in recent years (Pizzeria Delfina, Pizzetta 211, A16), that is saying something.
Let us begin with the crusts, which are hand-shaped into a form that resembles a circle with corners. Around the edges runs a thick bready bead that will sate the puff fanatics among you, but the central plain of each pie is about as thin as seems physically possible. "Cracker thin" is a cliché (and therefore punishable, in my perfect world), but these are even thinner than that.
Toppings, you might suppose, would be applied sparingly, so as not to snap all those points. But the pies are pretty well laded up, though not Sierra-style. The only pizza we came across that couldn’t fairly be described as hearty was the margherita ($10), and it was lovely anyway. The smear of oregano-scented tomato sauce and shreds of mozzarella had been baked to a slightly caramelized bubbliness; the fresh basil leaves scattered (postoven) across the top were like water lilies in a pond.
Ardiana must have a slight thing for pizza bianca "white" pizza, i.e., without tomato sauce since two of the better pies on her brief menu are tomato sauceless. The wild nettle pizza ($13) brings that au courant green together with chunks of green garlic, shavings of pecorino, and flaps of pancetta whose edges are lightly crisped by the oven’s heat. This is a fine combination, but it’s bound to change or disappear soon, when the green garlic season ends.
An even finer combination is a pie of broccoli rabe mingled with fennel-breath Italian sausage and blobs of gamy fontina cheese ($13). This is very close to a classic Italian sauce for orecchiette and is quite convincing on a pizza.
We did not get to the puttanesca pie echo of another classic pasta sauce but for red-blooded fireworks, the atomica ($12) will more than do. The ancillary toppings here are mushrooms and mozzarella, but the principal actor is the chile-fired tomato sauce, which packs some real heat.
Among the first courses, we found the meatballs ($9) in a spicy tomato-parmesan sauce to be tasty but slightly rubbery. Better was the antipasti plate for two ($11), an array of grilled bread, salume, spicy black and green olives, herbed ricotta, roasted red beets, marinated wild mushrooms, pickled baby carrots, and frisée salad with radish coins plenty there to keep two people busy while their pizzas are in the oven.
The dessert Goliath is the chocolate pizza ($9), a squarish crust heavily drizzled with hot chocolate sauce and crushed hazelnuts and festooned with mascarpone kisses. It is fabulous, but it does represent starch overkill as some of the other choices do not. The place is noisy, and only in part because of the Scandinavian Designslooking blond wood panels on the wall. Many of the patrons bring their tiny infants in for a night on the town or village. In today’s Glen Park, this must be the latest adventure in babysitting. *
Dinner: Mon.Thurs., 510 p.m.; Fri.Sat., 511 p.m.; Sun., 410 p.m.
2842 Diamond, SF
Beer and wine