Friday, September 07, 2007
Ah, Dear readers, Do you remember the first time I fell in love...? ...With crispy, super-thin crust pizza at Lanesplitter Pizza and Pub in Berkeley? Afterall, Lanesplitter, you have a fabulous pizza guy who spun a stretchy piece of dough into a 19-inch marvel. But, *Sniffle* *Whine*, you're just soooo verrrrrry faaaar awaaaaay. I truly did think my love would last. Well, at least until my next trip up to the Bay Area. Except that it's been nine months and I haven't been able to return. And in the meantime, someone else has taken your place. I guess distance really does make the heart grow distant. :( (Forget that nonsense about the heart growing fonder, trust me, it doesn't.) There, there. It'll be OK. Afterall, it took quite a lot to replace you. You see, my new pizza love is educated. From the best culinary school in America. And spent years abroad in Italy even! And it's got heart - friendliness, a sense of community, and great customer service (for the most part). And well, I'll just go right out and say it, it tastes better too. And the clincher, it's far, far, far closer to my house. Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana opened in Monterey Park only a month-and-a-half ago but it's already garnered a buzz among Chowhounders who make the trek out from North Hollywood and Marina del Rey. I first heard about it from Pleasure Palate who uploaded photos to Biggest Menu. While I made a mental note and added Bollini's to my "restaurants to try" list, I wasn't compelled to check it out immediately. What moved it to the top of my list? UnHipLA's post which mentioned that owner, Christiano Bollini, had been trained at Le Cordon Bleu. A Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef within minutes of my house?! I was so there. Bollini's occupies a narrow storefront in an aging strip mall on Garfield Avenue just off the 60 freeway in Monterey Park. (Look for the discount dollar store.) Even armed with the address, I bypassed it my first time around. My first visit was actually in the day time, but I didn't take a photo of the outside until that night. Yes, I went back twice in one day. You'll find out why in a bit. Walking in, I noticed the wood fire oven with actual wood burning inside. I eyed the pizza that just came out, thinking to buy a slice, except it was headed toward a customer's table. So I looked around a little while trying to decide what to order for take-out. Here's another shot of the interior of the wood fire oven. It can reach 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, but was at about 800 degrees right then. I also noticed the very large pile of wood cords. Very nice. The pizza-maker just finished making a pizza to sell by the slice. He said it was his own creation. It looked good so I opted to buy a slice of that along with a 12-inch to-go. Except for a few barstools at the front window, this is the whole of the restaurant. For now anyway. There are plans to knock down that wall and expand, along with adding a beer and liquor license. I sat down to wait for my pizza. And even though I intended to get my pizza to go, I was given a nice thin, crisp piece of pizza bread while I waited. Nice. Here's my slice of arugula, goat cheese, anchovies, and sausage pizza. Oh yum! Light, crispy, chewy crust. I'd never been much for anchovies on pizza but the small scatterings along with the goat cheese made this so very perfect. Pizzas by the slice are $2-$3. Supposedly 6 pizzas are always on rotation for slices, but I've usually only seen one or two. If they don't have what you want available, they'll make it for you. Ooh, here comes my order. A 12-inch "The Porco" - sauce, mozzarella, sweet fennel sausage, 3-pepper sausage, bacon, tomatoes, onions, basil and parmesan for $12. Isn't it beautiful? Here, look a little closer. I had originally intended to take it home but I couldn't resist digging into this straight away while it was still fresh. Let's talk a little about what constitutes Neapolitan pizza. It's not just a thin crust and also further justification for why I think this pizza is so great. To be considered "authentic" Neapolitan pizza, as put forth by The Verace Pizza Napoletana Association in Italy, a pizza must have no more than a 0.1-inch thick base, must use fresh mozzarella, must be thrown by hand, must use extra virgin olive oil, and must be cooked in an 800F (or higher) wood-fired oven for no more than 90 seconds. Thanks to Pleasure Palate for digging up the info and visit her blog for more great links on this subject. Now doesn't that make this little-more than paper-thin crust impressive? As I snapped a photo, the owner Chris, asked if I had a website. Busted! Hehe. Actually, he was very nice and we chatted a bit. He was born and raised in Monterey Park. After being trained at Le Cordon Bleu, three years in Italy from Venice to Palermo, and stints at various SoCal restaurants, he decided to open his restaurant near his home for friends and family to enjoy. Even though it's been open only recently, Bollini's is quickly becoming a neighborhood hang-out. I know, I, and several Biggest Menu-ers have become regulars. One guy comes in everyday and orders a slice of whatever's on hand. And any time a customer comes in from parts far away it gets mentioned. Chris regularly greets every customer personally. Once I was impressed to hear him greet one by name. Hehe. It was his landlord, there to discuss expanding the restaurant. But he brought friends along to enjoy pizza too, of course. One afternoon, Chris's 5-year-old son came in and was seated in the back and given a couple of slices of pizza. I watched him swing his little legs back and forth under the chair as he happily munched away. Gosh, I didn't know places like this still existed? So that night, yes, we're still talking about the same day. My cousin (the one who introduced me to Lanesplitter) was back in town and I mentioned Bollini's for comparison. The minute I said Le Cordon Bleu he wanted to go there for dinner. So I came back again with him and his little brother in tow. He ordered a slice of cheese and pepperoni to tide him over while we waited for our pizza to arrive. He liked it so much he told his brother to grab a menu to give to their other brother, cousin Q. That night we chose a 16-inch Fungi E Tartufi - garlic, herb oil, wild mushroom, fontina, mozzarella, herbs, and truffle oil for $13. Oh my! This pizza was good! The restaurant gets very crowded at night, with a line of people waiting for take-out orders. Go during the afternoons if you want better table service. Also, we wanted to try the stuffed mushrooms but they were out of them by night time. So for the best selection of what's on the menu and more attentive table service, I prefer lunch time. Also, no pastas on Monday because Chris is the only one making them, and that's his day to do paperwork. Here's a video of Chris tossing a pizza while I quizzed him about why he decided to open an authentic Neapolitan pizza parlor in Monterey Park. A few days later, my brother and lil' sis had returned from out of town. When we were trying to decide where to go for lunch, of course, I mentioned Bollini's. Lil' sis is always up for pizza and pasta, but when I mentioned Le Cordon Bleu, that did it for my brother. ;) Oooh, yummy pizza bread again. No stuffed mushrooms again. :( "They're stuffed with crap so they're not always available," Bernard, the waiter said. What? What? Oh! He must have said craB! Crab-stuffed mushrooms. I wanna try! Since I loved pizza-maker Jesse M.'s self-created slice so much, I wanted to order another pizza with anchovies. Here he is putting the anchovies on a 16-inch "The Sardinia" - sauce, olive oil, calamari, anchovy, capers, onions, olives, tomatoes, mozzarella, and black pepper for $15. Don't confuse him with the other pizza-maker, also Jesse M. Hehe. This Jesse M. said the two even worked together at a McDonald's 15 years ago. I got greedy. While the flavors were good and my siblings said they liked it, too many toppings and sauce bogged this down. Less is more to truly enjoy these pizzas. So of course, lil' sis had to tell her best friend about Bollini's. And later that week, the two of us came back, along with the older '88, lil' sis's best friend, and his friend. As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw Henry Chan of Henry Chan's Food Videos's car. Ha! Actually, I wasn't that surprised since the recent flurry of Bollini's pizzas being uploaded on Biggest Menu was sure to lure him in. That day they did have crab-stuffed mushrooms. Yay! Look at the mounds of crab on top of each mushroom. Yummy! Except these mushrooms were tiny. OK, they were regular-sized mushrooms but at $6 for an order of 3, my frugal self probably won't order them again. :( We ordered the wild mushroom fettucine - fettucine with wild mushrooms, shallot, white wine, garlic, fresh herbs, truffle oil and finished with a touch of cream, parmesan, and basil for $10. This was good, the truffle oil aroma quite earthy. The portion was pretty small, or rather, too small to really share with 6 people. I feel like I get my money's worth more with the pizzas. Because look! The top is a16-inch "The Lulu" - sauce, cheese, bacon, pineapple, garlic, and basil for $13. The bottom is a 16-inch "The Cal Bianco" - parmesan sauce, smoked chicken, garlic, herbs, olive oil, and basil for $13.50.
Henry was talking to Chris about coupons, so I got this great idea inspired by Christian Z of Orange County Mexican Restaurants, who has coupons on his blog. So here you go dear readers. If any of you are in SoCal, and if my write-up has inspired you to check out Bollini's, there's even more incentive. Just click on the image of the coupon and print it out for $2 off your next purchase of pizza. The coupon doesn't expire until November 25. If you do stop in, can you mention my blog? I'm not getting anything out of this. I just really love this place. But I'm also curious to see how many of you come in because of me?Update: Coupon has expired.
Of course, after seeing the coupon, UnHipLA decided she wanted to do a Bollini's run. So here's our lunch. This time the pizza bread had pesto. It just gets better and better.
And we split a 16-inch "The Rocco" - sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and basil for $10.50.
Who else ate at Bollini's?
UnHipLA ate a clam and garlic pizza on her first visit.
Pleasure Palate details what constitutes Neapolitan pizza and experienced their tasting menu.
View more pictures on Biggest Menu.
I also had a tasting menu at Bollini's.
Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana
2315 S. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
Open Monday to Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Only pizzas served on Mondays. That's the day Chris handles paperwork and he's the only one who makes the pastas and other dishes.