Monday, March 24, 2008
Six months ago, I began a love affair with Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana in Monterey Park. It started when I found out owner Christiano Bollini was trained at Le Cordon Bleu and spent three years in Italy perfecting his craft. My love only grew stronger after eating many, many perfectly crispy, chewy, ultra-thin crust pizzas. It's not just the pizzas that keep me coming back. I know I've said that Chris, the two other pizza-makers both named Jesse M., and Bernard the waiter, are always friendly and welcoming, but it really is true. Not only do they always ask how I'm doing, but they ask how lil' sis is doing too (this when she's not around but in school). Since Chris opened his restaurant a few blocks away from the neighborhood where he grew up, he can be found chatting with parents about which school their kids go to and whether they had the same teacher. By virtue of its location, there are just as many Asian customers as there are Italian. From the regulars who drop by for a slice or a pizza to-go to the new customers who stop in out of curiosity, Chris chats with each one as if they're old friends. While I've mainly stuck to the pizzas, last month Chris offered to do a tasting menu for me. I was curious to try because, while the menu lists dinner specials Wednesday through Saturday, we've also chatted about the tasting menus he's done for various groups. I invited cousin Q to join me for lunch. The complimentary pizza bread with pesto.
Arugula salad with fresh corn, smoked bacon, sauteed mushrooms, teardrop tomatoes, goat cheese, and red wine vinaigrette for $7.50.
Here's the back view so you can see all the components of the salad. The baby arugula was just perfect, not too bitter, but just enough to contrast with the sweet corn, bacon, and goat cheese. This was just too much food though and I had half of it boxed to bring home. And this was only the first course!
Crab-stuffed mushrooms $6. No fillers, just pure lump crab meat piled on top. Just as good as I remembered. And since cousin Q doesn't eat seafood, I happily ate every last morsel.
Braised pork on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes with goat cheese sprinkled on top. The pork was a little bit salty but so incredibly tender that I didn't even need to use a knife. The mashed potatoes were so smooth and creamy, I ate every last bit of that as well.
I was stuffed at this point but out came Bollini's pasta bolognese, $12.50. Now, I've never been impressed with bolognese before so I didn't think much of it when Chris said he'd do a pasta dish for me. But. Oh. My. God. Best bolognese ever! And no wonder because his grandmother is from Bologna. The recipe has been in his family for nearly 200 years. It takes two hours to prep and three hours to cook. His grandmother taught his dad, who passed the recipe on to Chris, who'll one day teach his sons.
The meal ended with chocolate-lined cannoli with sweet ricotta and orange peels. Oh yum!
He offered to make a pizza for me too but there was no way I could fit in anything else. I was already taking half of the food home as it was. I went up to the register to pay for lunch, but Chris wouldn't let me. I tried to insist, but he wanted to thank me for my previous write-up. I didn't want to dampen his nice gesture so I accepted. So in the interests of full disclosure, the above meal was comped. I did leave a nice tip though. And I've paid for every other meal. And well, it's not like I wouldn't have gushed about the food anyway, because I've already done so before. But I really do think the care he puts into his restaurant really shows in the food. And hey, I'm not completely biased, I did say the braised pork was a tad salty didn't I? :P
Anyway, days later when lil' sis was home, we were back again. While waiting for our pizza, lil' sis went to the bathroom and let out a little squeal. So I had to go see the bathroom for myself.
Can you see the nude lady in the window?
Pizza-maker Jesse M. had told lil' sis long ago that he would design a pizza just for her. So on this particular day, we held him to it. The only thing I said was that she didn't care too much for anchovies on her pizza.
He came up with a half white and half red sauce, bell peppers, two kinds of sausage, mushrooms, and well, I don't want to reveal everything because this is the lil' sis special reserved just for her. She liked both sides so much that she couldn't decide which she liked more. There was absolute silence, with occasional yummy noises.
Lil' sis is real happy, I told Jesse.
Oh? Is she having a nice day, he asked?
It's because of your pizza that she's so happy, I said.
I think I could feel him blushing from across the room.
Look at that super thin crust.
In my previous post about describing all the requirements of an authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, I didn't want to imply that Bollini's is actually certified. Because even though his pizza fits many of the requirements - wood-fired oven heated above 800 degrees, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and super thin crust, well, frankly, that's not Chris's style. When I suggested he link up his website with all the nice reviews Bollini's has been getting from various food blogs, not just mine, as well as Chowhound and Yelp, Chris said he didn't want to boast. He said he believes in creating a quality product and letting that speak for itself.
If you watch them at work, you'll see that each sausage or mushroom is carefully sliced when ordered. Each ingredient is carefully arranged on the pizza. The toppings are always of highest quality. Fresh dough is made twice a day.
Another visit. I know, I eat here way too often. Here's both Jesse M.'s making my half Nonna (sauce, mozzarella, fontina, sweet fennel sausage, mushrooms, herbs, basil, and parmesan) and half Steak Special (horseradish sauce, onions, gorgonzola, mozzarella, herbs, marinated steak, arugula, and black pepper).
And so I don't neglect him too, here's Bernard, the waiter, wiping plates.
Mmm. The arugula was a bit wilted by the time I got it home but still so good.
My favorite pizzas though are still the Porco (sauce, mozzarella, sweet fennel sausage, three pepper sausage, bacon, tomatoes, onions, basil, and parmesan) and the Rocco (sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and basil).
Before I left, the guys all signed a recent write-up in Metromix. "You are in part to blame for us being noticed. We [heart] you!" Aww, aren't they too sweet? Wait, shouldn't they have autographed my initial blog post? But I wouldn't want to correct their impression that other people have been finding Bollini's because of me. ;) Hehe, OK, I know some of my readers have tried Bollini's because of me but I don't think I have that much clout, or do I? :P
And yet another visit two days later, while lil' sis was home. Half Salsiccia 3 (Sauce, mozzarella, three pepper sausage, red and green peppers, Italian peppers, and goat cheese finished with basil.) and half Cal Bianco (Parmesan sauce, smoked chicken, garlic, herbs, olive oil and basil.), 16" large, $13.50.
In case you missed it, my first post about Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana in Monterey Park.
Oh, yeah, and because I was thwarted twice in the past month when I had a hankering for Bollini's, if you're coming from far away, I'd suggest calling first. Since ingredients are freshly made each day, and the dough is made twice a day, if they run out, they do sometimes close early.
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.
1 year ago today, I met Henry Chan of Henry Chan's Food Videos at Saigon Bistro.