Via della Meloria, 43 00136 Roma, Italy; (map); +39 06 3974 5416
Pizza Style: Pizza al taglio
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: A fanatical attention to detail and imaginative topping choices using locally sourced ingredients make for an inspiring and unique experience.
Price: Priced by weight
Forgive me. I should have done better. I wish I could blame the fact that I was rushing to the airport on the way back to NYC, only hours ahead of a looming Alitalia strike in Rome that would shut down the airport for several days. Missing my flight would mean staying in Rome for an undetermined period of time. I wouldn't have minded but my significant other—let's call her the Fashionista—needed to get back to NYC for, you guessed right, Fashion Week. Truth be told we weren't unduly late for our flight, having made good time checking out of our hotel and snaking through Romes ancients streets, on the way to the airport. Pizzarium, Gabriele Bonci's renowned pizzeria, was not especially crowded when we arrived just after 11AM. We had a few minutes to eat and time enough to take plenty of photographs of everything. And that is were my apology comes in.
Sure, I got the requisite snaps of the facade of the establishment and of the large slabs of pizza al taglio being apportioned with scissors. And I got some respectable close-ups of the pizza rossa (images after the jump) But I completely failed to get anything decent in the way of close-ups of the rest of the slices. And in fairness, I can't blame the camera I was shooting with that day, as much as I would like to. While being capable of excellent image quality it suffers from poor focusing in low light and with close ups and it is maddeningly slow in general operation. But the lighting conditions were perfect, even inside of the Pizzarium, and, as I said, we weren't rushed.
The problem arose when the Fashonista, growing impatient of my diddling with the camera, snatched up a slice that was out of my frame and took a bite. I am not sure if it was the muted crunch that betrayed a crispness and airiness in the dough or the gasp of approval that left her lips as she finished the bite but I knew that something rather special was going on. I put down the camera and said "let me try that". What followed was a frenzied and orgiastic. We devoured all that lay before us. My camera was cast off like so many used napkins. Even Fashion Week and the need to look fabulously skinny was momentarily forgotten. The pizza at Pizzarium was quite simply extraordinary and completely irresistible.
The crust was wispy, light and airy, despite a thickness of around an inch. It might have looked like a standard Sicilian slice, but it was far lighter. The exterior came imbued with a deep burnishing and a wonderful snap, while the crumb within was moist with a yeasty fragrance. The toppings were truly inspired. A tangle of onions, just wilted and still sweet came laced with fresh rosemary on one slice.
Another came topped with buttery potatoes under a golden canopy of bronzed cheese, seemingly inspired by a sheperd's pie. The spuds, despite being chopped, were so tender that they dissolved like mashed potatoes.
Gobs of fresh mozzarella over a brilliant tomato sauce and a gardens worth of fresh basil graced a third slice. It serves as both a homage to Naples as well as a rallying cry to Bonci's belief that pizza has not advanced in a century. He argues that pizza doesn't have to be a stagnant, rigidly defined form. Rather he feels that the art of pizza should be open to interpretation and be reflective of location. To this end, he makes a reported 1,500 different toppings annually at his pizzeria using ingredients that are sourced locally. This might lead to some rather unusual combinations, such as a pizza topped with rabbit,scallops, olives, mortadella, and capers.
There was nothing that exotic on offer when I ate there, but I am not sure that anything could top my love for the simplest of all pies—the pizza rossa. Consisting only of a humble tomato sauce, redolent with oregano, that strikes the perfect balance between acidity and sweetness—and that wonderful bread—the pizza rossa is the model of aesthetic perfection. Bonci is correct that pizza need only be limited by the imagination, that it can be anything. But this slice also affirms the inverse—that it needn't be anything more than just bread and another ingredient (anything less than that and you just have bread).
"I'm full," exclaimed the Fashionista after we finished everything, and for once I believed her. I was full too. But I could have kept eating; I could have marched right up to the counter and ordered four more slices and completely forgotten to take adequate pictures of them as well. But time was getting on and we needed to make our way to the airport. Thumbing through the images on my camera later I come to realize that I don't have all the shots that I wanted. You know who's fault that is? Gabriele Bonci's for making such amazing pizza.