Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
The team behind WildCraft comes from Abigaile Restaurant, a fusion-style operation in Hermosa Beach. The lack of pizza on Abigaile's menu might raise some questions, but it turns out that these boys have done their fair share of homework. Chef Tin Vuong earned his pizza stripes at the Americas branch of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, where he studied under Peppe Miele. General Manager Michael Barson and partner Chris Stone headed to Italy, where they, too, studied at the VPN, before working with Massimo Di Porzio at Ristorante Umberto. The trio took their well-honed respect for the craft of Neapolitan pizza and decided to carry it into sourdough territory.
The pizzeria's name refers to the wild yeast in Vuong's 30-year-old sourdough starter, a live culture that the staff fondly refers to as 'Betty.' Chef Tin has been cultivating his crusts for the past 8 months, with friends like Dean Kim of OC Bakery offering advice along the way. He lost some time when Betty first came to WildCraft—it turned out that she wasn't so pleased with the sudden climate change—but with a little love and twice daily feedings, she bounced back a week later.
Vuong took me into the dough room, explaining that his sourdough's pungent scent and tart-sour flavor are owed to a 3-day period of fermentation and proofing. Working with live cultures presents unique challenges, especially with a starter as temperamental as Betty; the chef aims for a finished dough that is glossy and relaxed.
The open kitchen holds a naked Stefano Ferrara, under a shelf of Ciao San Marzano tomatoes. And while WildCraft doesn't offer takeout, on the principal that pizza travels poorly, the restaurant is spacious and designed to seat large crowds. Diners in the mood for a drink can order from Vuong's selection of West Coast wines and craft beers.