Sausalito, California: Wood-Fired Pies on the Patio at Bar Bocce
Here in San Francisco, we might only get three or four days each year with temperatures that approximate summer. When they come—usually in September—we throw on our shorts and look for someplace, anyplace, to show off our pasty legs. Taking advantage of one of these rare days, and wanting to pair my sun exposure with a few slices of wood-fired pizza (and maybe a drink), I found my way to Sausalito's Bar Bocce, which advertises its operation as follows: Pizza, Vino, Patio. That sounded like the makings of a nice afternoon!
Valoriani seems to have cornered a big chunk of the Northern California wood-fired oven market, and this is what Bar Bocce uses to cook their pies. Though, just because you get to watch the pizzaiolo stoke this handsome tool, don't automatically expect classic Neapolitan-inspired pizzas. The offerings at Bar Bocce run more towards California-style, with feta cheese, tapenade, calamari, and fennel pollen all finding their way onto a sourdough crust.
The pizzaiolo tossing pies during my visit told me that the oven typically burns between 600 and 650 degrees. As a result, Bar Bocce's sourdough crust comes out crisp, particularly where the massive air pockets have puffed up extra high. The end-crust browns, while the undercarriage that has been dusted with flour and cornmeal stays pale. It tastes lightly buttery, but what stands out most clearly are the sizable salt crystals dotting the cornicione, creating almost a pretzel crust.
The prettiest pie of the night also ended up my favorite. Bar Bocce's Zucca had been topped with a cooked tomato sauce, squash blossoms, and burrata. The piles of cool, creamy cheese proved immensely refreshing as we ate our way through this pie.
The Marble Potato pizza was no slouch to look at either. The parti-colored potatoes had been supplemented with smoked bacon and fontina cheese. Though I might have liked the spuds sliced thinner to minimize their starchiness, the way the smokey pork flavor suffused this pie pleased everyone at our table, especially one companion nursing a hangover.
Bar Bocce's sausage tasted strongly of fennel, a nice combination with the scallions and red onion. The addition of fennel pollen provided an extra level of flavor, giving it the taste of... I don't quite know what. (Our own Max Falkowitz describes it as licorice, citrus, and homemade marshmallows.)
Only the Margherita clearly fell flat. In comparison to that salty cornicione, the topped portion of this pie just didn't offer a lot of flavor.
After four pies, none of us really felt the need for anything further. But I didn't sign up to write for Serious Eats without being the kind of person who'll try a "winesicle" when a restaurant deigns to offer such a thing, as Bar Bocce does. The raspberry pop contained wine that had had the alcohol cooked off, making for an upscale Froz Fruit pop that threatened to get just a bit too sweet.
Still, the winesicle is the kind of treat that seems to make sense sitting out on Bar Bocce's patio on a sunny day. The pizzas do as well. Even if the crust had been dusted with a bit too much cornmeal and salt for my ideal tastes, it did make for pleasant eating while staring out at the water or playing the restaurant's namesake game (there's a bocce court on the premises). And since Sausalito gets sunny days just a touch more regularly than San Francisco proper, Bar Bocce might provide an excuse for a few of us to absorb some Vitamin D even when the city is shrouded in fog.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He eats a lot, and to maintain some sort of a balance, does his best to run and bike a lot as well. Follow him at @pizzakover on Twitter.