Seattle: Cornuto Pizzeria
Cornuto Pizzeria is the most recent pie-centric addition to Seattle's Phinney Ridge neighborhood: a second-cousin of local microchains Via Tribunali and Caffe Vita. It's a small space with a cozy patio and a cramped, dark indoor seating area. The combination bar-kitchen covers just as much real estate as the sales floor, but the true spacehog is the brick oven; it's a beautiful specimen of volcanic rock from Vesuvius decked out with hand-tiling, the mouth a firey glow. Cornuto's pizzaiolo, Valentin, is stoking that thing up to 1200°F like a madman, delivering traditional Italian-inspired Neapolitan pies by way of his Eastern European heritage.
The Bufalina ($16) was the most luxurious way to go old-school. The "ina" is added to signify the unusually small dice on the water buffalo cheese, which went a long way in spreading out the fresh, milky flavor and allowing for a half melty/half chewy texture. Cornuto's Mozzarella di Bufala lacked an expected gaminess, which may disappoint fans of such rustic cheeses. For me, it brought all that is good about mozzarella to a new plane of richness while not overpowering with heft or density. Simply seasoned tomato mash nd oil-slicked basil provided fresh, sweet notes that were harmoniously balanced by tiny haystacks of Grana Padano. Like most traditional Neapolitan examples of the style, this was a true knife-and-fork pie which left a delicious tomato mess in the bottom of my pizza plate.
The Tonno ($15) was another combination that captured time-honored Italian flavor combinations. It featured Silician line-caught tuna, tangy capers, basil, tomato, and fresh mozzarella. This bold pie successfully broke through the fish and cheese components, achieving an unusual equilibrium of taste. The tuna itself was very meaty with just a hint of brine that was complemented by the salty, near-lemony nature of the caper. Cornuto's signature basic tomato element added fruitiness and acidity. While the cheese and basil reminded you that this was indeed pizza, they were totally negligible and would not have been missed. The quality of the tuna was impressive. There is definitely room for more pies in my future that are topped with fish.
With the high heat of the boutique oven, and the respect given to the ingredients, it's a no-brainer that the crust at Cornuto would be amazing. Their dough achieved that classic Neapolitan duality: beautiful leoparding with a tasty char on the surface and a chewy, tangy center. The underside read like a road map of heat blisters, and the cheese carried a touch of brown on top without adding any unpleasant flavor. The inside of the cornicione had a brilliant sweet flavor that contributed to the overall profile of the pie while adding a funky, yeasty tart element. The meal was ready literally five minutes after placing my order. In the immortal words of some dumb heiress, "That's hot!"
The pizzas at Cornuto were delicious. A dedication to craft and quality were evident after speaking to Valentin for a matter of minutes. His level of passion is required to produce pies that look and taste the way they did at this tiny pizzeria. The menu was concise, but expansive enough to have me plotting return trips during future Seattle visits. Show up early to avoid a perpetual wait, and seek a seat on the back porch to avoid the tight setup inside. The little Italian inside you will be happy that you did.