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Redd Wood in Yountville: A Pizza Destination in Napa Valley
6755 Washington Street, Yountville CA 94599 (map); 707-299-5030; redd-wood.com
Pizza style: Really its own thing; individual pies are Neapolitan-sized but with a much thinner crust, and a bit of semolina flour worked into it.
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: Awesome and intelligently-topped pizzas from a Michelin-starred chef
Price: Large individual pies $10-27
When we editors are out on eating tours, like we did with Ford Escape in Napa a few weeks ago, we map out our own itineraries. But Serious Eats overlord Ed Levine does chime in with opinions from time to time—and when he does, they tend to be pretty spot-on.
"Redd Wood is Richard Reddington's new pizzeria," he emailed us. "I just met him [in Los Angeles] tonight. I had apps at his other restaurant in Yountville, Redd, and they were really good. I bet his pizza is pretty damn good. You should try it."
A few pies later, we decided that "pretty damn good" was indeed a correct assessment.
Redd Wood opened in late January to a great deal of anticipation, given how respected chef Reddington is in these parts—for his first restaurant, the Michelin-starred Redd down the street, as well as his work at Masa's and Jardiniere in San Francisco, and Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford.
San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer recently reviewed Redd Wood, declaring just about everything on the menu "superb," except the "mildly disappointing" pizza. But we're not quite agreed there, because the pizza we had was extraordinarily good.
It doesn't quite fit into any of our identified pizza-styles. It's served whole at around 10" in diameter, like a Neapolitan, and cooked in a wood-fired oven that chef Reddington estimates to burn at around 750°F. But it's much thinner and sturdier, almost closer to a New York-Neapolitan crust. No droopy middles or super-poofy edges here. We loved the crisp on the outside and the airy, chewy interior...
... as well as the substantial char on each of the pies, enough to flavor, but not overwhelm. But what really fascinated us was the dough itself, which is made with pizza gold standard 00 flour, but worked, stretched, and kneaded with half 00, half semolina flour. It adds a slightly nutty, slightly coarse element to the crust, almost like when pizzerias coat the bottom of their crusts with cornmeal—except nowhere near as heavy-handed. And it doesn't remotely interrupt the lightness of the end crusts. It's pretty awesome.
I grew up accustomed to a cornmeal dusting on the bottom of a crust, but usually it's just a layer of sandy grit to get through before the real pizza begins. Redd Wood's is the first time I've seen it done really well.
Pizza draped with lardo isn't what we'd usually order when sitting outside on a blistering hot April day, but the "lardo, mushroom, spinach, fontina" ($14) pie was good enough that we knocked it back without a thought. Thin ribbons of lardo, laid on after the pizza is fired, melt all over the roasted creminis and browned spinach, adding a layer of lush, unmistakable pigginess but without the strong competing flavors that another cured meat might contribute. (Redd Wood is curing their own lardo, too, reminding you that there's a lot of talent beyond pizzamaking in this kitchen.)
And the asparagus, prosciutto cotto, taleggio, red onion, farm egg ($17) was mighty tasty, too—particularly, of course, when that almost-orange yolk gets all over everything. (Redd Wood's pizzas are pre-cut; we loved how this one came cut party-style, into squares rather than wedges, with a big square around the egg in the middle so that it remains intact.) I was a little surprised at how little a role the Taleggio played, a cheese I love and wished I could've tasted more of. But there's no faulting asparagus with ham and egg yolk; an ideal spring brunch that happens to arrive on a pizza.
We preferred both to the satisfying, if not perfect meatball sub ($14) with tomato sauce and caciocavallo. The bread works well here; Redd Wood's roll (made in-house) looks a little soft, but it's crusty enough to crunch through, and thick enough to carry the load and not fall apart. The fresh-tasting sauce isn't quite what we associate with a meatball sub—it's a sort of bright California version rather than a stewed-down New York sub shop one; and I love caciocavallo, but could barely taste it here.
If you like tender meatballs, these aren't quite it—they're a little more densely packed—but the flavors of beef, pork, and veal, with added richness from salumi trimmings, made for a great bite. (And the herb-flecked fries are awesome.)
We enjoyed a strawberry Italian Ice for dessert, incredibly fine-grained and not gritty in the slightest; it's more sweet than tart, but as a refreshing end to a meal, that's okay with me.
You'd expect generally high quality from a Michelin-starred chef, of course, but you don't always expect them to nail pizzamaking straight off the bat. For a pizzeria just over two months old when we visited, we found Redd Wood incredibly impressive.
While I usually imagine dough-slingers with a flour-streaked Yankees or Mets cap, it does my hometown heart good to see a Giants cap on the guy making seriously awesome pizza. And it's only fair. Between Redd Wood and the first-rate Oenotri, plus great pizza-like "flatbreads" at The Kitchen Door and more-than-decent Neapolitan pies at Ca'Momi, Napa Valley's becoming a pretty pizza-rich place.