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Pizza reviews in the San Francisco area.

Daily Slice: Tony Tutto Pizza, Mill Valley, CA

Daily Slice gives a quick snapshot each weekday of a different slice or pie that the folks at the Serious Eats empire have enjoyed lately.

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[Photographs: Kelly Bone]

It began as a hobby, with a musical nickname bestowed upon him by satisfied diners. Informed by years on the road that involved making pizza for musicians from Naples, music manager Greg DiGiovine was slowly consumed by his alter ego, Tony Tutto.

Four years ago, the flip happened. Now "Tony" spins dough for the residents of Mill Valley, an idyllic Marin County town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Musical allusions litter the menu, such as Bitches Brew (organic San Marzano tomato, green/red/yellow onions, crushed red peppers flakes, oregano, sea salt) and Garden of Love Light (organic arugula, Italian sweet red onions, pinenuts, rosemary, thyme, Meyers lemon).

For my visit, I stuck with the basic A Love Supreme ($11), a Margherita style pie with organic San Marzano tomato sauce, the "Tony Tutto three cheese blend," Parmigiano Reggiano basil, sea salt, and organic extra virgin olive oil. The promise of a "three cheese blend" often means one good cheese and two fillers, so it took me a while to recognize the cheese as the pivotal component of this pizza. It's a finely orchestrated blend of domestic mozzarella, an Italian fontina-ish cheese, and an imported secret weapon. This pizza is as complex—filled with tangy highs and grassy lows—as the jazz album it's named for.

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The organic unbleached flour, leavened with dry active yeast, gets 36 to 60 hours of fermentation. During the bake, the dough rises with little browning, but plenty of crispness. Imported organic San Marzanos are Tony's tomato of choice these days, doctored up to his saucy standards.

For the past 12 years Tony had been working the Mugnaini Wood Burning Piccolo Oven installed in his home, and the previous 10 years he used his home oven and a stone. Today, A Marsal deck oven sits in his open kitchen, but this was not his first choice. While opening Tony Tuttos Pizza:

My main three concerns at the time were; location, rent, and could I install a wood fired pizza oven. Then I finally found a good place to start out in Mill Valley, CA, paid the money to get in the door, and signed the lease. Next I went to City Hall to get a permit to install the commercial version of the Mugnaini oven I was using at home. And all of a sudden, my dream came crashing down. Apparently, Mill Valley passed an ordinance 2 years before that banned all wood-fired commercial cooking appliances, as well as residential wood-burning fire places. All the other 6 Italian restaurants and pizzerias with wood-burning pizza ovens were grandfathered in. So I had no choice but to find a way to make it work. And that meant only one thing: I had to downshift from 4th to 2nd gear and open up to using a gas-fired oven. For me, because I had made good pizzas for so long with a stone in a regular home oven, it wasn't like a foreign experience. It was more like, how am I going to compensate for losing the three main advantages that you have when using a wood-fired oven and they are:
  1. The smoke flavors of the wood being burned
  2. The high heat generated from top down and bottom up that seals in softness from the moisture but allows for a bit of a crispy crust
  3. Assuming one has good oven management skills, allowing for a mild amount of char that if done well is flavorful or otherwise it's just burnt!

So the bottom line is; I learned that without having those three distinct advantages mentioned above, you are faced with making pizza naked. And that means from a flavor perspective, you'll get no exceptional extra help from the gas oven, so you better make sure that all your basic ingredients and every single one of your toppings and combinations are perfect.

Tony has done just this with pitch perfect combinations and attention to detail. He ends his story with words Slice'r have all come to feel:

Finally, you'll learn that life is full of disappointments & frustrations... but eventually you'll find a pizza you'll like!!!! ~Tony Tutto~
Tony Tutto Pizza

246 E Blithedale Ave, Mill Valley CA 94941 (map)
415-383-8646; tonytuttopizza.com

About the author: After nearly a decade in Brooklyn, Kelly Bone landed back in Los Angeles where she writes The Vegetarian Foodie. She spends the rest of her time designing office cubicles... you might be sitting in one right now! Follow her on Twitter at @TheVegFoodie

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