Trattoria Bianco & Pizzeria Bianco
4743 N. 20th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016 (map); 602-368-3273 ; pizzeriabianco.com
Pizza Style: Artisan
Pizza Oven: Wood-fired
The Skinny: The legendary pizza you've heard all about, with some amazing pasta next door.
Price: Margherita, $13; Rosa $14; Tangelo Chicken Involtini $18
A couple of weeks ago, we found out that Chris Bianco was opening a new pizzeria in Tucson, and then Chris filled us in on the details himself. But Bianco has one more big surprise up his sleeve: His aptly named Italian Restaurant in the so-unhip-it's-hip Town & Country mall is being split in two. A gorgeous new dining room, serving Chris's spin on Italian fare, has been dubbed Trattoria Bianco. Meanwhile, the original space has been transformed into a full-fledged branch of Pizzeria Bianco, serving all the classics from his downtown Phoenix location, and more.
The name change is mostly for clarification's sake, since the menu is largely the same at both sites. But as much as Chris loved the old moniker, "Italian Restaurant" was pretty much Google-proof (just try searching for it). He also wanted his customers to know exactly what to expect from each room.
FIrst up, the new trattoria. Working with Chef John Hall, Bianco has cooked up a range of rustic Italian fare that's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from him: locally sourced, seasonal ingredients that are artfully and skillfully prepared. The short and simple menu features farm-fresh salads, handmade pastas, and slow-cooked pork and goat.
We've got a rundown of some of the best dishes in the slideshow, but I think the Tangelo Chicken Involtini ($18) manages to sum up what the team is after. Poultry is often the key ingredient in a bland meal, but this dish is anything but. Pounded breasts are stuffed with torn, milk-soaked bread, Parmagiano Reggiano, and swiss chard. Pan-seared, braised, and finished with Tangelo juice and butter, the resulting slices are juicy, salty, full of bright citrus, and much better than chicken deserves to be. If Bianco and company can do that with a chicken, just imagine how good the pastas are.
As with his other restaurants, there's a lot of Chris in the decor. His father's paintings and sketches adorn the walls; his mother's handwritten dessert recipes (she comes in to make cake on Thursdays) are hung on an old board near the entrance. And the beautiful rug in the middle of the room is from his childhood home. It's homey yet elegant—a great environment for enjoying a special meal. And it's the very first Bianco restaurant to accept reservations for parties under six.
The atmosphere at the neighboring Pizzeria Bianco is casual and laid back, even more so than the flagship location. In addition to the pies, there are also some sandwiches and appetizers sneaking over from the Pane Bianco menu, so if someone in your party isn't in the mood for a Rosa (an obvious sign of mental distress), there are plenty of other options. And for the moment, there's a much shorter wait.
Okay, I know what you're wondering...how's the pizza? Is it the same? Chris already gave us his take, and I'm happy to confirm that the pies are indeed amazing. They were everything I and everyone else on Slice has been talking about for years, perfectly balanced and made from impeccable ingredients. And most exciting for Pizzeria Bianco veterans is the promise of market special pizzas—something you don't get at the downtown location where there's just a fixed menu of six (albeit perfect) pies.
One of specials ($20), a variation of the Biancoverde, was topped with fresh mozzarella, Parmagiano Reggiano, ricotta, arugula, and thick-sliced local mortadella (flavored with Arizona pistachios, of course). It's spectacularly rich, the medley of cheeses the perfect bed for the lightly spiced pork and slightly bitter arugula.
So, with all these new options for Bianco fans, not to mention the Tucson location due in November, which place do you go to first? If you're looking to imbibe some history, I'd never steer you away from the original pizzeria, but Bianco actually opened his first sitdown restaurant at Town & Country, so there's a legacy to this new space, as well. And Pane Bianco is serving some of the Trattoria dishes in addition to pizza and specials cooked up by Chef Robbie Tutlewski, so don't sleep on that one, either.
Which amazing Chris Bianco restaurant to eat at? I can't imagine a better predicament to be in.