454 Ignacio Blvd, Novato, CA 94949 (map); 415-883-2302; bocapizzeria.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan-style
Oven type: Wood-fired
Notes: A second Boca location is reported to be in the works
Price: Composed pies, $11.50 to $14.95; add toppings, +$1.25
Walking into a pizzeria with a wood-fired oven in its open kitchen and a menu that touts VPN certification and, as my salivary response kicks in, certain expectations for the pizza leap to mind. Images of a pie with a puffed up crust and those pretty little blister-spots dance behind my eyes as I order. When Boca Pizzeria, in Novato, CA, did not deliver pizzas with that look I was craving, it took me several minutes of internal muttering (and several slices of pizza) before I could evaluate what I had been served on its own terms.
The VPN-certified pizzas at Boca Pizzeria come out of a wood-fired Valoriani oven. When I stopped in, the pizzaiolo on duty told me that the oven burns around 900 degrees and that pies cook for approximately one minute. However, when I timed my own lunch's trip through the oven, I stopped my watch in just under three minutes, leading me to believe that the oven may not have been burning quite as hot as reported. This long sojourn in the heat likely explains why my pizzas did not have the blistering I expected, despite Boca's adherence to VPN standards in other regards.
The ultra-thin undercarriage of the pizzas at Boca had that singe-spotted look I've come to expect from a very hot oven. However, the end crust had not gotten there, with some brown, but almost no blisters. The ends also did not boast much rise, with a few of the thinnest spots becoming almost crackery. Yet, once I had moved past my preconceptions regarding what the crust should have been, I found that it had saving graces. With the exception of a few of those crackery edges, the rest of the cornicione was marked by an impressive, almost heroic chewiness and a pleasant flavor. I liked it well enough that when my dining partner did not want the last slice, I pulled off that last stretch of naked end crust for myself.
I chose not to order the Margherita at Boca, a decision I regretted. Fior di latte gets made in-house, and the little bit of pure cheese I was able to excavate from my Fennel Sausage and Pepperoni pie had a clean, milky taste. Meanwhile, I found myself disappointed with the somewhat dried out chunks of sausage, and the middle-of-the-road pepperoni certainly could not save the pie.
The Farmers pizza, if flawed, had more potential. It came topped with pancetta, Yukon Gold potatoes, and leeks, with an egg in the middle. Get a bite of all the toppings at once and this pie evoked a picture-perfect breakfast sandwich. Yet, for the most part, ingredients had formed isolated clumps on different parts of the pizza, producing powerfully salty pancetta bites in one moment, bland potato bites in others.
Though the look of Boca's crust provided the source of my initial disappointment, once I had freed my mind from blister-expectation, it was the toppings that proved more problematic. But the menu provides the option to build your own pie atop Boca's basic Margherita, and I can see how mushrooms, salami, or maybe just plain old tomato and cheese could work well on the unexpectedly pleasant crust. I don't see myself driving out of the way for this pizza, but located halfway between San Francisco and Sonoma, Boca might warrant a second try as a lunch stop en route to wine country.