Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Date Night in Italy

Sometimes events conspire to change the most engrained habits. And I hate that. Or I would hate it if the event in question didn't bring with it some dang fine eatin'. Which is why the other evening we found ourselves downtown…yes, the downtown that we've assiduously avoided for years because parking is awful, the restos aren't worth the trouble, etc., etc.…for a date night dinner at newly opened Via Tribunali.

Half a block from Voodoo Doughnuts, it's on the corner of the same little avenue (SE Ankeny) that is home to the hotter-than-hot Central and the older-than-old Dan and Louis Oyster Bar. Its small footprint contains a long bar, a few booths, a scattering of tables and a huge mother of a wood-fired oven built onsite by a craftsman from Naples who used mortar dusted with ash from Mt. Vesuvius.

The ingredients for the pizza that comes out of that oven is in accordance with the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), which dictates the authenticity of everything from the pH level of the water to the pedigree of the mozzarella di bufala. But the genius of the finished product is the responsibility of pizzaiolo Gennaro Nasti (top and above left), who was brought from his native Naples to oversee the first firings of the oven and the training of the staff in what he considers the near-holy calling of making pizza.

Which is quite a trick considering that Nasti doesn't speak more than a few words of English, but the night we were there (and I urge you to get the booth right next to the oven) we watched him quietly showing the staff how to press out the dough and stretch it ever so gently into the proper shape. A pat on the back and a nod of the head communicated everything about his passion for his art, and the staff has clearly caught the fever.

For our antipasti we chose the misto salumi, a meat board of prosciutto di parma, speck, mortadella, porchetta, castelvetrano olives and grana padano. And we got to watch as the server went over to the giant red hand-cranked meat slicer on the bar and peeled wafer-thin slices off the big hunks of salumi he'd pulled out from behind the bar. The octopus that came next was a salad of firm sections of tentacles tossed in vinaigrette on a bed of whole radicchio leaves, simple and perfect.

But the highlight was definitely the Via Tribunali (left), a work of art that started with dough stretched into a roughly rectangular shape, with a line of herbed ricotta placed on one long side and a line of smoked mozzarella down the other. The outside dough was then folded over each line of cheese and brought to the center where it was pressed and sealed. This was then placed in the oven—so hot it only takes 45 seconds to bake a pizza to perfection—and when it was pulled out of the fiery furnace, fresh cherry tomatoes were laid down the center between the rows of cheese and lightly dressed arugula topped that. Deserving of a hearty OMFG if anything in this world is.

We ordered a bottle of red to go with it all, a lovely, reasonably priced bottle from the Piedmont, and while I can't speak to the pricing structure of the list, there were plenty of bottles we could afford. Our leftover slices of the pizza they'd made especially for Dave, one without mozzarella (sorry AVPN) were brought to us in a box embellished with a portrait of a young woman (right). When asked about its…um…"unique perspective," our server said they'd requested an illustration of a "young country girl" from an artist in Italy and the resulting portrait was what was sent back.

Needless to say, when we got home Dave insisted on saving that portrait as a memory of our evening in Napoli. I prefer to remember Gennaro's hands gently stretching out the dough on the counter as he worked to transfer his passion to his young students.

Details: Via Tribunali, 36 SW 3rd Ave. 503-548-2917.


Lorraine said...

You make me want to run right out and eat dinner there now!

Kathleen Bauer said...

If you go, let me know what you thought!

Jane Pellicciotto said...

Lovely post. Since I traveled sick and exhausted across Italy just to eat pizza in Naples, there's no excuse not to hop over a few streets. Thanks for this tip. The next best thing, it seems, to actually being there.

BTW, this is Jane. We met and talked at the chef challenge in Pioneer Square.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Give me a review of your visit, Jane! And good to hear from you again!

Katherine Deumling said...

Can't wait to go! mouthwatering review. Thanks Kathleen. And thanks for listing my classes. Much appreciated. And rather excited myself for the Beans class this weekend. Lots of new stuff. Happy New Year!