Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ah Romantica, Pizza Antica

My best friend and I recently had the chance to visit Pizza Antica this past weekend. We chose PA for a late lunch, post errand running, and it proved to be quite gratifying.

The restaurant (created by partners Tim Stannard, Brannin Beal and executive chef Gordon Drysdale) first began in Lafayette and also has locations in Mill Valley and San Jose (Santana Row). The fine dining with family concept has proven to be hugely successful in the Bay Area and continuing in Sacramento.

"We want the restaurants to feel like reflections of their individual communities," says Drysdale.

And Pizza Antica is indeed already enjoying a year of success in its Sacramento location: The setting for the fourth Pizza Antica is the Granite Bay Quarry Ponds. The eatery rests majestically in the left corner of a collection of delicious gourmet shops and eateries, next to the water.

The interior of the restaurant is sophisticated: decorated in black and white, crisp, elegant and a little sterile. The ovens and front of the kitchen are exposed so that diners can see the pizzas as they are being fired. The ceiling mimics old-fashioned pressed tin and the floor is tessellated with small black and white tiles, and the servers are uniformed in black t-shirts and long white aprons.

The wine list is sizeable with some offerings available by the glass, 1/2 carafe, and by the bottle. I spotted a Chianti, Badia a Coltibuono, Centamura 2005 to match the Italian-inspired cuisine and ordered a 1/2 carafe.

While perusing the menu, our gracious server (Samantha) began our meal by serving us house-made foccacia bread with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Standard, yes, but not tired, as this bread was thick, soft, and soaked up the vinegar and oil like a sponge.

The antipasti platter is served with long, thin, Parmesan-crusted focaccia crisps, hand-pulled mozzarella (house made) roasted red peppers and garlic, bright emerald colored peas, and heirloom fingerling potatoes, grilled sweet red onions. I suspect the offerings on the platter are consistent for the most part, but some vegetables may be swapped out depending on seasonal availability.

We also tried the artichoke hearts, which are prepared bite-sized and perfectly fried in thick, yet crunchy peppery breading. They are served with an aioli (lemon-mayonnaise) dipping sauce.

For dinner, we ordered one of the pizzas from the chef-devised list of ten. The number four pizza with Spicy Fennel Sausage, Portobello Mushroom and Roasted Onion was irresistible, especially after I added fresh tomatoes and kalamata olives to it. (Diners may also build their own pizza from various toppings.)

The pizzas at Pizza Antica (Antica means "old style") are characterized by a thinner, crispier crust that bubbles at the edge.

A pizza at any restaurant location in town typically leaves me under-sauced, so I indulge my sauciness by ordering a side (OK, a bowl) of marinara in which to dip my crusts. Now, that's pizza.

My friend ordered the Spaghettini with Roasted Chicken, Tomato Conserva, and Garlic and Basil. The sauce is thick and speckled beautifully with fresh basil. The chicken in the dish is chopped from cutlets as opposed to being served bone-in on the side, and there is a sizeable amount within the sauce.

The portions are generous-- my friend and I did not manage to finish the pizza or the pasta dish and we were so full that we also did not order dessert. Upon a return to Pizza Antica, I would be inclined to try the Warm Cornmeal Shortcake with Strawberries and Cream, which is reportedly the "most requested" dessert on the menu.

Pizza Antica, 5540 Douglas Blvd., is open daily, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Guests may dine indoors or outside on the patio, weather permitting. Their phone number is (916) 786-0400 and the website is Pizza Antica.

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