The pizza at Caffe Bello Taverna and Pizzeria at 320 Westheimer came on a cracker crisp crust that was a little charred around the edges. It was a delicious appetizer–but it would not have made much of a meal. We tried the one with sausage and peppers for lunch the other day and practically inhaled it. Luckily we also ordered a salad and some pasta.
The pizza at Quattro, the Italian restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel, was gooey with cheese and loaded with mushrooms, onion and salami slices. The first slice was stellar, but the crust got kind of gummy after the pizza sat on the table for a while.
I thought a lot about these two pizzas.
I was talking with a Baylor brain scientist at a holiday party. The cabeza doc was from Buenos Aires, Argentina. We both agreed that B.A. was one of the world’s top pizza cities. The most disappointing pizza city in the brain researcher’s experience was Rome. He told me the story of ordering a pizza for dinner in Rome while traveling on a very tight budget. “I was disappointed the minute I picked up the box,” he said. “It was light as a feather. I knew I was still going to be hungry when we were finished eating this pizza.”
One of the many dilemmas of pizza criticism is comparing the full-size pizza you eat for dinner with the little pizza you order for an appetizer in a fancy restaurant. The two serve different purposes and must be judged accordingly. One gets high marks for filling you up and the other gets praise for leaving room for more–although ironically they tend to run about the same price. If your criteria is belly-filling satisfaction, then the Caffe Bello pizza is going to disappoint. But for a thin and crispy-crusted appetizer pizza, it’s excellent. The Quattro pizza is big enough for a full meal, and a little dull in the crust department. So which one is better? I wouldn’t throw either one away. You just want to be sure you don’t get stuck with a crisp little appetizer when you’re dying of hunger like my friend the B.A. brain scientist.
But if I had one dish to order in either of these two restaurants, it would be stuffed pasta. My friend Brane Poledica who is the food and beverage manager at the Four Seasons picked up the tab for my lunch. He also insisted I try some of his pasta.The half moon-shaped pillows were stuffed with lobster and served in a tomato lobster sauce topped with crabmeat. It was incredibly rich–it made me wish I was drinking Jermann Pinot Grigio instead of iced tea.
The butternut squash-filled pasta at Caffe Bello was equally fabulous–in a delicate vegetarian sort of way. The orange squash and ricotta cheese filling had just the right sweetness–the perfect complement to a peppery arugula salad. This kind of pasta often goes by the Italian name pansotti, which means “big belly.” The name refers to the bulging pocket where the stuffing goes. Maybe Caffe Bello should call these “little bellies,” since they are a mini version of the original. I would heap praise for the pasta on Caffe Bello’s wild, tattoo-decorated chef, Michael dei Maggi, but he has departed for Mo’s Place for Steaks. His replacement has yet to be announced.
Sadly the most remarkable dish I ate while visiting these two restaurants was the vitello tonnato that is no longer on the menu at Quattro. The dish is traditionally made with a slice of roasted veal covered in a sauce made (strangely enough) of canned tuna. Quattro’s new chef is a young Italian guy from Milan named Maurizio Ferrarese. He was making the vitello tonnato with medallions of barely steamed veal–he described it as sort of a veal carpaccio in tuna sauce. It was just stupendous. I would like to see this dish on a sushi bar menu. But Brane reported that the dish was a flop at Quattro because so few diners have ever heard of veal tonnato. “Try and explain a sauce made out of canned tuna to an average customer–it just sounds too weird,” he said.
Maurizio whipped me up one last plate of his rare veal and tuna sauce, just to be nice. I promised to repay the favor this week. Since the young chef has only been in town for 6 months, I told him I would take him out for lunch. Stay tuned for details.