Part one of my belated birthday Gastown eating adventures was a deliciously successful visit to La Taquiera. Because I was dining with another food/restaurant enthusiast, he was game to hit another place on my list of places to try, Nicli Anitca Pizzeria. This Neapolitan pizza restaurant opened in Feb 2011 with a lot of hype and fanfare amongst foodies and pizza lovers in Vancouver. I've read and heard a lot of good things about the tasty "authentic", "this-ain't no fresh slice," pizza and some mixed reviews about the service and long wait times. I love pizza but I wouldn't consider myself a true connoisseur- so I was eager to try out aunthentic Neapolitan pizza and find out if its worth all of the fuss.
According to some research, Neapolitan pizza "toppings are sparse and traditional" and "dough that has been laboured on and that has developed for hours and hours, but takes only minutes to cook in a wood burning oven." The big difference in this style of pizza seems to be the crust....trying to acheive a crust that's thin, tender and pillowy inside with charring on the undercarriage and leopard-spotting along the rim.
We arrived at around 7:45pm and the place was full. We were told it would be a 30 min wait, I gave them my cell number and we took a little stroll around Gastown to kill the time. Approx 10 minutes later, I got a happy call that our table was ready. The decor was clean, open and modern (clean lines, crisp white features and black laquered detailing with funky floral arrangements) meets old school (exposed brick). Their is a sizeable bar and the centrepiece is the floor to ceiling wood burning pizza oven set up so you can watch your pizza as its made and then fired in the oven. This is no ordinary oven...the baby is a blistering wood-burning brick-lined oven that cooks at a temperature of 800- 1000 degrees Fehrenheit that bakes each pizza in a mere 90 seconds.
We were seated in what I thought were the best seats in the house.....right in front of the pizza assembly station and wood burning oven...aka FRONT ROW.
The menu was simple- dominated by pizzas (less than a dozen varieties), about half a dozen rustic Italian salads and starters, and a extensive drink menu. The pizzas and ingredients are all in Italian and they all sound mouth-watering. We had decided that after our Taqueria "starters", that we would split a pizza, but deciding on which one was tricky because they all sounded really tasty.
The pizza dough at Nicli is made from "00" Caputo flour and hand formed. All of their pizzas have a tomato sauce made from high quality "San Marzano" tomatoes (apparantly the kichen crushes the whole canned tomatoes by hand as not crush the seeds, which are bitter), pomodoro (a type of mozzarella) and parmigiano (parmesan cheese) and are finished off with a liberal dousing of high quality olive oil.
The menu options are: Margherita $12 (basil), Marinara $9 (oregano and garlic), Napoletana $13 (oregano, garlic, anchovy), Funghi $14 (basil and mushrooms), Prosciutto e Rucola $19 (prosciutto, arugula), Prosciutto Crudo $18 (basil, prosciutto crudo), Capricciosa $20 (proscuitto cotto, artichokes, mushrooms, black olives, basil), Diavola $16 (sopressatta (hot) basil, finished with chili oil), Quattro Formaggi $19 (gorgonzola, emmental, basil), Bianca $17 (roasted garlic, roasted onion, oregano, gorgonzola).
After much deliberation, we decided to go with the Napoletana, because we wanted to try one of their most basic pies, but we both wanted a bit of a salty kick and to try anchovies (we were anchovy rookies and feeling really curious). We watched the pizza chefs eagerly, pretty much drooling, as they assembled our Napoletana. After assembling, they threw it in the oven, and then finished it liberally with a dousing of olive oil. Our pizza was brought to our table around 10 minutes after we placed our order.
These are gorgeous looking pizzas. The thin crust rises a little uneven from the extreme heat, with a slight singe and blistering. The tomato sauce is a vibrant red and the additional ingredients give a nice texture and hearty appearance.
The crust is sturdy but nice and thin throughout. It's slightly crunchy, puffy, and beautifully chewy with a slightly salty and sour taste. The middle of the pizza is soft and tender, but not wet and soggy. As nice as the crust was, it really let the beautiful fresh flavours of the minimal toppings shine. The tomato sauce tasted as vibrant and fresh as it looked, the cheese was light and savoury and salty, and the roasted garlic chunks and salty delicious anchovies were like little flavour bombs.
The pizzas are served with rosemary infused olive oil and chili infused olive oil. The chili oil was nice with a ever-so-slight spice that gave a subtle kick to the plain crust and the rosemary oil had an awesome scent, rich flavour and fresh taste. I wish the chili oil was spicier, because I love spicy dips, but it was nice to have some condiments and dipping sauces available.
Throughout the meal, the service was wonderful. The host/ Maitre D did a fantastic job welcoming us and made the short wait a complete non-issue. Staff was attentive and quick to answer any questions. The staff was all extremely knowledgable and enthusiastic about the restaurant and the food itself. We weren't rushed and once we ordered, the wait time until our pizza arrived was very brief.
We had a really nice dining experience at Nicli and I highly recommend this as a perfect place to get some amazing pizza.