By Heather Irwin
Editor's note: First Bite is a new concept in restaurant writing. This is not a go-three-times, try-everything-on-the-menu report; rather, this is a quick snapshot of a single experience.
We're so close to the blisteringly hot wood-fired ovens that I can feel the entire left side of my face turning pink and little beads of sweat start to glisten on my forehead. There's a chill outside, so the coziness of Pizzeria Picco, hardly more than 10 stools at a wraparound counter, and tightly squeezed together at that, isn't all bad. Regardless, I'm ordering dessert first, a bowl of soft-serve vanilla ice cream drenched with raspberries, to stay cool.
Pizzeria Picco is owned by chef Bruce Hill of Bix and the Real Restaurant Group (Fog City Diner, Bungalow 44). The pizzeria is a casual outpost of the higher-end small-plate diner, Picco, next door.
Dominating the back, where three guys with surprisingly little arm hair left hustle pizza peels around, is an authentic wood-fired oven reaching up to 999 degrees at its hottest spot. We know, because we hijacked the laser thermometer off the counter and pointed it inside: 850 degrees or so on the stone near where the pizzas bubble and rise; hotter where the flames lick at the walls. At that temperature, it takes just about three minutes for the pizzas to cook completely. So despite the rather lengthy lines, there's not much of a wait for food once you make your way inside. In fact, I'm barely done with my ice cream when the first plate comes to the counter where we're sitting. All of the pizzas have extremely thin crust and light toppings, and are the size of a large dinner plate--Neapolitan-style, using imported Italian flour for the crust and, when possible, local organic produce.
Each of the pizzas is named after one of the bicycles that spin past the restaurant. The Serotta ($12.75) sports small beads of Italian sausage, broccoli rabe (the leafy part of the broccoli plant), oregano and two types of cheese. The thin, brittle crust can't hold up to much in the way of toppings, so at times it's hard to get a good bit of flavor in your mouth, the smoky crust dominating everything and the rabe ending up on the plate--or, in my case, the floor.
Better was the Seven ($12.50), which was a bit less charred on the bottom and topped with wild mushrooms, hand-pulled mozzarella, parmesan and pecorino cheese. It nearly bursts with earthiness and the tang of cheese. Our kids (who mostly refuse to eat anything with vegetables or "weird stuff" on top) gobbled up the Specialized ($12.50), with tiny, spicy pepperonis, sausage, tomato, basil and mozzarella. No complaints there; in fact, there were three hearty, tomato-y thumbs up from the under-10 contingency, confirming the family-friendliness of the restaurant.
In addition to pizza, Picco also makes piadine, pizza crusts topped with salads. The Kona ($12.50) was the hit of our hungry, post–soccer game group, with bitter frisée, quartered figs, prosciutto, goat cheese and caramelized onions. We found out the hard way that forks tend to be useless here; a fat slice folded New York–style (in half-lengthwise) keeps the salad intact and the figs right where they should be.
For dessert (or appetizer), it is imperative--nay, I say required--that all self-respecting eaters order Picco's homemade soft serve, made with Straus Dairy milk and more butterfat than any person should eat in a week. Oh, beat yourself up later, calorie counter. Topped with raspberries, plain vanilla is very grown-up. With sea salt and olive oil, it's, well, a little weird, but trés currant. Topped with hard-shell chocolate, it's downright childlike, dripping on toes and sidewalks, a big chocolate mustache complementing the drip of pizza sauce still on your chin.
Pizzeria Picco, 320 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur. Open Monday–Friday, 5pm to 10pm; Saturday–Sunday, noon to 10pm. Takeout available. 415.945.8900.
From the October 19-25, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.
© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.