Yeah, you guessed it. Here I go on the subject of pizza again. I would like to tell you this will be the last review of a pizza establishment, but I would be lying. The fact is that I am obsessed with pizza. I am not quite sure at just what point in my life my obsession with pizza began. Perhaps it was that first slice that I remember in NY’s Little Italy way back when as a kid; the crispy outside of the crust, the chewy inner part of the crust, the tomato sauce, the cheese, the grease dripping down my chin....... Anyway, however it started, I am hooked. I like all kinds of pizza....as long as it’s good pizza. I can appreciate different types of pizza: NY Style like Ray’s Pizza on 6th avenue in the Village, Arturo’s and Grimaldi’s coal oven pizza, John’s brick oven pizza, true Neapolitan pizza in a wood fired oven (Pizza Oskian in Paris, Keste in NY, Pizza e Vino in the OC, etc.). I appreciate all of the different varieties of pizza, even an occasional Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, although I don’t really consider it to be pizza per se, but more of a pizza inspired casserole. But I’ll save that discussion for when Ladies Who Lunch hits Chicago.
The latest in my quest for the Holy Grail of Pizza led me to Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, CA. Although the name of this restaurant is “Pizzeria”, it is actually a full-on Italian gourmet restaurant. But you know me, I was there for the pizza. And to clarify, Pizzeria Ortica serves Neapolitan style pizza made with a 300 year old starter garnered from just outside Naples. I met two friends there and quickly scoped out the joint. The restaurant is in an interesting location, very long and narrow, with the kitchen completely exposed in the center of the space. Seating is found either directly in front of the kitchen, to one side where you can also find the bar or to the other side where there is seating only. The narrowness of the space is counter-balanced by the height of the ceilings and tower-like vaulted areas that lend a great deal of character to the restaurant. There are also a few tables outside for when the weather is nice. We were at first shown a table in the bar area.
Initially, they attempted to seat us near the bar. We opted instead to sit at one of the tables directly in front of the kitchen. Perhaps a bit more chaotic, but I was loving watching them hand stretch the dough and pull the pizzas in and out of the oven.
They have a full bar and an interesting wine and beer menu, mostly populated with Italian wines with and a sprinkling of California wines. The price point on the wine list is reasonably moderate and is a decent selection. We ordered a bottle of Sangiovese and finished looking over the menu. The wine arrived and after a quick toast, we placed our orders.
We started by splitting the salad Tricolore - Radicchio, arugula, endive, apples, Gorgonzola, candied walnuts. All of the lettuces were beautifully fresh and the light dressing complimented their flavors mixed with the thin apple slices, walnuts and Gorgonzola. The salad was in fact so good that I actually considered ordering another one all for myself, but decided to wait and see how we did with the pizzas.
The pizzas were delivered piping hot out of the oven and looked delectable. We waited for them to cool and set up a bit and just enjoyed the aroma that wafted up and around us from the beautiful creations. The staff brought little dishes of red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese to the table and after everyone had anointed their pizzas with these ingredients, we dug in. My two mates both ordered the Salame piccante e funghi - Margherita with Calabrese salami and mixed mushroom. The salami was generous and my friends loved the just right spiciness of it co-mingled with the other ingredients on their pizzas. I ordered the Margherita and had them add mushrooms to it. Essentially it was the same as my friends, but minus the salami. The sauce was made from D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes and their distinct flavoring was evident as soon as you bit into the pizza, as was the fresh basil. The mozzarella was delicate and flavorful. But what really made this pizza was the crust. The crust was lightly crisp to the tooth and light and slightly chewy on the inside. The crust was bubbled up in places around the edges and it had just the right amount of charring on the bottom to give it that just perfect flavoring. Some might say that the 300 year old starter doesn’t matter, but I think that the flavorful nuances of the crust must be attributed to it. So many times, the texture and tooth of the crust can be perfect, yet the dough is just a little bland and almost flavorless. Definitely a 2 thumbs up on this pizza. I wish I had been able to try some of their desserts (everything that came out of the kitchen looked amazing), but I was so into my pizza that I devoured the whole thing and didn’t leave any room for it.
Having been in the OC when it was a virtual pizza desert (Dominos and Pizza Hut aren’t even on my radar), it is refreshing to find that not only has good pizza arrived in the OC, but it is in the same league as that which can be found in some of the most established pizza capitals of the world. I for one am beyond pleased that more outlets for my obsession are now available in more locales, giving me more and more pizza to delve into and torture you with :)