The old- fashioned way
Settebello’s helps preserve the 200-year-old Neapolitan method of making pizza
By Erica Wayne 12/22/2011
As he was cutting my hair, Jim Tuck (proprietor of the Alter Ego on Union Street — highly recommended!) gave me a nice holiday gift, a tip about a new authentic Neapolitan pizza place on Colorado Boulevard. He didn’t remember its name but said it was next to Roy’s. When I left, I drove straight there.
Settebello, named after the top card in a popular Italian card game called Scopa, is the last in a trio (Las Vegas and Salt Lake City are the others) of restaurants opened by the same owner in the past few years.
I went home to consult my computer and read some of the early diners’ reviews on Yelp. Two particularly caught my eye: “The salad was good. Just had to pick out those scary-bitter-too salty olives. Ick!” and “The Napoletana came out pegged on the salt and anchovy scale. I guess you could expect this from a pizza served with olives, capers and anchovy.”
Now I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life picking out rubbery tasteless canned olive rounds from salads and pizzas and yearning for missing anchovies from Caesar salad, salade nicoise and puttanesca. If these folks were complaining, I had no doubt that Settebello was obviously going to be one of my favorite pizza joints.
Alas, the first time we dropped by, anchovies had totally disappeared from the printed menu, along with the Napoletana pizza. And those scary “bitter-too-salty olives” were only mentioned as an ingredient in one salad (the $9 Insalata Grande — mixed greens, fresh tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted mushrooms, olives, pine nuts, cracked pepper, shaved parmigiano reggiano and balsamic vinaigrette) and a single pizza (the $13 Capricciosa — crushed tomatoes, prosciutto cotto, artichoke hearts, roasted mushrooms, olives, mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil).
Nevertheless, we were charmed by the place and its three spacious dining areas, one around the long bar traversing the front of the restaurant and the other two flanking each side of the impressive mosaic-clad genuine Neapolitan (Stefano Feffara — Napoli) pizza oven. And we made do with the most traditional of Settebello’s offerings, the Margherita — $11 (supposedly invented in 1889 by a Neapolitan chef to honor the Italian Queen’s visit) with tomato, mozzarella and basil replicating the colors of the Italian flag.
Our other pizza was a daily special ($13) with most of the ingredients of the Margherita (heirloom cherry tomatoes instead of crushed) along with mortadella, the chubby pork sausage with chunks of white fat, pistachios and peppercorns. Both pies were delicious, with the required charred and bubbled crust; but we noticed that one ingredient not on the printed menu, panna (heavy cream) along with the olive oil, made the centers of our pizzas a bit wetter than the norm. (In looking back over the Yelpers’ reviews, I found that this is a common complaint.)
Since my lunch companion is Italian and spends a good deal of her time there, I stand by her opinion (the same as my own and that of the Yelpers) that the pizza we had was a tad undercooked; but I had no idea that we were stepping into a widespread and protracted online discussion by aficionados of how wet a “wet-centered” Neapolitan pizza should really be. (Just Google it.)
Settebello’s owners, belong to VPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), established in Naples in 1984 to protect the integrity of the more than 200 year-old Neapolitan methodology of pizza making. VPN’s baking instructions are crystal clear — pies must cook no longer than 90 seconds directly on the surface of a domed pizza oven fueled solely by wood, heated to a constant 905 degrees Fahrenheit. (Settebello’s brick oven was hand-crafted in Naples.) The pie’s center is not to be more than .4 of a centimeter thick. So, with the short oven time and such a thin crust, there’s little room for error. The slightest excess of moisture in toppings may tip the balance.
By the way, there was absolutely no dissent on the character or quality of the cannoli ($6) we had for dessert. First of all, there were two — as there should be with the plural. They were filled with a house-made mix of candied fruit (YES!), ricotta and chocolate, a far better ending to an Italian meal than tiramisu (also on the menu and house made for $6.50).
Settebello has a full license, and its beer, wine and liquor lists are populated with interesting Italian offerings: e.g., Micro Brewery beer from Sardegna, Turin and Emilia Romagna (pretty expensive at $12-$19); 12 nice varietal whites and reds by the glass ($6-$9) or bottle ($24-$32), and some of my favorite pre-and post-dinner liqueurs: Sambuca, Grappa, Limoncello and Campari. Also, there are a number of reasonably priced Italian cocktails.
Settebello is almost invisible from the street, its façade squished in between Roy’s massive edifice and the somewhat less imposing but still more noticeable and equally new restaurant, Tender Greens (more about them soon). But once you’ve found it, Settebello’s is worth multiple trips, not only for the pizza, but to try some of their starters (such as involtini de prosciutto: raw Parma ham wrapped around baby arugula and goat cheese, then topped with more goat cheese, shaved parmigiano reggiano, balsamic reduction and olive oil — $9.50) with a couple of those cocktails.
625 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena