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Monday, September 26, 2011

Margherita-ville: Checking Out FiDi's Cupola Pizzeria and Pachino

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Cupola Pizzeria's pizza margherita, $13.50 - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Cupola Pizzeria's pizza margherita, $13.50

Generation X seemed to devote a lot of time in our 20s complaining about being in the shadow of the baby boom generation. So I feel a certain empathy for the pizza restaurants that opened over the spring and summer this year, in the shadow of last year's artisan-pizza glut. A few weeks ago, I set out to visit them all, which resulted in last week's review of Piccino. The other newcomers I visited: Cupola Pizzeria and Pachino Pizzeria.

Cupola, Lark Creek Restaurant Group's pizzeria in the Westfield San Francisco Centre, opened in June next door to LarkCreekSteak. Designed by Cass Calder Smith, Cupola looks like an Ed Hardy shirt viewed through 3-D glasses, with black walls covered in intricate glyphs and lipstick-red, glossy tables.

Christian Hermsdorf's kitchen puts out a range of pastas and salads, and the pizzas are made, in a wood-burning oven, in the classic Neapolitan model.

Cupola's margherita -- the pie I always order to check out a new pizzeria, a magnifying mirror that shows all flaws -- looked good, with a fat, bubbled rim and pools of house-made mozzarella dotting the field of tomato sauce. The crust had a brittle chewiness to it that I appreciated. But after the first piece, the charring on the pie began to grow increasingly noticeable.

Pachino's pizza margherita, $12. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Pachino's pizza margherita, $12.

Now, I love char-flecked, smoke-tinged pizza crusts, but there's a point

at which the blackened dough becomes bitter and eclipses the flavor of wheat. The other dominant note: the tomato sauce, which was thickly applied. Overall, it was a pizza that tasted fine as

long as you didn't pay too much attention to it. Given Hermsdorf's

experience at Bar Bambino, if I returned I'd be more interested in seeing what he can do with pastas.

Pachino, which took over the old Quattro Stagione space on Kearney in July, is part of the Pino Spinoso family of restaurants (he owns a good chunk of Belden Alley, including Cafe Tiramisu and Belden Taverna). Former Farina GM Gabriele Originario originally signed on to run the restaurant, and the pizzaiolo, Salvatore Di Stefano, had worked for Tony Gemignani at Tony's Pizza Napoletana. An impressive team.

I seem to have hit Pachino a few days after Originario walked out, however, and the restaurant was a shambles -- half the menu was unavailable, and the waiter couldn't locate any of the wines on the wine list. But the pizzaiolo was in house, so a friend and I ordered a margherita and a potato, onion, and rosemary pie. The toppings on both were fine, but the high-lipped, brown crust snapped apart with a hard crack and tasted dense and floury inside. I grew tired of chewing well before I had eaten my fill.

It's a measure of the quality of San Francisco's best pizza that decent Neapolitan-style pies like Cupola and Pachino's don't merit full-length reviews. If these two newcomers want to emerge from the shadow of Flour + Water, Delfina, and Tony's, they're going to have to perfect their skills.

Cupola Pizzeria: 845 Market, fourth floor, 896-5600.

Pachino Pizzeria: 318 Kearny, 956-4056

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