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Monday, June 29, 2015

Montesacro's Pinsas Are Not Pizzas

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2015 at 11:00 AM

The Infernetto Pinsa at Montesacro - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • The Infernetto Pinsa at Montesacro

Hold it. Don’t even think about calling Montesacro Pinseria Romana’s defining dish “pizza.” Stop, now.

Presented as a stretched-out concave oval not unlike the Mexican street food staple “huarache,” only with dough in lieu of masa, Montesacro's is a strong statement on art of pizza — or pinsas, or whatever you desire to call a few toppings on intensely heated crust.

It's also a strong statement on 2015 San Francisco that a new restaurant with a comfortable, rustic setting that would be right at home in near Florence’s Duomo, is a new occupant at one of the city’s most notorious intersections: 6th and Market. (OK, it’s on Stevenson Street, a small side alley, but you’ll get the point pretty quickly). As with nearby Dottie’s and Mikkeller Bar, and a host of others coming to the Tender-Mid-Ma area, it’s slowly improving.

But before tackling the vague subject of how a pinsa compares to a pizza, one thing isn’t vague: Montesacro is a strong asset to the city’s competitive Italian dining scene. I’m not Italian but I’ve eaten in enough mom-and-pop places across Italy to assure you: This. Is. Italy. Even the water glasses hold barely more than four sips, because as an Italian host might ask, What is wine for, after all?

Stepping inside that warm Roman trattoria feel — with wine on walls reachable only by ladders, an espresso machine, a prosciutto-slicing station, haphazard chairs and tables not the least bit comfortable, servers with strong Italian accents — envelopes all the senses. More important is the early-20th-century oven from the building's days as a bakery, a landmark that's probably visible 20 blocks away.

Except that’s not where the pinsas come from; they emerge from a massive electric Cuppone oven. It's not brick, so don’t go looking for any of the leopard-spotted char that pizza hounds covet, but boy are there some big air bubbles in this crust.

Out come the flatbreads, every two minutes or so, after a fierce 90 seconds in the high heat, and lightly topped with tanned kale, pepperoncini, and a potent hit of the brined-fish-and-herbs sauce “garum,” or the salty blast of anchovy. The most recommended pinsa rendition is the “Infernetto” ($17), vehemently enhanced in its scarcity of smoked mozzarella di bufala and a few smears of the spreadable spicy pork known as "nduja." This is minimal pizza, more so than the already-barren Neapolitan pies at Anthony Mangieri's Una Pizza Napoletana. How deep dish evolved from this…I have no idea.

Montesacro’s website explains the whole pinsa concept with a passionate manifesto against what we think of as pizza, calling it a “copy and paste” formula. They believe there is no Italy in modern-day pizza. It's a bit of a "get off my lawn" attitude, but it’s also enlightening. Pizza is controversial style to style, from Pizza My Heart to New Haven to Naples, and we don’t even know what pizza really is. Heck, in Rome, they don’t really even eat pizza. They eat flatbread more in line with crackers topped with a touch of cheese or salt. This pinsa has much more in common with those “pizza biancas” than, say, Round Table.

The crust is the key point of a pinsa. Using non-gmo wheat, rice flour, and soy, all of which is given a special pre-fermentation and a 72-hour rise, results in a taste that's not too different from the savory rush in sourdough levain, given smoke but no char. In terms of consistency, the dough turns one notch below cracker-edge crispness, but it's as soft as gnocchi in the center. Altogether, it’s one superb flatbread, pinsa, or pizza, like what you’d get millennia ago at the Temple of Jupiter.

Montesacro's Caprese with plenty of oregano - TREVOR FELCH
  • Trevor Felch
  • Montesacro's Caprese with plenty of oregano

Since the pinsas are perfectly sized for one, a few antipasti are needed to round out lunch or dinner. A fine (if peculiar) caprese with a couple tablespoons of oregano, 3 pinches too much of salt, and barely any basil ($15) is a decent choice. It may be wiser to go the beef carpaccio route, or stick to simple salads like kale and anchovies, or a panzanella. Slow roasted, thinly sliced porchetta ($12) with an artistic drizzle of olive oil and sprig of rosemary has more in common with Thanksgiving turkey than what you’ll wait in line for at Roli Roti. As mentioned before, there is a wine bar element to the room, hence opt for a Dolcetto d’Alba or Schiava from the Alto Adige to compliment the cheese, bread, and light amount of meat. (The bottles-only beer list is a forgettable one.)

The question post-pinsa eating and history lesson is, will you be stopping by Patxi’s for deep dish afterwards, because you’re still hungry for pizza? Nah. A second round of Montesacro’s pinsa is far more tempting if you find the first too light. But chances are you’ll be nicely satisfied. Hard to beat a whole pinsa and a slice of Roman history.

Montesacro, 510 Stevenson 415-795-3040.

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Trevor Felch


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