Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pizza with pizzazz

On New Year’s Day I posted a list of restaurants in Ottawa I wanted to try sometime this year. This week alone, I visited two of them - and, I might add, those are the only two I’ve managed to get to, while at least three more have been added to my mental list of "must-tries". The first one crossed off the list was Allium, which I reviewed the other day. The second one is Pi’za-za, over on the Gatineau side. We went there last night for an impromptu midweek dinner with my parents, sister and brother-in-law. My parents are moving away in just over a month’s time, so it’s nice for us to all get to spend some extra time together, and if good food and drink is involved, so much the better. D had been telling us about this place for ages and we figured it was high time we tried it out.

And it was good. All of it. The food, the wine, the company, even the ambiance. Pi’za-za is housed in a red brick two-storey on Rue Laval in what used to be called Hull, a stone’s throw from two huge federal government office complexes. As such, it’s extremely popular with the lunch crowd, and judging by the decent crowd on a Wednesday evening, does pretty well for dinner too. Although the indoor space looks pretty much like a slightly shabby pub, they have a covered side patio and a huge, uncovered back patio, which is where the six of us ended up. Strings of white lights crisscrossed above our heads; the bright red tables wobbled a little, but the green plastic chairs were pretty comfy, so we didn’t much care. Especially once we all had a drink in front of us. Kudos to the bar staff for actually making my gin and tonic too strong rather than the opposite (I just waited until the ice melted a little).

As you can imagine from the name of the place, the menu’s main focus is thin-crust pizzas. There are a good two dozen selections to choose from, along with a daily special, and half a dozen seriously interesting salads to start you off on a crunchy note. We’re talking smoked trout, mixed seafood, and even a carbonara salad with bacon and hard-cooked egg. Yum. Most of us chose either the house specialty salade Pi’za-za, with artichoke hearts, parmesan and a divine olive oil and lemon dressing over spring greens, or the Mediterranean salade Zorba, with black olives, tomatoes, feta and bacon over more of those lettuces. Both arrived with a soft and delicious breadstick emerging from the side of the bowl and were immediately devoured.

The pizzas were much harder to choose; both Chris and I made game-time decisions about our mains. He opted for the Club, with tomato sauce, bacon, tomato slices, smoked chicken and mozzarella; I teetered on the edge of ordering the Greek but toppled a bit and ended up with the Paysanne, which was a divine and delicious sweet-salty blend of prosciutto, figs, mushrooms and provolone over tomato sauce. The crust was thin but chewy: if not as transcendent as Wooden Heads’, it at least tasted good and didn’t interfere with or collapse under the toppings, which were generous. Other selections around the table included the Charcutiere with calabrese, merguez and capicollo; and the daily pie, a concoction of ham and Dijon mustard with mushrooms and cheese. Sounds odd, tastes amazing.

Four of us shared a bottle of an Italian red called Lungarotti which went beautifully with the pizzas – not too light, but not heavy, either, with good acidity to cut through the richness of cheese and cured meats. The restaurant has a lovely wine list and also offers flights of its featured wines for a very reasonable price.

All of us enjoyed our meal, but my brother-in-law really goes there for the desserts. Well, one dessert specifically: the chocolate mousse, which comes in a parfait glass. D ordered two and finished them both. Chris restricted himself to just one, and was awake half the night for his pains, but he said it was so worth it, and after my one bite, I have to agree. I also sampled my dad’s tarte au citron, which was completely different from the one I had at Allium, but possibly even better. The Ottawa Citizen’s reviewer had raved about the lemon pie here, a fact I made my father aware of as he adores such things. She wasn’t wrong: it had a sweet-tart, almost cakey filling and lighter than air pastry, spiked with shards of lemon rind. It tasted old-fashioned in the best possible way. Pi’za-za makes all of their desserts in-house; my sister raved about her panna cotta and my mother enjoyed, but couldn’t finish, her white and dark chocolate cheesecake.

It was a perfect night for dining al fresco, too: not too cool or too hot, zero humidity, and few bugs. I’d have to say it was one of the finest meals I’ve eaten on a Wednesday night in a long time, and Pi’za-za has officially been added to my list of great places to eat in the Ottawa area. À la prochaine!

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