Pizzeria Locale gives Bay-area pizza a whirl

Matthew Perez of Pizzeria Locale
Photo by Susan France

Boulder’s Pizzeria Locale has been in business almost two years, and has solidified its position as a go-to spot for wood-fired, Naples-style pie. Starters such as arancini, an addictingly rich fried melding of risotto and cheese, and desserts like the sensual butterscotch budino, an upscale pudding, have also burnished this eatery’s reputation.

Taking a page from the playbook of big sister Frasca, Locale recently hosted its first guest pizzaiolo, Executive Chef Chris Thompson of San Francisco’s A16. For two nights, Thompson prepared an $18 fixed menu consisting of salad, choice of red or white pie, and dessert. Like Locale, the well-regarded A16 features artisan pizza as well as pasta and is also known for such rustic specialties as meatballs. A16’s fame even extends to Asia, where it has a Tokyo branch.

While guest chef engagements haven’t yet become a regularly scheduled event at Locale, the management hopes there will be similar visits in the not-too-distant future. When friend Ann and I dropped in for an early dinner, it quickly became clear that Thompson’s visit might make a good template for upcoming visits — a quick glance at the open kitchen made it clear he was taking a conscientious, hands-on approach (unlike some chefs whose restaurants provoke more questions than answers).

At first bite, Ann found the salad of escarole, caciocavallo (a creamy-tasting cheese with a flavor reminiscent of provolone) and grapes a touch salty. We discerned, however, that the saltiness came from an intriguing treatment of the grapes; some had been brine-pickled, others had been roasted. Each of these processes enhanced the sweetness of the fruit while retaining fresh, non-raisiny flavor. Later research revealed these grapes are a typical accompaniment to A16’s signature meatballs. What stood out most, though, was the salad’s bright freshness — it was surprising to eat something exuding such a spring vibe in November.

Ann opted for the white pie, a compelling blend of buffalo mozzarella, radicchio and cooked proscuitto cotto. For an additional $3, this pie came atop a crisp, crackery gluten-free crust. This foundation was definitely a cut above most gluten-free offerings, as many have a texture that can distract from the rest of the dish. Milky creaminess from the cheese played well with the gentle saltiness of the ham. The pizza satisfied without being overwhelmingly rich, and the flavors were further enhanced by a subtle drizzle of chile oil.

I’d give an edge to the white pie over my red pizza. Loaded with buffalo milk provolone, kale and red onion over tomato sauce, the leafy greens provided surprising body. A hint of chile flake gave it just the right amount of heat. The pie presented a laudable mix of flavors, although I suspect I gave the nod to the white for straying away from traditional Naples tastes. But I’d definitely enjoy this pie again if offered.

Dessert, the chocolate, sea salt and olive oil budino, gave Locale’s butterscotch (my favorite dessert in town) serious competition. In the right amounts, olive oil lends a luxurious suppleness and a whisper of peppery fruit to sweets. Here, the texture was hauntingly silky with a subtle undercurrent of spice lingering beneath deep chocolate. In short, it was a fine end to as good an $18 meal as you’ll find.

Pizzeria Locale is located at 1730 Pearl St. in Boulder. Call 303-442-3003 or visit their website.

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