Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Impressions: Pizzeria Picco

316 Magnolia Ave
Larkspur, CA 94939
(415) 945-8900

(all photos by Adam Lindsley unless otherwise noted)

Our bellies full from the excellent lunch at Pizzeria Delfina, Christa and I hopped in the rental car, swung by Dynamo (for what would turn out to be exotically spiced by very mediocre doughnuts), and made tracks across the Golden Gate Bridge for a lovely drive to the quaint burg of Larkspur. This is a small town bursting at the seams with charm, and many of the buildings have been standing since the late 1800s.

But on to the pizza. Both Adam Kuban of Slice and my new friend Jason (who I had just met at Pizzeria Delfina) had raved about the pizza at Picco, and I admit this kind of worked me into a bit of a frenzy. Adam Kuban called it "Neapolitan-style pizza taken to the next level," and with praise like that, how could you not get excited?

Walking to our table, we passed the wood-burning oven, whose flames were roaring and ready to gets its molten hands on some lovely fermented dough. The model was the ubiquitous Mugnaini, which I have seen in pizzerias anywhere from Nostrana and Firehouse in Portland, Oregon to Pizzaiolo in San Francisco the day prior.

We started with the Margherita ($10.95), of course. It arrived piping hot and well-charred around the cornicione, though not so much on what I like to call the chassis, or underside. The dough had been spread to a nice thinness, but somehow hadn't crisped in the oven, and didn't boast more than the occasional browned bit; obviously, the oven's floor hadn't reached the proper temperature yet. No matter: floppy as it was, it was still cooked through.

(photo by Christa Engelskirch)

Oddly enough, the pie looked didn't much resemble the one Adam Kuban had on his trip here in late 2009, and that was due entirely to the cheese. Take a look at the photo of the Margherita on his Slice posting for Pizzeria Picco, then look at the photo of our Margherita. See the difference?

Adam's pie was clearly made with fresh mozzarella. Ours? Aged. And if it wasn't aged, it must have come from the same mozzarella batch as the original mozz curd they used at Lovely's Fifty-Fifty in Portland before they revamped the recipe, because it had melted into a large yellow pool.

(photo by Christa Engelskirch)

I'm complaining about the look, but the cheese was good. It just tasted like a New York slice, not a Neapolitan pizza whatsoever. Salty and sharp (especially with the grated parmesan), which made up for the slight lack of salt in the cornice. The sauce was a little uneven: very sweet in places, but closer to unseasoned tomatoes in others. The disparity didn't really affect my opinion of the pizza: it was undeniably great. Sure, the crust was very dense, but the pie as a whole was delicious. It just wasn't what I had been expecting, not by a long shot.

For our second pizza, we ordered the J.Klein ($14.50), a sauceless pie topped with California asparagus, roasted garlic, basil, mozzarella, crescenza (a soft cow's milk cheese from northern Italy), and parmesan. This pie was made by the asparagus and roasted garlic. The asparagus, sliced into thin rounds, had been cooked perfectly, not too chewy, not rubbery, but wonderfully crisp. Even better was the roasted garlic, which literally melted on the tongue; there wasn't much of it on the pizza, but every bite that included it was heavenly. It must be said, though, that the bites without the roasted garlic or asparagus were extremely bland. Somehow that trio of cheeses tasted like absolutely nothing, in stark contrast with the cheese on the Margherita. Not sure what happened there.

(photo by Christa Engelskirch)

Dessert was exquisite: Straus Dairy vanilla soft serve with sea salt and DaVero extra virgin olive oil. Less adventurous eaters may find that combination off-putting (and before I had tried the butterscotch budino at Mozza in L.A., I may have been inclined to agree), but trust me when I tell you it was simply delightful. The soft serve had been made expertly, with a very fine ice crystallization that was almost undetectable, bringing considerable creaminess to the dish. The sea salt emphasized the sweetness of the ice cream, and the olive oil, added in small dollops on the vanilla mountain, married perfectly with the other two components to form a dish that wasn't cloyingly sweet, but restrained and sophisticated. If you make it out to Larkspur and swing by Picco for dinner (and you really should), I suggest you order this after your meal. You won't be disappointed.

(photo by Christa Engelskirch)

Pizzeria Picco delivered a great meal, though one very different from the one I had been expecting. If any of you dine there in the near future, do report on the Margherita for me!

Tomorrow: Tony's Pizza Napoletana and Emilia's.

OVEN: Wood



  1. Boy am I jealous. It's possible the cheese discrepancy is due to higher heat above giving a more thorough melt and it mingling with the sauce on your pizza.

    I'm looking forward to your next review.

    Unrelated: someone recently mentioned that there's a new pizza cart on NE Alberta. You heard anything about this?

  2. @Flushy: Tough to tell about the cheese. I mean, I would assume the cheese on Adam Kuban's Margherita would also have endured a similarly high heat. Also, this cheese tasted very salty, more so than any fresh mozz I've ever eaten. Maybe they ran out that night?

    As for a new pizza cart on NE Alberta, I haven't heard anything yet. I'll keep my ear to the ground, though if you hear something, do let me know.

  3. I have really enjoyed reading your SF reviews, Sorry to hear about the cheese situation, our pie seemed to be different than yours. There was fresh mozz, and the pizza looked more like Adam Kuban's picture (I have a pic of the Margherita that I was just comparing it to).

    Emilia's is more like a NY/NJ Pie, I Think thats why I had such an affinity for it, Alicia didn't love it. I'm getting fired up for part 2 of our tour, we will have to wait until Mangeri opens his place, but I also want to go back to every one on our last tour (except Howie's) plus: Pizzetta 211 and Flour and H20, also maybe Point Reye's Cafe and Rosso's (both are quite a drive).
    My brother and his Wife are getting a Mugnaini for their baking co. (mostly artisan breads, no pizza....yet). Pretty exciting! Looking fwd to more of your reviews.

  4. In the end, I should say I wasn't disappointed at all with the Picco Margherita, it was just different than I was expecting it to be. I really, really enjoyed it.

    Your brother's getting a Mugnaini? I'm so jealous. I'd be using that thing constantly.

  5. @Flushy: Happened to stop by Grilled Cheese Grill today (11th and Alberta) and saw a sign reading "Wood-Fired Pizza" posted on the enclosed area next door. Couldn't see inside, but it looks like something new will be unveiled soon. I'll post the photo sometime later tonight.