Thursday, August 12, 2010

Impressions: Marcello Pizzeria & Ristorante

Marcello Pizzeria & Ristorante
1404 Commercial Drive
Vancouver, BC V5L 3X9
(604) 215-7760
(photo by Christa Engelskirch)

Of the several mediocre and overpriced meals I ate on a recent visit to Vancouver, BC (thanks for the crappy recommendations, Chowhounders), the Margherita pizza I ate at Marcello Pizzeria & Ristorante was unquestionably the low point.

(all other photos by Adam Lindsley)

Things started out promising, at least in my head. The building is the lone piece of welcoming architecture on a rather ugly block in dingy east Vancouver, and stands out pretty prominently as a respite from the unchecked seediness around it. The area directly in front of the building was also the only space on a Vancouver sidewalk that didn't assault my nose with a mélange of urine, feces, or garbage.

The wood-burning oven at Marcello's is probably the coolest I've ever seen. Don't ask me to identify the cultural significance of it, whether it's tribal or completely the product of someone's imagination. I just don't know, and neither did our server. Whatever it is, that towering head in whose mouth the burning fire cooks the pies is a sight worth seeing. And probably bowing down to. Note the fire extinguisher placed nearby in case the Pizza God spews flames in anger.

My friend and I started with the Margherita Fresca ($16.95). The "Fresca" indicates that the mozzarella on the pizza is fresh, not aged, which is what is served on their "normal" Margherita. I decided that if the Margherita was good, I would order a second pie, but if not, I wouldn't bother.

Several visual clues made my heart sink right off the bat. The crust wasn't charred, the cornicione (outer crust) was unrisen, and there was no basil at all on the pie. In place of the basil they had sprinkled a mix of dried herbs, and I suppose there could very well have been some dried basil in there, though that's not really the point, is it? I don't know how a pizzeria can call something a Margherita and not include its most basic components.

Biting into this "Margherita" was like chomping down on solid air. There is little to no salt in the crisp, crackerlike crust, little to no salt in the insipid tomato sauce, and no salt whatsoever in the fresh mozzarella added in thick, rubbery dollops across the pizza. Yes, sometimes fresh mozz can be a little on the bland side, but this took bland to a whole new level. It was so utterly devoid of flavor that I swear it actually leeched some of the precious life force from my tastebuds. Only by shaking a blizzard of salt and parmesan onto the slices could I extract any flavor from the wedge-shaped objects I with increasing unwillingness inserted into my mouth.

One flavor did manage to rear it head three or four times, though I wish it hadn't. These rare bites would result in the taste of burnt garlic flooding my mouth, though I don't know if the inclusion of garlic in the sauce was an accident or a conscious decision by the chef. Regardless, those particularly astringent bites made me grasp for my water glass to wash them down away from my tongue as quickly as I was capable.

My dining companion ordered the Ai Quattro Formaggi Gnocchi ($13.95, small), and it was fine. Nicely cheesy without being inundated by sauce, and I enjoyed the shell of crisped-up cheese on the outer layer of the pasta. The problem with this dish was the inclusion of chopped parsley. I despise the flavor of fresh parsley on pasta, and since it was chopped, it was very difficult trying to remove the little slivers from the cheese, making some bites overly bitter. But if you like parsley on your gnocchi, hey, you won't have a problem with this dish.

It was hard extracting pizza recommendations for Vancouver, BC, and now I understand why. Marcello's was far and away the one most suggested, indicating to me that most Vancouverites know little about pizza, simply because they have no frame of reference. A pizzaiolo wishing to craft true, flavorful Neapolitan pizza up there would make a killing. But if Marcello is any indication of the current scene, Vancouver, BC is a pizza wasteland.

OVEN: Wood