Pizzeria Paradiso

Stepping in for the Mighty P, I (Josh-wa) am writing the pizza reviews in lieu tonight. Pizzeria Paradiso is not the pizza I remember from my youth in the Bay Area, but for DC it is pretty damn good. That pizza is hard to find out here, where the lack of heavy industry, non-existent fishing grounds, and a decidedly un-Mediterranean climate sent the Italians to New York and Baltimore and California. Pizza in DC means Pizza-seafood-sub-chicken, or manufactured delivery, or Adams-Morgan frat guy alcohol-sponge fat slice, or gourmet wood-fired oven pizza, which runs the gamut from overpriced to overthought to overengineered. Except when it isn’t any of those, and is just damn good pizza.

But my memories are tainted by time and scarcity, so in reality I would probably take Paradiso over, say, Maria’s (of Fremont, CA) side-by-side, if Maria’s hadn’t since been turned into a high-end tandoor palace and I could conduct a tasting of pies baked 3000 miles apart.

Tonight, we had the Pizza Salciccia (sausage, cherry tomatoes, cheese, pesto) and quattro formaggio. My standard for judging pizza quality starts with the crust – I’m a crust guy – and the crust on both was almost perfect – pillowy soft on the inside with a crisp outer shell that was improbably thin but broke quite pleasingly nonetheless. I’ve eaten at the Dupost Paradiso a number of times and I never recall the crust being quite this way, so maybe the ovens at Georgetown were calibrated differently, or perhaps the dough ferments differently closer to the miasma of the Potomac.

The toppings were uniformly excellent, although when P asked what I thought of the sausage during our debriefing I had to think for a moment before I could actually recall having eaten any. Not from lack – there was plenty – but the sausage was ground finer than most found in the environs of pizza, being dryer and more crumbly than the usual gelatinous globs generally used. It complemented the pesto and cheese and crust rather than serving as a meaty porky trophy reassuring carnivores that yes, they are indeed imbibing protein.

The Quattro Formaggio in particular was superlative – it actually tasted like, you know, four cheeses, actual distinct cheeses, rather than just being cheesy, as is usually the case, where quattro formaggio refers to four times as much cheese. It was savory and melty and crumbly and liquid all at the same time.

I do agree with P in that, for me, pizza requires only three ingredients to qualify as pizza: crust, sauce, and cheese. Paradiso does away with the sauce, using crushed tomatoes, or cherries, on the Salciccia, but the balance is still good. I’m sure that the recipes at Paradiso are generated from proper culinary-historical research, and that the saucy triumvirate is entirely American in origin, but it’s what pizza normatively is for me. Still, if the choice is between traditional crust-sauce-cheese embodied in an abomination like Uno or Bolis, or Paradiso? Well, I’m getting hungry again writing this, and I wish I had some goddamn Paradiso leftovers right now.

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