Eye on the pies
It’s no surprise that Santa Fe has embraced Pizzeria da Lino, the latest in a line of eateries that stretches back to Michelangelo’s on Cerrillos Road, continues with the late great Palace Restaurant, and then on to the popular Osteria d’Assisi. The Lino in question is Lino Pertusini, co-owner of all three, who should know how to run a restaurant. And what’s not to love about authentic Italian pizza baked in a flash in a wood-fired oven? Throw in some antipasti and salads, a few nightly specials, some classic desserts, a wine list that offers quaffable affordability, plus a lovely courtyard patio shaded by trees and strung with tiny white lights, and you’ll find tables hard to get on Friday evening at the peak dinner hour.
With individual pies around $10 to $12 and glasses of wine available for $8 (and less), a simple dinner at Pertusini’s new venture won’t bust your budget. All of which is to say I was prepared to love it. But I found a surprising lack of attention to important details. A mixed antipasto platter arrived with nearly raw eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers, all advertised on the menu as “wood roasted.” There was also a disappointing Caesar salad — which was surprising coming from an owner of The Palace, the long-gone home of the last great Caesar salad in Santa Fe. No, I didn’t expect it to be made tableside as at The Palace, but I did expect something besides tasteless croutons and a mere slick of dressing on the plate below the crisp romaine lettuce with no detectable Parmesan cheese or anchovy. The carpaccio di bue (beef carpaccio) — another signature Pertusini dish from The Palace days — had presumably sat in the walk-in so long that it dried out and was disconcertingly glued to the plate. Because the aforementioned items cost roughly the price of a pizza, these are not mere quibbles with side dishes. On a very quiet midweek evening, the food should have been better attended to.
A special porcini-mushroom pizza offered during the flush local porcini harvest in late summer proved another letdown. Like all the pizzas I tasted, the crust was perfectly thin, crisp, and delicious. The fresh porcini mushrooms would have been spectacular, but the oversalted marinara, while fresh tasting, simply obliterated the delicate woodsy flavor of the mushrooms. Priced considerably more than the other pizzas, it seemed a regrettable waste of good porcini — and money.
The porcini incident aside, I won’t soon tire of the tre formaggi con pera pizza. The sweetness of roasted pears and caramelized onions contrasts with the salty tang of mozzarella, Taleggio, and Gorgonzola cheeses on a “white” pizza crust background (no marinara sauce). Likewise, the salame alla Toscana pizza with salami and spicy crumbled sausage, a not-too-salty marinara, and mozzarella bathed our taste buds in classic pizza beatitude. The excellent Parma prosciutto on the prosciutto-arugula pizza only left me wanting more.
A creamy and dense panna cotta satisfied my impulse for dessert decadence with whipped cream and drizzles of caramel sauce. The house gelatos were merely pleasant. An oddly stringy-textured lemon gelato lacked lemon snap. Likewise, the vanilla gelato lacked sufficient vanilla essence, though a mango gelato tasted of the fresh fruit. Dry tiramisu seems like an oxymoron but proved possible.
Generous pours of nero d’Avola and Zonin prosecco are lively and affordable pizza companions by the glass. Similarly, a bottle of pizza-priced 2007 Placido Chianti, which only improved as the evening progressed, is a reminder of the Italian attitude that wine doesn’t have to be an expensive ceremony. A bottle of Peroni beer arrived at our table as a result of a mix-up, because the menu-listed draft Italian beer wasn’t available, though other draft beers were.
Service is warm and professional. Though the main dining room can be loud when busy and a little cavernous when quiet, the smaller bar/entry area has a hip neighborhood-pizza-joint vibe. Go for the pizza and the courtyard patio. Santa Fe has already embraced Pertusini’s new restaurant because of these things and his reputation. Let’s just hope he repays the favor by focusing some attention on other menu items.