Dining Out: Pizza (in) Paradiso

I confess, I went to Italy and I had mediocre pizza. There, I’ve said it and I feel better.

Seriously, the two slices I had were not what I was hoping for when I bought my plane tickets- visions of Limoncello and Easter dinner dancing in my head. The slice in Venice was a puffy, drippy mess than was vaguely reminiscent of the cafeteria squares from elementary school and the second (from Naples no less), was a thin, soggy rag that made me wish I could speak Italian so I could say “GIMME MY MONEY BACK!”

Worse, I ate each after one of my marathon walking and siteseeing days, so rather than being discerning and putting some thought into where to eat that day, I was just hungry and merely appreciative of the nutrients I was putting into my stomach. That is definitely the wrong way to eat in Italy, where food is fresh and savory and people linger over meals as they tease the tastebuds.

Luckily, for those of us in the D.C. area who have foggy or traumatic pizza memories, there’s Pizza Paradiso. Located in Georgetown and Dupont, Pizza Paradiso purports to have the best pizza in the area- a safe, and entirely true in my opinion, statement to make as AH and I found out recently.

On a Saturday night, usually the craziest of the week, we met for an early dinner at the Georgetown location. Seated in the main dining room we were faced with the one thing that every young, trendy diner dreads- we were early. As in “earlybird special” early. Rather than go away and come back later to wait indefinitely, we settled in, advising our waiter that we were planning to savor our meal, and perused the menu.

The bar area flanked by a woodfired oven at the back of the restaurant, decorated with a cartoon of a sun around the mouth of the oven, brightly lit and the main dining area has a wonderful view of passersby. On a summer evening it is quite pleasant as they have the windows open so you can enjoy a slight breeze with your cocktails, which we did.

Starting with a white sangria, we went for the focaccia and elephant (roasted) garlic to be followed with a simple insalata mixta and a pizza to be named later. AH, not a fan of olives as evidenced by the tapenade fiasco, left me to pick at the selection of kalamatas and others, and picked a veggie pizza while I looked at the beer list.

The Georgetown location boasts a beer pub in the basement with a vast selection of imported ales on draft and in bottles that will have you pledging to return until you’ve sampled them all. It is run by a lovely young man(ager) named Thor who decided that a beer pub was necessary due to his great affection for the hoppy stuff.

I was on a mission- I adore AH, but it pains me that she has a taste for watery lager when she could broaden her horizons with something sweet and girly from the tap downstairs. Our waiter, after hearing her criteria for good beer, brought a number of selections which I ended up finishing for her- the Duchesse was appealing in small doses, the Piraate was not even considered with its dark color, the Hennepin was not sweet enough, and the Ballotin Nora (a fruity concoction with apricots and vanilla notes) was not sample-able, with a bottle for two being $16.

Sigh. I tried- hic!

The garlic and infused olive oil were well complemented by the tart vinegarette on the salad, which was basically a mountain of fresh greens. I like roasted garlic. The mellow flavor and soft texture are appealing because you feel like you are experiencing the entire vegetable; it’s not just an aggressive taste or an overpowering scent that repulses vampires and significant others. Love the garlic. It’s good for you.

I picked the amber Boont while AH went for something foo-foo and we dove into the pizza. Delicious. Crisp crust ringed with shards of burnt onion. I’m not usually a huge bread person, but I dipped the ends in the infused oil and went to town. Good stuff. The veggies were fresh, just this side of crunchy, and the cheese was more of an accent than a blanket- can you see it? No? Perfect.

Good food, good company, great setting. The pizza is the real star and the beer is a very good supporting player. Or rather a cast of thousands if you ever get a look at their beer menu.

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