Finally, good pizza in Albuquerque. I could jump for joy.
Tree and I have tried just about every pizza shop in town and nothing hits the mark of the thin crust pizza we loved from other cities we once called home.
But, we heard good things about Farina, a new restaurant that opened up next to the reliable Artichoke Café in EDO (that’s East of Downtown for those of you whose acronyms are limited to SOHO, WEHO and SOMA). Farina is apparently a venture between the owners of the Artichoke Café and Stewart Dorris (Artichoke’s Wine Director). We immediately put a trip to Farina at the top of our Restaurants to Try list.
So, early one brisk evening in December (I mean early, we were their first dinner customers), we walked through the doors of the spiffy new Farina.
Let me skip past the cool but casual and warm décor (brick walls, good but unobtrusive lighting, comfortable tables) and get straight to the food. This is no mere mortal pizzeria.
Tree and I each ordered a pie (that’s a pizza for you land-locked west coasters), not knowing that we could have split one. No worries, we had leftovers for…emm…breakfast. After much brow furrowing (everything looked good), I chose the Margherita. I figured I would test them on the most simple arrangement of tomato, mozzarella and basil. Tree ordered the Finocchio (fennel sausage and roasted onions). As an appetizer, we shared a plate of Meatballs al Forno. A glass of Montelpuciano wine for me and a Marble Brewery pint for Tree rounded off the dinner.
The meatballs came four to a plate with two slivers of really good bread to soak up the sauce. What can I say but, oh my stars, good. I won’t go into how authentic they taste since, hey, everyone’s Italian grandmother cooks just a little bit differently, but, they resembled a gourmet version of Tree’s mother’s meatballs (Napolitano). They have raisins and pignoli, and, even if you don’t like raisins in cooked food (I’m one of those), these are incredible. The bread is a delicious foil for the “gravy” which is a light and delicious seasoned broth. Nothing was left on the plate. I would have licked the plate if there was anything resembling food left on it. After our perfect appetizer, we were grinning and eager for the pizza.
Our pies arrived with a perfectly crisp thin crust (they keep their oven at some hellish temperature to get that crust), not too much tomato, not too much cheese. The balance looked right. But the taste, oh my, more food to live for. You can get thin crust in other pizzerias in town, but the crust lacks flavor or always comes out soggy (Giovanni’s –what’s up with that?). The tomato sauce was perfect. The mozzarella perfect. We finely had it –good pizza in Albuquerque. I could gush on and on, but let me say, dinner conversation was quiet. The Montelpuciano went well with the pizza and at $5 a glass is easy on the pocketbook. Marble brewery…what can I say? It’s good beer. We’re glad to see Farina supporting the local brewery.
With the antipasto and pizza so good, we just had to try desert and another tough test for us, coffee. I got an americano and Tree an espresso. More thrills and gushing. Tree’s espresso was like something you could get in Italy –we got the name of the coffee from Stewart (who was very gracious and friendly as we peppered him with questions about every ingredient) but promptly forgot it as we tasted our desert. Oh, and my coffee was superb also.
For desert we were in for a treat. We chose the Chocolate Amaretti Cake because well, we love anything with chocolate in it. However, wipe any image of a dense or light or fluffy American style chocolate cake out of your mind. The cake is like two layers of a large cocoa amaretti cookie, and for those of you who have been blessed with real Italian cookies, you know what I mean. The flavor was reminiscent of the amaretti that we would buy at the old Italian bakery in Hell’s Kitchen when we lived on 50th and 9th Avenue. Is that place still there? I hope so. Or, the Italian bakery in Bradley Beach, NJ, you know, where you can still get real sfogliatelle (which Tree’s family for some reason pronounces “shrivadel”)…but I digress. So the Amaretti Cake comes dusted with cocoa and served with a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream and graced with two spearmint sprigs (that’s for eating after the cake). I can only describe the cake as being “al dente” –crisp, crunchy on the outside and a slightly tender layer on the inside. The cream is the perfect accompaniment as it would be too dry without. So so good. They also make a fresh ricotta cheesecake, which all you son and daughters of Italians know is the only real cheesecake. I’m trying that next time.
Farina is even better than New York pizza –it’s like homemade New York pizza. I walked in expecting to find above average for Albuquerque thin crust pizza, but I found instead a real Italian restaurant reminiscent of the friendly family-run trattorias we encountered throughout Italy. Real food, quality ingredients, hand prepared, even the sausage and ricotta is hand-made. Friendly wait staff. Excellent service. This is by far the best restaurant in Albuquerque, and what I call fine dining. I was glad to hear they’ve been busy. Let’s hope it stays that way.