Maybe it’s the chill in the air and darker evenings but we’ve been in a pizza mood lately. When the chance came to meet up with Dumpling Diva for a quick dinner in Arlington, we knew we’d be dining at Piola in short order.
Piola, a relatively recent addition to the Rosslyn line up, is a restaurant chain of a different color. Unlike many franchises that smother regions with their ubiquity (coughFiveGuyscough), Piola hopscotches around the globe with their winning approach. Restaurants have sprung up in Italy, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico in addition to a handful of US locations in New York and Florida. Inside their Rosslyn location brightly colored glass warms up a soaring industrial space that never fails to host a bumping post-work drink crowd. The space is designed to stay lively with special discounts for Arlington residents and events throughout the calendar, like a bottomless gnocchi on the 29th of every month.
Try to score one of the outdoor tables on Wilson Blvd while the weather holds. What you lose in a lackluster view (especially into a sad Domino’s delivery space across the street) you make up for with fresh breezes and the ability to hear your neighbor over the din.
After a quick round of drinks, Mike, Dumpling Diva and I got down to the serious business of selecting our flavors for the night. The menu at Piola is impressive. Finicky eaters can rest assured that pizza classics are represented, while the more adventurous among us can gallop through the menu of ingredient possibilities. While the restaurant may feel New World Italian in decor (and by that, I mean not Italian at all) the restaurant’s footprints in South America and Europe shine through in the menu’s flavor profiles. Interested in catupiry cheese with hearts of palm and artichokes? The Curitiba has you covered. How about a pizza that tastes like brunch? Try the Copenhagen with smoked salmon, brie, parsley and mozzarella.
We quickly settled on two ambitious options: the Mantova and Lisbona. Piola’s focus is on crispy, thin-crust pizzas delivered hot out of a wood burning oven with a horde of fresh ingredients in unexpected combinations. For years I labored under the youthful delusion that pizza crust is merely a sauce and topping delivery system and only delicious when it comingled with its cargo, kind of like an ice cream cone. Under Mike’s patient New Jersey tutelage, I finally saw the error of my ways. All of his hard work came to fruition that night when we both admired the two pies set in front of us, blistered and charred just so on the rims with a crispy, crackerlike bite.
Get the full dish after the jump!
First up was the Mantova (pictured above), a delicious mess of a pizza. Made with the classic base of tomato sauce and mozzarella the pizza is dolloped with brie, fresh green arugula, diced tomatoes and beef carpaccio. It was a complete feast for the eyes as we prepared to tuck into this salty, crunchy dish. The arugula paired well against the tender carpaccio. The salty, silky brie was a bit lost in all the other ingredients but the overall flavor was bright and satisfing.
The more surprising pizza of the night was the Lisbona, a white pizza. The pairing of gorgonzola with spicy salami, arugula and mozzarella creates a depth of flavors worth wading into. Don’t let the visuals fool you. The photo may look like a pepperoni pizza with a salad on top but the flavors are working undercover in a harmonious, robust way. Gorgonzola leads the flavor charge here, announcing itself with a bullhorn. The tang of spicy salami balances the earthy saltiness of the cheese nicely, while the barely wilted arugula offers a light peppery contrast.
After a few rounds of Peroni and more pizza than a reasonable person would have had in one sitting, there was no room to try the tempting desserts on the menu although the Romeo and Giulietta – a melted guava paste with marscarpone cream came close to making the cut. All the more reason to return with an empty stomach.