Life of Pie. 1 Italian, 3.5 hours, 5 Beijing pizza joints

I told Italian native and wine guy Simone Incontro last month in Shenzhen that the next time he visits Beijing, we’re going on a major pizza tour.

Incontro came to Beijing 10 days ago and we were soon on our way to five Italian pizza restaurants in less than four hours. The big takeaway — Beijing has plenty of world-class pizza. The smaller takeaways are below.


La Pizza

We began our Tour de Italy in Beijing with a veteran. La Pizza, in business over a dozen years, had our taste buds tingling Ferrari fast with that cheese, tomato sauce and basil Naples classic, the Bufalina pizza. Fresh sauce, quality cheese, an appealing toasty crust — all hallmarks of an admirable pie. And it passed Incontro’s foldability test — you should be able to pick up a slice without the inner tip flopping down.

The decor might not be as hip as some other places but the pizza was on point, and no one else would quite match it on this night. And we spotted chef Giuseppe De Stefano — he also consulted on the relatively new pizza menu at Hulu Indigo.

188 kuai with two bottles of Peroni beer.


Saporita

A Rome-style home delivery favorite previously known as Pizza+. I’ve had Saporita pizza dozens of times; this was my first visit to the shop. We picked two slabs from the display case, ham and cheese, and the “Forest” created by Saporita founder Fabrizio Montori, a combination of truffle oil, mushroom, sausage and more. Both were fine–the cheese nicely gooey with that ham, the Forest pizza packing an umami punch— though I think they taste better when delivered and eaten while one wears pajamas and reclines on a couch.

Saporita had a local feel, with a mishmash of tables and an open counter, the chef visible in back. Plus shelves of bagged spaghetti, canned sauce, wine and more for takeaway. (Some music would have been nice.) Bonus: We thoroughly enjoyed watching a guy thoroughly enjoy eating pizza for the first time in his life.

98 kuai for two slabs of pizza and two white house wines.


Frasca

We had pinsa, a precursor to pizza, from a menu by executive chef Marino d’Antonio. The pinsa was bigger than we expected, with thick fluffy crust and a crispy perfectly cooked bottom — it had a lovely toasted wheat aroma. Incontro noted the ingredient quality was high but somehow we both felt the crust and toppings, rather than being married, felt like two different dishes. There was a lot of arugula. The highlight was the Sicilian martini with lemon-infused gin.

Frasca is in Opposite House, with the opposite vibe of the manufactured hipness of the hotel’s Sichuan-inspired Superfly. More conservative, more subdued — it felt a bit soulless.

384 kuai for one pinsa and two martinis.


Forno

The newbie on our route was the second branch, in Taikooli, of a Rome-style pizza operation by the guys from Bottega. As at Saporita, we picked slices from a display case. (Options included one that looked almost exactly like The Forest pizza.)

The crust is crispy on the bottom, with a thin layer of fluffiness. I especially like the ham and mushroom slice, with the meat’s soft texture a nice contrast to the crust. “Mamma mia,” said Incontro. “Just like home.”

Forno is stylish, merging Romanesque art with modern touches like neon, and includes an extended pizza display / picking case, high ceilings and a large island bar in back. It has aspirations of becoming a nightlife venue, with a DJ at work during our visit, though there were less than 10 people. Unfortunately but not unsurprisingly, my dancing in my seat did not attract more.

158 kuai for two slices, an Aperitivo and an Italian beer.

(We went back the next night, Friday, around 11:30 PM, because I was told the kitchen was open later on the weekends than the usual 11 PM weekday closing time. Nope. The kitchen was already closed and the crowd was light again.)


Bottega

We squeezed in at the Nali Patio branch just before the kitchen closing time of 11 PM. We did the same order as La Pizza, the Bufalina, along with a Margherita. The former had very fresh sauce, although a bit overwhelmed by the tangy cheese, and my favorite crust — specifically the outer part — of the night. Crisp, blistered, toasty. But, due to the wet center of the pizza, this didn’t pass Incontro’s foldability test, with ingredients flopping off the slice.

Bottega has a smart design, including both bar and table seating. It’s stylish and efficiently run.

211 rmb for one pizza and two Italian beers.

(We went back the next night, Friday, and the Bufalina pizza was drier, able to handle the foldability test, but just only. Bottega also had a good vibe — upbeat songs and a nice buzz from the crowd.)


So, what was the best? They are all the best in one way. If you want to simply look at pizza quality, I’d say La Pizza was tops on this night. But for delivery, Saporita remains my favorite of the five. Frasca had the best drink–those Sicilian martinis. Forno had the best sharing options, with each high-quality slab cut into four. And Bottega had arguably the best mix of vibe and pizza.

The “best” part is that we have so many great Italian options in Beijing, and we didn’t even visit all of them. Which means we will have to organize tours two, three and more, to cover places spots as diverse as Annie’s, Tube Station, Hulu Indigo, Jing-A, Pie Squared and many others.

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