07 September 2009
Margarita Pizza with prosciutto, $15, Split $7.50 or $5 during happy hour (9:00 pm-close nightly)
I come from a long line of people who love meat cutters. This is an Italian thing. My great grandpa, Eugenio, came to America and so typically he opened an Italian restaurant. The first thing he bought: a metal meat cutter, to slice soppresatta and prosciutto. The meat cutter was somehow lost when the restaurant closed and so my father bought my Grandma and Uncle Ike a meat cutter of their own. Years later Uncle Ike, found and restored the meat cutter. Aside from the fact that it weighed just about 100 lbs and wouldn’t fit in the kitchen, it worked magic and sat in the basement for all our industrial cutting needs. And so you see, meat cutters are very important appliances to Italian people and if you’re lucky, you have a meat cutter in your home.
Tonight, a small piece of my childhood was brought back when the chef at Nostrana’s took my pizza out of the wood oven and brought it over to a bright red meat cutter, where he sliced see through thin pieces of prosciutto which fell effortlessly on top of the melted cheese; each piece layering over each other.
A few years ago, Nostrana’s was cut from my families visiting rights when they charged us for extra bread on what ended up being an expensive and ostentatious birthday dinner. We despise pretentious Italian restaurants, which completely negate the feel and purpose of what eating Italian food is about: simple, casual, delicious and loud. The experience should be fun, not stuffy. Everyone knows that Italians eat tons of bread and my Nonno needs a loaf of bread to himself; the wait staff did not seem to understand this, nor were they happy when he wanted to argue with them about the charge (oh we are cheap too, hence the whole idea of the affordable blog).
However, their incredibly authentic pizza that my brother ordered burned a vivid memory in my mind and ultimately brought me back for a second try. I sat up at the bar overlooking the wood oven, in hopes that the vibe would be more casual. I was engulfed by the flames of the hot oven and couldn’t help admiring the charm of the restaurant: enormously high ceilings, raw wood, roosters, ceramic vases filled with real lemons and of course a hanging picture of the new aged “Last Supper.” The man making the pizza took our order and brought us three slices of fresh grape focaccia bread (in which we were not charged!). The bread was perfectly soft and sweet from the baby green grapes and I couldn’t help but think, I would pay extra for this exquisitely unique bread and could also probably finish off the entire cake pan. Good thing they didn’t bring extra.
We ordered a Margarita pizza with prosciutto on half (the person I was dining with “doesn’t really eat meat” and can I just say this is offensive to me). The chef tossed the dough up into the air a few times, creating a perfect sheet and then slathered it with their homemade tomato sauce and threw on about five large slices of fresh mozzarella. It sat in the oven for a matter of minutes, just as it does in Italy, and was carried out piping hot with the mozzarella melting its way across the entirety of the pan. He then drizzled olive oil on top and scattered torn leaves of basil and lastly layered my half with salty prosciutto, which warmed quickly from the heat of the pie. After eating pizza all over Italy—Nostrana’s is the absolute closest I’ve ever come to true Italian pizza in Portland. The crust is thin and still soft in the middle, with crispy edges, that are almost burnt from the wood in the fire. Every ingredient is tasted, even the sweetness of the tomato sauce. Clearly Nostrana’s is doing something very, very right here—if they could just ease off their high horse, this would be a go to restaurant for the masses.
The pizza was a perfect meal to split, but for those who want their own, come for their late night happy hour, which serves pizzas for $5.00 each, plus the cost of prosciutto. Well worth it and much less uppity later in the evening. Sitting at the bar is a good idea too. Their cooks are calm and brilliant to watch, as they bring out tubs of fresh vegetables and melt butter over their stainless steel cookware.
I will certainly be back for more Za.