I was really looking forward to eating pizza at Sotto. Not that one would go just for the pizza – this restaurant’s menu is quite ballsy, with obscure Sardinian dishes even the most authentic Italians (like yours truly) might have a hard time recognizing. I like that, Italian restaurants that break the mold to explore all that Italian regional cuisine has to offer.
The reason why I was so looking forward to Sotto’s pizza is that a big deal was made of the wood fire oven imported from Naples, lovingly put together by Neapolitan artisans who know about the business of pizza ovens. Proper pizza cooks in under a minute in a 500F oven, slid in on a wooden board and retrieved bubbly and charred. It was a good omen.
Sotto is in a no-man’s stretch of Pico Boulevard, between Beverly and Beverwil, in a two storey building whose top is occupied by Picca, the Peruvian restaurant that has been gaining accolades of recent. Sotto means “under” or “underneath”, an apt name for the basement space that reminded me of some London flats where you would walk down from street level to enter (it was also the former home of “The Tasting Kitchen”). The long rectangular space is simple, elegant and rustic, with banquettes along the walls, wooden tables with no tablecloth and a large communal table in the center from which to see the action in the kitchen (and the famous oven.
The hostess promptly seated me even if the rest of the party hadn’t arrived yet, which gave me time to study the menu and the array of funky and inspiring cocktails.
What you simply must order is the house made bread: thick, crusty and cut into large slabs, it’s finished on the grill (or in the oven), giving it a slightly charred and wonderful taste. It’s served with either butter, olive oil or lard (which I was dying to order but for my arteries’s sake I passed on).
As an appetizer, the sardines did not disappoint. Interestingly rolled around fennel and pine nuts, they were flavourful, perfectly cooked and I could have kept on eating them as an entrée. The spicy clams with beans and ‘nduja sausage were also very good: fresh and barely steamed, they had a melt in your mouth quality and they perfectly married with the heavier broth which, to better mop it up, came armed with a thick slice of the above mentioned bread.
And then there was my Pizza Margherita. The good news is that the crust was charred the way the Neapolitan gods intended it to be; the sauce was good and not too plentiful and the fresh mozzarella as top-notch as I expected. Now, Neapolitan pizza, unlike the Roman one, is thicker at the edges and thin and soggy in the center. I can see how this version tries to replicate the original but the dough lacked the softness of the hundreds of pizzas I have had in Naples – it was just a bit too chewy. I still think Olio makes a better one.
Still, I would definitely go back. The two chefs behind Sotto have a very respectable background in Italian food: Zach Pollach worked, amongst many others, at my mother’s favourite restaurant, the 2 Michelin star Ambasciata near Ferrara. Steve Samson apprenticed, amongst others, at Valentino and other Piero Selvaggio’s establishments. They both clearly know their Italian food.
Next time I would like to try some of the Sardinian offerings or the Fusilli with Squid Ink which, I am told, are delicious. Coffee, served in the brown ceramic cups that are ubiquitous in many Italian coffee shops, was outstanding.