Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review: La Porta Ristorante and Wine Bar, Media, PA (Edgemont)


In June of 2011, before we discovered Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza in Wayne as the first top-shelf pie anywhere near West Chester PA and Philly’s Main Line, we read about Peter McAndrew’s plan to open a bistro/pizzeria in Edgemont, PA in the site of the old Locust Tavern.  It’s been a long wait, but La Porta is finally open and a large group of us headed there for lunch on a summer Tuesday.

The interior of La Porta oozes with rustic charm. There are two small but airy dining rooms that look like a converted farmhouse, and a smallish but chic wine bar. Our friendly waitresses pushed together three table to accommodate our party of eight. The non-pizza menu looked fascinating, but we were on a mission; we ordered eight pizzas (personal size, but bigger than the typical personal pizza) for our crew of eight and a few salads/starters.
Carbonara pie. Click to enlarge!
Frequently, I ask wait staff about menu items and I get responses of varying utility. Here, when I inquired about the “Barolo” pie, I learned it was Barolo cheese, not wine, that was a pizza component. We quickly agreed that this wait staff knew something about the food, and that was a good omen. I had an especially difficult time selecting a pie, the choices were so compelling. Here are a few of them:

·         Margherita • mozzarella, plum tomato, basil $10
·         Malfatti • “badly made” half pizza/stromboli, prosciutto, sweet peppers, mozzarella, plum tomato $12
·         Bismarck • white pizza, gorgonzola, fried egg, roasted mushroom, truffled asparagus $13
·         Salsiccia • house made fennel sausage, plum tomato, mozzarella, rosemary $12
·         Salumi • artisan sopressatta, plum tomato, asiago, artichoke mostarda $12
·         Napolitano • anchovy, hot peppers, capers, plum tomato, mozzarella $11
·         Pepperoni • roasted peppers, pancetta, plum tomato, mozzarella, gorgonzola dolce, basil $12
·         Barolo • testun di Barolo, fig, caramelized onion, speck $13
·         Rocket • white pie, arugula, green olives, pistachio pesto, raisins $12

La Porta Ristorante & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

For an appetizer, I chose the Caprese salad. It had nice heirloom tomatoes, artistic drizzles of oil and balsamic vinegar, and the best buffalo mozzarella I have ever had. This tasty cheese is always good, but sometimes it can be wet, bland, or both. But this was luscious – creamy and fresh. The tomatoes were not quite as good as those in my back yard, but they were indeed fine specimens of summer. I cringe at the places who make Caprese salad with a pink Florida tomato.
"Malfatti" half-pizza, half-stromboli
I usually want a Margherita or sausage pie to best evaluate, but the “malfatti” was compelling. When it came out, I was delighted that it was not so much “half Stromboli” as the menu promised, but instead a round pizza where less than 25% of the crust was folded over on one edge. That did create a Stromboli-like pocket for some sweet peppers and plum tomatoes, but I’m guessing that the fold took place closer in time to the end of its baking, not at the beginning, because it was cooked delightfully inside and out. And, of course, it was not an overstuffed belly bomb that you’d get when you order the typical Stromboli.



The crust was an absolute delight. As I’ve found with other superb pies, it had some characteristics of a Neapolitan crust, but it was firm and crisp like a Trenton/Brooklyn slice. I have to go back soon and eat this pizza again, because that crust was magical. I think it can rival some of my all-time favorites. Everything that topped that crust was a premiere ingredient, applied judiciously, and all in harmony with the essence of that particular pie variety. 

If I were to quibble, the only change I’d make would be to cut back or replace the sweet peppers. But that truly is quibbling, because this is easily the best pie in any ‘burb west of Philly. In fact, it beats some of Philly’s stars, like Osteria and Stephen Starr’s Stella. I need to get into Tacconelli’s in Port Richmond (so far, I’ve had only the Moorestown NJ Tacconelli’s pie) so we can know who makes the best pizza in Pennsylvania.

Sausage pizza
Eight guys with eight pies presented some opportunities for trading slices. Everything I tried was wonderfully balanced; that sublime crust with a mix of tomato, cheese, and other savory toppings. Most memorable was the Carbonara, which was quite a lot better than the one I had at Stella. I can make this pie, and my flavors on top are almost as good, but I can’t touch that crust. This pie is art, the work of a great craftsman. It is gratifying to finally have world-class pizza without requiring a major road trip from my West Chester home.

Beautiful char on that crust
Worth mentioning is their happy hour, where the $10 Margherita pie is marked down to $6, and you can have a $2.50 Peroni with that. La Porta is the kind of place that every neighborhood should have. 


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