Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: Basic Pizza (Basic Urban Kitchen) - San Diego CA

A few years back, I was stunned to discover a terrific New Haven style "apizza" in Portland, Oregon at Apizza Scholls. Trying to hunt down the best pizza in San Diego, I once again stumbled onto a New Haven style pie.
The "Mashed"
BASIC urban kitchen + bar in the East Village is situated in a converted warehouse built in 1912. The original brick walls are still intact, as well as the loading dock garage doors and a huge 16 foot-span ceiling fan.

We arrived for dinner around 6pm on a balmy night, and the garage doors were raised so that the dining space was open to the street. We were seated quickly and had attentive service from the staff.

The one-page menu is focused on the pizza, classic mixed drinks (I had a dirty martini with bleu cheese stuffed olives), and a short but well-considered choice of beers and wine.
Sausage pie
The "classic" pies on the menu seemed a bit overloaded with toppings, but we were intrigued by the white pie with mashed potato and bacon. The only successful potato-topped pie I've ever had was at Sally's in New Haven, so this was a worthy gamble.

To sample a more traditional pizza, we opted for a "base pie" with red sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan, and sausage topping. Although they typically used pre-cooked sausage, the pizzaiolo agreed to prepare ours the correct way, applying raw sausage to cook on the pie.

Each pie come in a "small" oval or a large one. In fact, the choices are "large" and "immense" - much like the oval pies at Sally's in New Haven. Our red pie was $14, the white pie $14.50. Far too much pizza for two people, but we took on the challenge.
Mashed potato pie at Basic in San Diego

The potato pizza at Sally's in New Haven, for comparison

The white pie arrived first. If there is such a thing as pizza love at-first-sight, this was it. A big oval with a puffy, uneven, deeply browned cornicione that framed a white sea of mashed potatoes and cheese on which little bacon boards seemed to float.
Crystal's first day on the job, with Breanna
The crust lived up to its visual promise. Although a little soft at the outer edge of each big slice, it was thin and crispy on the bottom with an ideal chewiness. Like all the best pies, it got better in texture the closer each bite brings you to that gorgeous cornicione.
Magnificent crumb in the cornicione
The cloud-like puffiness there combined with its superb flavor for a near-perfect bread experience. Oh, there was stuff on top, too!

The potatoes were mashed to a perfectly crumbly texture, and applied in proper modest proportion. I think I detected some garlic flavor in there, too. The bacon, crisp and chewy, added an ideal final burst of flavor. 

The cheese was a nice role player. I might have added a saltier aged cheese into the mix, but that's an insignificant quibble. If I had a leftover slice, I'd heat it up with a fried egg for breakfast. Wonderful stuff.
Our red pie was generously dotted with lumps of fresh Italian sausage. The crust was identical to the mashed potato pie - a bit soft in the center due to the volume of sauce and cheese, and ideally crisp and chewy everywhere else. There is a base pie on the menu that leaves out the mozzarella - I'd love to try that so that the crust can shine even more.

The sauce on the red pie was a role player, as was the mozzarella and Parmesan combo. They added the right balance of textures and flavors, but the crust was clearly the star. Even as a bit of a red pie purist, I had a slight preference for the white pie while my dining buddy Jeff leaned toward the traditional red pie.

The million dollar question - how did these California/New Haven pizzas compare to the originals in Connecticut? Well, the crust is about as good as any crust, anywhere. Better than Sally's, on which this pie appears to be modeled. Better than Portland's Apizza Scholls. Not sure it tops Frank Pepe's, but this is first rank pie. I suspect it has earned a place in my Top Ten.
Banh mi from The Food Shop
I can't resist mentioning that this area is also home to the best banh mi (Viet hoagie) that I've ever eaten. For about $6, "The Food Shop" at 465 5th Ave offers a delicious sandwich that combines a toasted French roll with savory Viet cold cuts and a mix of crisp vegetables. Unforgettable.

San Diego has turned out to be a terrific culinary destination. If you're in the East Village or neighboring Gaslamp section, Basic Pizza and The Food Shop should be numbers one and two on your list. 

Basic Urban Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Food Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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