Pizza Tasting II

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Ellen and Jason Green prepare slices for the blind tasting

Ellen’s second annual pizza tasting took place on Wednesday, July 29, 2009. Eight guests were to rate eight pizzas, culled from the Bay Area’s plethora of pizza palaces. I was recruited to collect the entrants from San Francisco, which this year happened to be from Delfina Pizzeria on 18th and a newcomer on the scene, Tony’s Pizza in North Beach. Ellen’s friend Craig picked up an entry from Picco in Marin County and Ellen herself grabbed a half-baked pizza from the Cheeseboard in Berkeley, one from the defending champion, Dopo, in Oakland, and a final entry personally baked by Nel da Silva, pastry chef at Market Hall in Rockridge which just recently added pizzas to their offerings. The competition took place at Ellen’s home, where the pizzas were individually reheated and served in a blind tasting. Ellen had prepared scoring sheets for each participant–an endless source of controversy, it turned out, as each pizza had to be rated 1-5 (or in some cases 1-10) on various factors related to the crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings, with a possible total score of 100. One could argue endlessly. How do you score the cheese if there is no cheese? Under sauce, what about quantity? Do you score higher for more and less for less, even if it was too much in the first case and just right in the second? And what’s this “Thick/Thin” item under crust? What if you like thin but its thick, or vice versa? All of this led some to abandon the individual scoring items and just assign a total number of points up to 100. Even that caused controversy. How do you then determine the winner? If you just add the total points, then someone who scored conservatively would be given less weight in the scoring than someone who gave promiscuously high scores. But back to the pizza…Nel’s was an heirloom tomato creation with a surprisingly good crust; Tony’s two entries were a Sicilian style pie which someone compared to a school cafeteria creation and a somewhat boring classic New York style; Picco’s was a acceptable sausage and pepperoni combination; Dopo’s was, as usual, excellent; and Delfina’s two entries scored both highest and lowest by fairly universal acclaim. The winner was its quattro fromagio with house-cured pepperoni added, while the loser was its brocolli rabe pizza. I felt bad about that as I have had that particular pie many times and always liked it, but sadly it just didn’t travel and reheat well (I can report, however, that I reheated, for the second time, a slice of the quattro fromagio for lunch the next day and it still retained a good portion of its charm). So how was the winner determined? Instead of adding up the individual scores, each person stated their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices. Surprisingly, with only a couple exceptions everyone selected the same 3 pizzas as their favorites, just in different orders. Points were awarded for finishing 1st, 2nd or 3rd and the winner determined accordingly. As stated, Delfina came in a convincing first. The big surprise was that Nel came in a strong second against his heavy hitting competition. Third place was nabbed by Dopo. Finally, it was suggested next year that we rent a limosine and drive from each pizzeria to the next so the pizzas could be sampled fresh. That is, if we can ever stand to look at pizza again after such a night of unbridled indulgence.

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Nel da Silva’s surprise second place finisher

For those who still want more, following is the account of the 2008 tasting:

For all those eagerly awaiting, it is time to announce the results of a special pizza tasting held by the renowned Ellen Tussman, longtime Bay Area caterer and restauranteur extraordinaire, at her home in the Oakland Hills. Friends were enlisted from far and wide to collect and bring to this extraordinary event pizzas from the following purveyors: Dopo and Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Gioia in Berkeley, and Mulberry Street and Picco in Marin County. Eight participants rated the pizzas in a blind tasting based on characteristics of the crust, cheese, toppings, presentation, and intangibles. All agreed that the single outstanding pizza of the night was the “For Love of Mushroom” pizza from Mulberry Street, self-described as a “Rich and Filling pizza on a Whole Wheat blended crust with a White Sauce, a Garlic/Herb/ Mushroom saut, Mozzarella & Provolone cheeses Garnished with a Flavorful Red Wine reduction.” However, all things being considered, the winner was the pizza from Dopo, which fell more into the category of a traditional Italian-style thin crust pizza that one could enjoy almost everyday, as opposed to the Mulberry sample which was rich and exotic but something to be reserved for a special occasion. We sampled two varieties from Dopo, a simple margarita and one with coppa, and both excelled in the quality of the ingredients, the perfection of the crust, and the overall taste and appearance. Bravo Dopo! Least favorite (not to my surprise, consistent with my experience at the restaurant) was the one from Pizzaiolo (although apparently it won last year’s competition) and the one from Picco (although I myself liked the Picco entry—but the crust was a weak point and perhaps it suffered because it was vegetarian). In the middle fell the pepperoni pie from Goioa, which had a deliciously good crust and was well balanced in the amount and quality of ingredients. Various complex calculations were made ranking the pizzas based on value–i.e., weighing the scores against price per slice, but we all agreed this was dubious as, for example, the Goioa slices were much larger than anyone else’s and so a true comparison would have to be made based on weight. So, by unanimous agreement, we extend well-earned kudos to Dopo in recognition of their efforts to serve the Bay Area pizza-loving community and hope they will enjoy continued success and pizza accolades for years to come.

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~ by PB on July 31, 2009.

2 Responses to “Pizza Tasting II”

  1. — drools — Oh , sorry !!! 🙂

  2. Wow…congats Nel!!!!Thats totally awesome!!!!…Scott

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