The wood-fired pizza trend is sending Wine Country up in smoke. This summer, there are no less than four (four!) new restaurants in Northern California centered around the great and glorious wood-fired oven pizza pie. What on Earth did we eat last year? Here are the hot (literally—those ovens are really hot) new restaurants themselves along with our wine-pairing recommendations.
Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen, Sonoma
Not a lot has happened in Glen Ellen recently (since, I don’t know, Jack London wrote Valley of the Moon?), but this year the town’s dining scene is waking up thanks to the appearance of Glen Ellen Star, a collaboration between Chef Ari Weiswasser, a former chef at The French Laundry and his wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser of the local Benziger Family Winery. A giant wood-burning oven, rescued from a restaurant in Bellingham, WA, is “the heart and soul of the menu,” says the GM. In addition to the classic margherita, two cream pies — one tomato and one white cream, which are described as “fork and knife” pies — will be the staples.
Pair it: The white cream with guanciale and arugula and the Benziger Chardonnay is a match made in …. well, right there in Glen Ellen, actually.
Ciccio, Yountville, Napa Valley
The Mugnaini oven, an Italian import, has been hot for some time now, but as for when they will open: whenever we are ready seems to be the answer. Owner Frank Altamura of Altamura winery has taken great care (and a great amount of time) to restore the old Italian grocery and when he hired Polly Lappetito, the former Executive Chef at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone restaurant to run the kitchen, he gave her permission to take as much time as she needed to perfect her pizza crust as well. Using ingredients procured from the Altamura farm, pizzas at the casual neighborhood joint will be topped with whatever is in season.
Pair it: The wine list is obviously still in the works but will be dominated, according to Lappetito, by Frank’s and his friends’ wines. Altamura’s Napa Valley Sangiovese, made in the fuller-bodied Brunello di Montalcino style, is a good place to start.
Redd Wood, Yountville, Napa Valley
Chef Richard Reddington (of Redd fame) has anywhere between six to nine wood-fired pies on the menu from the simple tomato and oregano to the decadent lardo with mushroom, spinach and Fontina. The crust is flavorful with nice bits of char, but we have found the overall texture to be inconsistent — which is maybe a not bad thing. We’re talking about rustic, open-fire cooking after all, not microwaved CPK.
Pair it: Maybe one of the better pairings I have had this year, the anchovy, tomato, garlic, olive, pecorino, caper & chili pizza (I know, right? There’s a lot going on) was delicious with a nearly dry, slightly frizzante Lambrusco.
Campo Fina, Healdsburg, Sonoma
The much-anticipated pizza-oriented sister of Scopa is making its debut this weekend (soft openings until Monday, June 18 when it will officially open to the public). Also boasting a Mugnaini oven, we are told the style will be Neapolitan. If they can do for pizza what Scopa did for pasta, we’re sure it’s going to be wonderful.
Pair it: We’re also still waiting for the big reveal of the wine list on this one, but we’re pretty sure that Unti, a Dry Creek Valley winery that makes some excellent renditions of Italian varietals including Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Barbera, will be represented (the wine director — and he loves to tell you this — worked harvest there). All of the wines are bright, balanced and incredibly food friendly.