Piola, the international Italian pizza chain, opened up today in Rosslyn. Located next to Cafe Asia, the restaurant has an industrial style, spruced up with two chandeliers and dozens of brightly colored glass wall sconces that lend a near theatrical feeling to the casual and vibrant space.
The chain originated in Italy, but gained international popularity with its locations in Brazil and Argentina. The first U.S. branch opened in Miami Beach, and a subsequent New York location has generated good feedback from the world's foremost pizza snobs.
The Brazilian influence appears throughout the menu -- anybody want a caipirinha with that catupiry cheese-topped pizza? -- but Italian flavors dominate. If you like variety, you're in luck. The dinner menu reads more like a phone book than a menu; for timid or undecisive diners, I'd recommend a first visit at lunch when the extensive dinner menu is hacked down to a "best of" with 11 pies, five pastas and a few salads. Baked in a wood-burning oven, the thin-crust pies are less filling than the offerings from many local pizzerias, and the 10-inch pizzas make a great lunch.
Mostly named after cities, the overwhelmingly long list of pizza combinations include toppings like catupiry cheese, ricotta, sweet corn and tuna. To simplify the decision-making, you could order based on your favorite cities or future vacation spots. Interested in Copenhagen? You'll be eating mozzarella, brie cheese, smoked salmon and parsley. If I can tear myself from the crispy pies, I'll be tempted to order the homemade gnocchi with four cheese sauce.
Rumor has it that many ingredients are flown in each week from Italy and, after sampling a few pies, I'd believe it. The Moderna, made with mozzarella, arugula, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese, was the most authentic pie I've found outside Italy. The arugula had the taste I've sought out since my first arugula pizza in Venice -- flavorful, but not overwhelmingly bitter. The signature Piola was less successful. Slightly charred on one side, the fresh mozzarella had not fully melted and the sun-dried tomatoes had been added after baking, so they were cold against the warm pie. The dough has the right balance of salt and doughiness and the tomato sauce is subtle, but scrumptious.
As with any new business, the restaurant needs time to get in motion. As one would expect in the culinarily-challenged Rosslyn, throngs of curious passersby were packed into the restaurant less than an hour after it had opened. The restaurant was understandably overwhelmed. "Hey, you sat down more than 20 minutes after us, but you got your pizzas already," one woman complained. Luckily, the pizzas should be enough to warrant a return visit from even the grumpiest customers.
Not too expensive with a lively scene and food that you could potentially share, Piola caught my eye as a potential first date destination. I imagine more than a few couples will find love over fluffy tiramisu.
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