Pupatella, Arlington, VA

(See the May 26, 2011 Review here.)

A family of four enjoyed a full dinner sitting right in front of Enzo Algarme, with both a seven-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy entranced by the pizzas being made right before their eyes.

We started with my usual 2009 Case Ibidini Insolia ($15 with purchase of two pizzas) just because it’s hard not to at the price, plus a bottle of Boylan’s Root Beer ($2.50).

At my urging, we got two orders of the Fried Zucchini Blossoms ($8.00), and the consensus was that they were fantastic. But I’ve had them three times now, and I’m still trying to recreate that “first time” when they were fried to perfection, giving the perception of being completely oil-free – it’s the difference between being great, and OMFG great. (This is what happens when the initial bar is set high.)

Panzarotti ($8.00) is an order of two weighty potato croquettes, laced liberally with mozzarella and flecks of prosciutto. They are an ample appetizer, and unless you’re really hungry going into the meal, one order is plenty for two people. Like the zucchini blossoms, it’s easy to overlook these and dive right into the pizzas, but these are delicious croquettes, salted assertively but not overly so, with just a hint of nutmeg lending a (false) perception of lightness.

All four pizzas used the same dough and were perfectly cooked, so deciding between them was entirely a matter of topping combinations. A Bimbi ($8.50) is nominally called a “kid’s pizza,” but is the same size as the others. It’s the entry-level cheese pizza here, with only San Marzano tomato sauce and mozzarella, and is not limited to children (you could construct your own from the a la carte list for the exact same price). A Pepperoni ($9.50) is a basic pizza ($7.00) plus fresh mozzarella ($1.50) plus beef pepperoni ($1.00), and if you like pepperoni pizzas, there’s nothing here not to like.

As much as I rave about these pizzas, the Eggplant ($10.00) just isn’t my favorite combination here. It has grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, and fontina, and although it sounds appealing to me on paper, it’s a very eggplant-centric presentation, which in turn highlights the tomato sauce, and the relative dearth of fontina just leaves me a little unsatisfied. However, my pizza of Prosciutto Arugula ($12.00) with Prosciutto di Parma, beautiful, vibrant-green baby arugula, fresh mozzarella, and parmesan more than sated my most primal desires. Some pizzerias serve multi-inch mounds of arugula on these pizzas, but Pupatella’s is a restrained version that extracts the most out of each leaf.

“Would you maybe like to try something else?” Anastasiya asked me on a subsequent visit when I began to order a glass of the 2009 Case Ibidini Insolia. Shamed, I realized that I’d probably been robotic to a fault when it comes to ordering this wine.

“Sure,” I said.

“Do you want to try a Sauvignon Blanc?”

I nodded my head. “Yeah, that sounds good.” (And it did.)

“Have you seen our patio?”


Yes, friends. If you haven’t found it by now, Pupatella has a delightful little patio out back that opened in mid-June. I took a seat closest to the back door, and sipped my glass of 2010 Sunday Mountain Sauvignon Blanc ($5) while I sunk into my (little hard plastic) chair, looking around at the small, colorful, artistic touches (someone at Pupatella has a knack for modern design and subtle use of color), the whole patio having a very “cool” feel because of the giant green trees surrounding it.

The Sauvignon Blanc was perfect with a special Marinated Seafood Salad ($5), made with octopus, squid, mussels and clams. I’m a notoriously slow eater when I’m enjoying a glass of wine, so my buzzer went off midway through my salad and disrupted me from my mini-trance state.

I switched over to a glass of Barbera with a special white pizza of Fresh Figs, Prosciutto di Parma, and Fresh Smoked Mozzarella ($14), and became absolutely stuffed towards the end of the meal, but finished every bite regardless.

And the next night I was back again. My young dining companion had just flown in from Orlando, and was travel-weary, Disneyworld-drained, and not wanting a big production. I knew that the fig pizza would work with these parameters, and I was right – “this is the perfect food for me tonight,” he said, as we sat in the exact same table where I’d been the night before.

And I wanted another glass of that Sauvignon Blanc. “We have the rest of the bottle left from last night,” Anastasiya said.

“Great – just subtract $5 for the glass and I’ll take it,” I chirped (it was $15 ($30 minus the $10 two-pizza discount, minus $5 for the glass the night before)). And as good as this Sauvignon Blanc was with the seafood salad, it was just as good with another order of Panzarotti, fried just as well as before. I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying these Panzarotti, and you should get them.

I ordered the “other” special white pizza available that evening: the Cotecotto ($11) made with sausage, ricotta, and red onion. This particular pizza goes on my “like but didn’t love” list because it came across as extremely herbaceous (to the point of having a dried bitterness in the finish) and oniony.  To be fair, this pizza needed a red wine to cut through it, and since I bought the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, I wasn’t going to go there. One nice thing about Pupatella is that they’ll cheerfully package any unfinished bottle of wine for you to take home, so don’t hesitate to spring for a full bottle (especially with the $10, two-pizza discount).

With most restaurants like Pupatella, I’d be urging diners to “go now, because it’s never going to get any better than it is.” But so far, remarkably, that advice would prove to be wrong. Enzo has worked every single time I’ve ever been in, and has had a direct hand in making every single pizza I’ve ever had here. If you look around, you’ll see that Pupatella is growing, yes, but they’re reinvesting money back into the restaurant: the patio is a fantastic addition, they have a new soft drink cooler, their wine list is expanding, and they’re beginning to take some risks (the marinated seafood salad, for example). I suppose there will come a day when Enzo drops from fatigue, or when a second Pupatella opens, and maybe that’s the time when the quality here will retreat from its highest highs, but from everything I see so far, this restaurant is continuing to improve, and we’ve yet to see it at its peak.

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