In case you missed it, I’m reposting reviews from my time at the Monterey Herald every Tuesday. Here’s my review of Carmel’s Vesuvio that appeared in the Go! section of the Monterey Herald on September 27, 2012.
It’s been a busy summer, meaning postponed pizza plans with Joe, my friend who’s an East Coast transplant with a picky pizza palate. Now that things have settled down, we’re back on our quest to find the best pizza in town.
Pizza’s growing up. Gone are the days of just cheese or pepperoni, now you’ll find pizzas topped with figs or Dungeness crab. I’ve convinced Joe to expand the scope of our pizza tasting to sample some of these more adult pizzas at local restaurants.
When it comes to pizza, Joe firmly believes less is more, so we eased into the world of gourmet pizza with a visit to Carmel’s Vesuvio, which balances the classics with more non-traditional combinations.
On our first visit, we went in as pizza purists, ordering the basic Margherita ($16) and the Salsiccia ($17.50)
Joe loved the simplicity of the Margherita dal 1889. With sweet tomato sauce, melted mozzarella and a light accent of basil, it’s really more like a cheese pizza than a margherita. (For a more traditional take with fresh tomato and mozzarella, try the La DOC ($18.50) instead.)
The Salsiccia pizza expanded on the simple canvas of the margherita, adding spicy sausage and red and yellow peppers. I would have preferred the peppers cooked a little longer, to render them a little more tender against the chewy crust.
On our second visit, Joe brought along his wife and one of his coworkers to help us tackle more pizza. This time, we ordered some combinations off the beaten path.
We started with the Carbonara pizza, topped with mozzarella, pancetta, fresh egg, shallots, peas and black pepper ($17.50).
Joe described this pizza best—breakfast for dinner.
All four of us were surprised how light the flavor actually was. This was a major plus for others at the table, but a bit of a letdown for me. I wanted a bolder kick of salty pancetta and savory egg yolk.
The di Parma pizza—with tomato sauce, prosciutto, arugula, shaved parmigiano and olive oil ($17.50)—was the most contentious choice at dinner.
Most gave this pizza the thumbs down, claiming that the arugula screamed at the top of its lungs, overpowering all other flavors. But this was actually my favorite pizza of the night, underscoring that pizza preferences often come down to a matter of taste.
Yes, the arugula packed a potent bitter bite, but I loved the depth of flavor it brought against the sweet tomato sauce and salty prosciutto.
The del Fiore pizza—topped with mozzarella, zucchini blossoms, burrata cheese and mint ($18.50)—was probably our most unusual selection.
When it arrived, it was truly a work of art with colorful zucchini blossoms topped with stark white burrata and a pop of bright green mint leaf.
We loved the creamy indulgence of fresh burrata cheese. Joe wasn’t a fan of the mint—he’s a pizza purist who simply doesn’t like “leafy things” on his pizza.
Taking a tally of the hits and misses, the crust received high marks from both of us—it was reasonably crisp, but still doughy. Joe noted that it had the perfect amount of hang—droopy, but not soggy.
The sauce won accolades from Joe. For me, the sauce was a tad too sweet, but nicely complemented the savory toppings.
And when it came to toppings, Joe preferred the simpler tastes we sampled on our first visit. I applauded the more adventurous flavor combinations, even if some of them missed the mark.
We were in agreement that Vesuvio’s pizzas can get pretty pricey. Most on the menu cost between $17 and $20, but considering size—big enough to share between two people—and quality, they were worth the premium price.
Vesuvio was the first place we’ve tried that wasn’t a traditional pizzeria. Here, pizza is elevated beyond humble comfort food and taken to gourmet heights. The classic pies are reinterpreted in a more elegant fashion, pleasing even the pickiest of pizza lovers.
Vesuvio is located at the corner of Junipero and Sixth in Carmel. 831-626-7373. www.vesuviocarmel.com.