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Nicli Antica Pizzeria
My fondest memories of pizza are hard to divorce from their context. Watching my dad dive headfirst into an oddity of his third homeland. Being half a world away in Hong Kong with other homesick friends, curious to discover that you can get baby corn and sub Thousand Island dressing for tomato sauce on your Pizza Hut slice. The $1.99 slice after one, two, five beers too many. These were all great slices.

We all share similar stories, and that’s why pizza has such a prominent place in our collective consciousness. As food obsessions go, there are few other food items that informs the North American experience as much as pizza, perhaps second only to the hamburger in devotion. So when not one but two new pizza places open up in town, each touted to be the dawning of a doughy new age in Vancouver, steeped in San Marzano tomato sauce, we eagerly await to see how these fit within our nostalgia, to see what novelties they bring.

Both are devoted to Naples, purportedly the dish’s birthplace in the late 18th century. As the A16 cookbook describes Neapolitan pizza, “toppings are sparse and traditional, with few signs that the California ‘gourmet’ pizza revolution ever happened,” and dough that has been labored on and that has developed for hours and hours takes only minutes to cook in a wood burning oven. Apart from a minimalist array of toppings, it’s the dough and crust that are markedly different from the typical chain pizza. As J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats puts its, a reputable Neapolitan pizza needs “a crust that's tender and pillowy inside with charring on the undercarriage and leopard-spotting along the rim.” In other words, deep dish fans might want to look away.

The first, by a matter of weeks only, is Nicli Antica Pizzeria. It’s yet another new addition to Gastown, where the minimalist design does all it can to divorce itself from its surroundings, where tables are so shiny and sleek that it’s a miracle more pizzas don’t get flung across the room when one rips into them (those using a knife and fork should ensure a second person holds the plate). A Napoletana ($13) adds an anchovy riff to the basic mozzarella-tomato theme, while a Funghi ($14) does the same albeit with mushroom. Both are pleasant enough, with a tomato sauce that seems as thin as the slice, which is requisitely soft and chew in the centre (perhaps almost soggy), and a nice charred crust neither bold nor horrific. It’s all very nice, where one can be assured that you won’t be eating the pie in exchange for helping your friends move apartments.

It’s the sort of place that conjures up a recent post on Chowhound, where one commenter wrote that “the snobism wrapped up in discussing Neapolitan pizza gets ridiculous, but so too does the anti-elitism that goes on when some people get so distracted by a pizza costing $18 that they can't even bring themselves to give it a fair shake, flavor-wise.”

The BiBo
Though the second place, the BiBo, also finds itself within the same price range, there’s a marked difference from Nicli. Seats are crammed (almost excessively so) in contrast to Piato, the Greek restaurant which was formerly in the same spot. Most of the tables are jammed into the middle third of the restaurant, and polite manners won’t save you from eavesdropping or even sharing in the conversations around you. The service hasn’t quite found its legs in the first few days either, but all of it stirs up a chaos that is just as messy as a pizza place should be...perhaps a happy coincidence.

The BiBo "Italian Flag" platter, with burrata
The pizza is also richer. The F1 Margherita ($22; a less premium version is offered for $12) follows the standard tomato-mozzarella-basil ingredient list, but here the buffalo mozzarella is deep and soulful, melting into the tomato sauce and mixing into an incredible creamy mixture (it will also make you want to order the Italian DOP burrata plate ($18) as well, which can only be summed up in smiles and sighs.) Leave it for too long – we’re talking minutes here – and it will get soggy. The concern isn’t quite as high with the quattro stagioni ($20), or “four seasons,” pizza, where mozzarella gives way to additional toppings (ham, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives, and anchovies) divvied up into different quadrants, as maximalist as Neapolitan pizza generally gets. In both cases, the pies feel more brazen, more passionate. They’re the sort which might beget new stories, so long as you supply the characters and context.

Joe.

Nicli Antica Pizzeria
62 E Cordova St
Vancouver, BC
Nicli Antica Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

The BiBo
1835 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
The BiBo on Urbanspoon

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