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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

19 comments

Anonymous said... @ March 22, 2011 at 8:43 AM

I miss when the reviews on this site weren't trying so hard, when they were about the food.

Betty said... @ March 22, 2011 at 9:56 AM

Anonymous,

Uhm, I'm pretty sure this post is about food. Not sure what you were reading...

Ben said... @ March 22, 2011 at 11:08 AM

$22 for a Margherita - F1 or otherwise - is outrageous. The best pizzerias in North America rarely charge more than $15, if that, for the gold standard.

Anonymous said... @ March 24, 2011 at 12:37 AM

I was at Bibo on Tuesday March 22nd for dinner. We had red wine by the glass and decided to share Gnocchi with meat ragu and a Boccone Pizza. The Gnocchi was cooked well, but the sauce was average in regards to the flavor. The Pizza was tasty but was almost floating in oil. We had asked for extra Parmesan cheese, and once we emptied the cheese from the side dish, we filled it with the oil that we drained off the pizza plate (there was that much). I have not been to Italy, and also admit I have never had a pizza experience like this.

I mentioned to the server (Julie) that the pizza was good, but far too oily. She did not acknowledge the complaint or do anything about it. When it came time to pay the bill, another male server came to settle the bill. He asked how the meal was and I told him about the oily pizza. Behind the server, this man in pedestrian clothing (jeans and jacket) interrupted the conversation and wanted to explain to me why the pizza was so wet and oily. Having no idea who this guy was that so rudely interrupted our conversation, I told him I was not interested in what he had to say. I thought he was from the table behind us.

The guy that interrupted my conversation then dimmed the lights – so despite the lack of professional attire, I realized he worked there. I wondered how on earth this guy could have interrupted my conversation without identifying who he was, or introducing himself. I asked out waiter who he was _ and she said he was the owner.

I asked to speak with him. He approached the table and I told him how rude he was to speak over his employee and to interrupt our conversation without introducing himself or revealing his position. He did not really seem to care one way or the other, and seemed more satisfied by telling me that we have free speech and are entitled to our own opinions.

I am not sure what happened to the pin striped suits that we saw at the opening, but I think they went out with the style and class

Anonymous said... @ March 24, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Anonymous #1: I agree!

Anonymous #2: Was this your first time eating at a restaurant? If you care about fat content you should probably not eat out; restaurants tend to try to make their food taste good, and butter and oil are pretty effective at carrying flavors. Good for you to try to personalize your meal as much as possible instead of just not coming back to a restaurant whose food you didn't like. I find that whenever I am less than satisfied at a restaurant, I should demand everything of the owners and workers until satisfaction is achieved. I mean, they are in the service industry, right?

Anonymous said... @ March 24, 2011 at 1:40 PM

I miss when the comments on this site actually made sense.

Anonymous said... @ March 24, 2011 at 6:59 PM

previous poster: welcome to the internet

Anonymous said... @ March 24, 2011 at 7:49 PM

After my dining experience at The Bibo I have to agree with most of the negative comments. Service was lacking and food was v.average (presentation/flavor/value). I have a feeling that unless they seriously "improve" they will be gone in 3-6 months.

Anonymous said... @ March 26, 2011 at 1:56 AM

Recently went to Bibo.
Is the only place in Vancouver, I would say BC, that has the really italian food. I travel often to Italy for business and I can tell that these guys know what they are doing, Cioppinos, Nicli, and other italian restaurant are not even close to the food quality.
The service unfortunately is very poor, no attention to customer and I can see a lack of experience from management and staff.
Once you get it you will become #1 restaurant in Vancouver.

Anonymous said... @ March 26, 2011 at 12:55 PM

Not sure what Italy you been to on your business travels to think that this place has real italian food or that the food guality is good...perhaps "virtual" travel?

Natasha said... @ March 28, 2011 at 8:01 AM

To anonymous #2:
On behalf of the owners of The Bibo – Lorenzo and Andrea – we are sorry to hear that you’ve had a negative experience at the restaurant. Lorenzo – the gentleman who joined your discussion with the waiter – is extremely passionate about his restaurant and food and wanted to quickly resolve your concerns about the pizza. We apologize if you felt his manner was inappropriate to the situation.

Please note that the owners take feedback very seriously. They’re aware that the Neapolitan style of pizza they offer may not be familiar to all Vancouverites but hope the flavours and blends will appeal to the majority of their guests. Lorenzo and Andrea extend their apologies to you and invite you to join them again at your convenience for a glass of wine while you taste-test the latest incarnation of their beloved pizza.

Blogger Relations & Care
Natasha N Davies

Anonymous said... @ March 28, 2011 at 9:02 PM

Marvelous, amazing, excellent, cool!!!

Anonymous said... @ March 29, 2011 at 3:41 PM

"Blogger Relations & Care" - that's a new job description if I ever saw one! - transalation: spin doctor/RP (position would not be needed if the place was properly)

Anonymous said... @ March 30, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Here's another spin: irrespective of what you think of their food, the Bibo folks just apologized for their service that night. So you can be gracious about it, or not.

Anonymous said... @ March 31, 2011 at 8:36 AM

I should be gracious because they apologized for their shortcomings?

Anonymous said... @ March 31, 2011 at 12:44 PM

Fight, fight, fight!

Walker Cronkite said... @ April 2, 2011 at 4:51 PM

This site has completely gone down hill, shut it down already. NEXT!

Anonymous said... @ April 4, 2011 at 2:51 PM

I am writing to say I was very disappointed on the service I received from the host (man) , on Saturday April 2 2011 (8:00pm)while waiting for a table to open , we were seated quickly only because he thought we were someone else , but there was no one behind us, and I wasn’t sure what was going on, while we were having are dinner he realize his mistake and came over and told me and my guests that there is a 2 hour wait time and we have people waiting for this table , I could not believe this , he made a mistake and needed to cover himself , customer service disgusting, unacceptable,
I need to bring this to your attention , so future patrons , will not be embarrassed in case this happens to someone else

Anonymous said... @ April 4, 2011 at 3:20 PM

do not go to this place customer service/attitude is horrible , try somewhere else !

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