Crust Figure

The more complicated pizzas are less successful. The Capricciosa is a cacophony of ham, Toscano salami, mushrooms, slices of fresh tomatoes sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, black olives, artichoke hearts, red bell pepper and pepperoncini. While it looks more substantial, ultimately less would be more.

The pizzas are also available to go, along with the raw, house-made ingredients. If you have a pizza stone in your oven at home, you can pick up the raw dough, fresh mozzarella cheese and Italian or beef sausage.

For a different spin on the calzone, sample the beef sausage selection. Hot out of the oven, it looks immense. The turnoverlike crust is beautifully browned and, once sliced open, reveals an airy grandeur that comes from the oh-so-delicate rising of the dough in the oven. Inside is a filling of homemade beef sausage, mushrooms, onions, tomato sauce and cheese. As a meal, the calzone is a light bite and not the usual heavy cannonball of ricotta and dough.

While Nefic is zealous about pizza, he occasionally branches out to one other category of Italian food: lasagna. But it's only available as a catering item. The spinach lasagna serves 12 and is a bargain at $59. Perhaps if enough people start dining at his restaurant, he'll offer single servings as a once-a-week special.

The salads here are just okay. The best is the insalata Caprese. The chunks of house-made mozzarella cheese are creamy and fresh and doused with a nice olive oil, fresh basil and cracked pepper, but the tomatoes are just marginal. It's the same story at virtually all Valley restaurants: Good tomatoes are rare, and one can go months before finding another one. Future historians will measure the descent of American civilization by the ever-declining quality of tomatoes. The bland mozzarella should make the tomato flavor sing like Pavarotti, but we must be content only to enjoy the spicy cracked pepper seasoning with the cheese.

The gourmet salad cleans out the crisper section of the restaurant's icebox. A butter lettuce base is heaped with tomatoes, carrots, sweet corn, ricotta cheese, kalamata olives, hard-boiled eggs, radicchio, cucumbers and pepperoncini. Accompanied with chopsticklike Italian grissini (crunchy twisted breadsticks), it is a hefty offering without much subtlety.

Yet Nefic offers a delectable Italian vinaigrette. Our server mentioned how she had suggested that Nefic might want to add a trendier dressing, like a raspberry vinaigrette, to the menu. To the chef's credit, his response was: "I'll think about it." He's a purist who doesn't feel the need to jump onto dubious trends.

Two desserts are listed. We requested the intriguing-sounding tufahija -- a Mediterranean twist on the baked apple. Soon Nefic was standing at our table, sadly explaining it wasn't available. He went on to describe the dish, how he slowly bakes the apple for seven hours, stuffs it with nuts, raisins "and a little lemon zest," and then serves it warm over crème anglaise. "It's very popular throughout Europe," he sighed, "but here, no." He said he sold only two of the first 50 he made.

The alternate dessert, a toothsome tiramisu, also came with a brief cooking lesson. Nefic, who loves to talk food with patrons, is passionate about his signature dessert. "Strong espresso is required," he said, along with good cognac and fine amaretto to flavor the alternating layers of ladyfingers and mascarpone cream cheese. The resulting sweet is light and fluffy, powerfully imbued with cognac and almond flavors. If you're going to have only one dessert on your menu, this is a solid choice.

Nefic is in good company with his pizza fanaticism. In Naples, there is a group of pizza makers who have formed The True Neapolitan Pizza Association. These chefs have compiled a revolutionary list of commandments for pizza lovers. They insist that the crust be made only with flour, natural yeast, salt and water. No fats are allowed. The diameter of a pizza must never exceed 12 inches. Ingredients should be simple. (A spicy barbecued-chicken topping would be sacrilege!) They believe that pizzas must be cooked directly on the floor of a wood-fired oven.

At Classic Italian Pizza, all of this comes without the lines and crowds of posher joints. A reason for that is its location in the distant corner of a shopping center. Even with the best directions, most people struggle to find it. My advice is to drive to the shopping center and simply follow your nose to the aromatic smoke from Nefic's forno.

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