It's purely coincidental that I ended up at Pizzeria Bianco the day after news leaked out about Every Day With Rachael Ray's new March issue, which declares Chris Bianco's pizzas the best in the U.S. of A.
A bunch of us were out on our bikes, cruising downtown, doing a little restaurant hopping and day drinking on the prettiest Saturday in ages. The decision to head to Pizzeria Bianco was pretty much a whim, and for me, pure novelty.
You see, for the countless times I've eaten there over the years, I've never once gone before the restaurant opens its doors at 5 p.m. These days, people start lining up well before 4 (I think we got there about quarter 'til) to get seated, or at least to get on the list.
My strategy has always been to go in the evening, and almost always on random weeknights, with the intention of hanging out at Bar Bianco for a while beforehand. A couple years ago, I stopped by expecting to wait, and was actually a bit disappointed when Susan Pool greeted me with, "We can seat you right now!" I was hoping to nibble on a cheese plate at Bar Bianco first. (Of course, I have never had that "problem" since.)
That was in the days before the New York Times and Oprah and Martha and the whole foodie universe fell in love with the place. And then, for a while, I had a friend with an ongoing monthly reservation for six-plus people, which meant maybe a one-glass-of-wine wait. Doable.
Now, unless you are one of the first people in line, you're expecting a good two or three hour wait -- perhaps longer. The anticipation this creates wouldn't be fair to just about any pizza, but at Bianco, the pies are just that good. I'd never willingly make my friends this ornery/drunk/skeptical if I thought there was a chance I'd be proved wrong.
My visit on Saturday was with a first-timer who gamely chatted about music, played Paper Toss on his iPhone, nursed a couple beers, and didn't complain (much) about the wait at Bar Bianco. But the moment of truth was when we all finally got seated at the pizzeria.
Killer bread with peppery, high-quality extra virgin olive oil put him in a visibly better mood. Then, when he grew silent while nibbling on the antipasto plate (one of my favorite things in the world), I knew it was a good sign. Finally, the pizzas showed up, smelling incredible.
Chris Bianco isn't working the oven now, but if you've been any kind of a regular here, you'll know all the familiar faces in the restaurant. And of course, it's still the famous crust.
Blistered into fat, charred bubbles, chewy and tinged with smoke. There's no way to shake a craving for it except to give in.