A couple of weeks ago, unexpectedly, and without warning, I was sent an invite to the opening night of a new Pizzeria in Victoria. I've never heard of the Famoso chain, and I have no idea why I was picked out of the morass of Victoria restaurant bloggers. I was at first going to turn it down. How do I maintain objectivity or distance? How will my readers react? I then got over myself, decided to point out that someone else paid for this meal, and then just write what I wanted to write. Course it might be coloured, but I'll let the reader decide what to take from it.
So, here it is. Fresh of the keyboard.
I found a friend whose equally (if not more so) into good food as I am, and headed down town. Famoso is in Market Square, in the location formally occupied by "Dig This", a gardening shop. You couldn't tell, they've carefully cleared out the bags of peat, moss and foilage displays. They've been replaced with plenty of solid tables, tasteful brown walls and a large open plan pizza kitchen. The high ceilings in the open plan of the dining area didn't soak up the noise very well, and coupled with the sound track, it was quite hard to have normal conversation. However, it did make for a buzz about the place and an energy, which no doubt helped kick the opening night off. But it probably needs to have some noise reduction in there to get a more food-first, conversation friendly experience.
We were greeted with an Italian Spritz (Presseco, Aperol and soda water) which has a bitter-sweet orangey-grapefruit flavour. I'm not sure if I loved it or hated it. I drank it though. We were shown to our table, right in the middle of the main dining area, and surrounded by a variety of folks. There was the party table, being photographed by "Snap Victoria". There was the hipsters. There was a more serious date night going on to my left, and what I imagine were some foodies to my right.
We were then given the talk about the system by our servers. Ordering is done by going up to the counter and handing in a slip with the food choice on, then table service from then on. Apparently this is to keep things at the diner's own pace. The pizza, we were promised, can be cooked in just 90 seconds, so fast service was assured.
We browsed the menu, and plumped for a couple of pizzas on the traditional menu. Famoso is going for authentic Neapolitan pizza. Thin bases, pure tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, fresh cooked in a big fired furnace that took pride of place in the corner.
We were treated to the full founding story and branding after our meal. The founder of the chain came across this pizza style while travelling in Italy, and spent a year perfecting his knowledge of the style, and getting his first restaurant in Edmonton certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana for authentic Napoli pizza. The best flour, the best Italian tomatoes for a simple sauce, hand stretch dough, 900 degree fired oven. The works. You can read the rest on their website.There's a passion for the food from the founder at work here, at least.
I ordered the Margherita with anchovies (which could be cooked or raw, I took cooked), while my friend went for the Conforto, hoping for chilli oil to give it a bit of a kick. We were handed some roasted olives and flat-bread as an appetizer, and waited for the meal. The olives were good... salty, meaty, with a spicy chilli oil (there was hope!).
The pizzas arrived (I can never call them pies... pie has a top crust in my world). Two 10" pizzas with crispy charred rims, a red base of sauce and scattering of toppings. This is not a triple decked pizza filled with stodge. We were warned that the quick cooking and crushed tomatoes made for a sloppy topping, and it does... you need to fold over the slice to keep it in all in check, and even then, a good amount of the topping slid away from base.
The mozzarella on the margherita with the salty, cooked anchovies was delicious. I love anchovies. These tasted like good anchovies. The tomato sauce was disappointing though. It was a bit weak and watery for me. This may be me being used to the thick paste-based sauces, but coupled with the soggy base, it just left it all a bit wanting. The base though... the quick fired dough around the edges had a scent and texture reminiscent of making scout dough twists. I wasn't sold straight away, but I've been thinking about that pizza base all day today. I want more of it. Dough, tendered, charred, tasty.
The Conforto was topped with roasted peppers and mushrooms and spicy Italian sausage. No chilli oil on the side, so black pepper and chilli flakes were applied. Again the toppings wanted to escape the base. The sausage was a miss, it didn't add anything to the dish (no spice, no meaty flavour) but the mushrooms were packed with a intense flavour that I liked, and worked well with the pizza. Just that sloppy, watery sauce again. I wanted a bigger tomato burst from it. Or more consistency to hold the topping and base together, rather than sliding away.
Or maybe Naples style pizza is not for me? My friend told me I had to try Prima Strada (Cook Street village for one) to compare and contrast their take on the style.
Still, there was desert. We had tried a taster from the Fiasco Gelatto bar. Blueberry and Basil is a great combination, and salty caramel is tasty too. This is worth going back for to try a full scoop. But for afters, I had the Affogato, a scoop of Vanilla Bean gelatto with a shot of espresso on top. At first, I thought I'd made a terrible mistake. The bitterness of the coffee and the sweetness of the ice cream were at war, and just didn't work. But after it melted into the coffee, and made a cold, foamy iced coffee, it was damn fine finish to the meal.
The tiramasu was tried as well by my friend. It wasn't bad, but judged against Il Terrazo and other's dishes, it was found wanting. I think the sponge base tasted too dry and rough, it needed to soak in more to complement rather than fight the marscarpone. Not too bad, though.
Service was excellent, and the staff seemed very pleased to help out, talk to everyone and we got to hand shake the owner, the founder and a couple of other people who were probably important. Course you can't tell much about the service on an opening night when it's best foot forward.
In the end, it's good pizza. It's different from what I've had elsewhere, and the idea and passion is there. Good ingredients, simply cooked the right way. Ramsay and Bourdain would approve. I just wouldn't say it was great from what I had, but as my friend said, you might just need to find the right dish. I noticed a $16 pizza and cinema ticket deal they have during the week, and I suspect I may just take up that offer to give them another go.
Phone : (250)-590-2648
Address : 128 - 560 Johnson Street, Victoria
Website : http://www.famoso.ca/