Friday, August 13, 2010
For those of us who go to local small movie theaters, the Capitol in Arlington is a destination spot. As good as the freshly made popcorn and the ice cream parlor are, inside the theater, the abundance of good restaurants around the area is another reason to make the trip. Interesting pizza was not really represented in that stretch of Mass Ave. until the appearance of Za.
Za is a pizza place but not a pizza joint. It calls itself a pizza spin-off from EVOO in Cambridge. Its sister restaurant, and the unique touch of EVOO is visible here. The pies are inventive and generous (10 inches) in size. Prices are right around $10-11.50 per, depending on the number of add-ons. There are chalkboard specials, which change seemingly on a daily basis. Za uses lots of local products – Verrill Farm zucchini and Kimball Farm tomatoes are named on the menu – plus the standard build-your-own pizza menu, with some jazzy additions – chorizo, maple bacon, Portobello mushrooms.
A smoked salmon and caper pizza, with a cream cheese base, was a bold signature dish, with large slices of the salmon covering each slice of the pie. Just enough capers add a vinegary taste that complements the salty, smoked fish. A standard sausage and onion pizza was excellent, with the onions caramelized into sweetness and the homemade sausage juicy and redolent of fennel. A grilled chicken and diced pineapple selection was tangy and pleasantly smoky, with the right amount of sugary juice. The asparagus and black olive pie was a disappointment, as the asparagus had been diced into teeny cubes and were largely raw so the taste was unpleasantly earthy and the texture akin to coarse gravel. One of the standard pizzas is a mac and cheese offering, which no doubt will be the favorite of the ‘all ages comfort food’ set. The crusts are called thin, but in truth they are not the thin cracker-type crust that have taken that moniker, but more like a Bertucci’s thin crust pie. The charred and blistered edges of the dough give the dough a crispness that complements and hold up under the hot melted toppings. The daily specials – like black fig, Gorgonzola cheese, carmelized onion, garlic and a dash of white truffle oil – are largely very good, with the occasional disappointment of a tasteless vegetable (let us face it, zucchini is a challenge!) offsetting the richer flavors of the pie.
The salad menu is also interesting and worthy because the flavors of the veggies – roasted beets, grilled asparagus, roasted red peppers, crisp wedges of iceberg lettuce – are distinctive and preparation is carefully orchestrated to produce an impact, not just a go-with plate. The beet salad is a tall rounded affair (looks like it was molded in a soup can and then plated) with nice chunks of sweet red beets, orange slices and creamy salted goat cheese acting as binder, and for bite, some sprigs of parsley on top.
The asparagus salad was luscious, four large grilled spears on a thick bed of basil/ Parmesan pesto. The combination was more than the sum of its parts and came to the table right off the grill. The iceberg wedge, with blue cheese, smoked bacon and buttermilk dressing, reminded me how that simple salad could only be made with iceberg and not with the fancy lettuce choices we have today – the greens hold up to the thick, tart dressing and add substantial crunch power to that plate. The avocado salad, with a lime cumin dressing, sports black beans, cilantro, red peppers, plus taco crunchies and is so refreshing, it is a natural to combat the present heat spell. Salads are priced at about $8, which seems high for a pizza place, but are good-sized and interesting, worth the expense.
Desserts are few but excellent – a goat cheese cheesecake is getting rave reviews, and the crème brulée is a delicate, light custard with a hint of lavender. Panna cotta with blueberries and the bourbon pecan pie round out the dessert menu, all at $6. There is a small drinks menu; a couple of wines and beers, nothing fancy.
So go for an all-American night out – dinner and a movie, courtesy of Za and the Capitol Theater. Za does not take reservations but you can call ahead when you are ready to leave for the restaurant and they will put you on a list and/or tell you how long the wait will be. Za is smallish but diners move in and out quickly. For more information and to see what is new on the menu, the website is zarestaurant.com.
Za, 138 Mass Ave, Arlington, (2+ blocks east of Capitol theater, yellow and blue awning).
1-781-316-2334; hours 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. ∆
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito