Black, white, green
Sacramento, CA 95814
What’s black and white and green all over? Hot Italian, the Midtown eatery that’s so new its facade is still being futzed with. Black and white is the long-tabled common room—white plates, black napkins—with a propeller-sized ceiling fan and a “wall o’ forks.” The often phantasmagorical forks are a project commissioned by Alessi, the maker of the restaurant’s cutlery, in which various artists channel their inner tines—some, apparently, quite tortured.
Green is the restaurant’s much ballyhooed, first-in-Sacramento Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design certification. That’s laudable, but instead let’s dwell on the plethora of pizzas, paninis and calzones that comprise Hot Italian’s fare. The CliffsNotes are these: This is an Italian pizzeria next to Fremont Park. But with its crispy-edge, thin-crust pizzas, Hot Italian could seamlessly relocate to Florence, Sienna, Todi, Assisi, Montepulciano, Naples or Rome. With the exception of its gelato bar, which would likely miff the owners of stand-alone gelato parlors such as Florence’s world-class Vivoli.
Maybe the authenticity has something to do with chef Fabrizio Cercatore owning La Tavernetta in La Spezia, to the east of Cinque Terre, the five picaresque cities clinging to the cliffs of the Italian Riviera. Ali, our serene and saucy waitress, says she’s saving up for a pilgrimage this fall. As Sacramento’s strongest supporter of the arts, SN&R tips accordingly.
At first, Hot Italian seems an odd layout. A large retail area hawking things Italian, especially Vespas, connects to the eatery, its wall-to-wall open-counter kitchen, Jetson-esque chairs and arresting white tile oven adorned with black-tile Italian adjectives—stiloso (stylish), ganzo (cool)—similar to the exhortation on the menu—“Mangia & Bevi.”
But it works. The Sacramento Asian-Pacific Chamber of Commerce holds a reception among the Vespas. They enjoy relative privacy but easy access to the eatery. Several attendees migrate in to chat with Christine Ault, formerly of the Metro Chamber, now a successful small businesswoman, and Bill Mueller, the thoughtful and passionate force behind Valley Vision. Co-owner Andrea Lepore also visits.
Bill thinks it’s pretty cool the salads can be turned into pizzas. Various menu items can be created as sandwiches, pizzas or calzones. Symbols on the menu guide diners: circle for pizza, leaf for salad, half-circle for calzone, equal sign for panini.
Thus, the canalis salad Christine and I eat of tuna, cannellini, olives, red onions, romaine and Romano can be both an $8 leaf and a $10 circle. Leaf or circle: More beans, olives and onions and less romaine, please.
Speaking of skimpy, the distance between salami and mushrooms pieces on the $15 13-inch Bartolami pizza can only be served by high-speed rail and commuter jet. In complete accord with George Bush the Elder, there’s way too much broccoli rabe on the $15 Neri—although broccoli fans would disagree. In contrast, the coppa salami makes itself scarce. Nothing a dollop of hot pepper-infused olive oil can’t cure, however.
There’s another 14 pizzas to explore: the $14 Stella, starring prosciutto and a mix of mushrooms. Beef up with the $13 Pantani with breasola, arugula and grana Padano cheese. The alliterative Pantani panini goes for $9.
For beverages, the San Benedetto is a very fine fizzy water. And what’s not to love about a San Pellegrino Limonata, even at $3 a throw? There’s Peroni on tap and a handy map of Cercatore’s homeland to pinpoint the origins of the wine on the Italy-centric list—an average of about $7 by the glass.
Ali recommends a scoop of caramel gelato to accompany my stracciatella. Her advice is foolishly ignored as she proves by bringing an extra bowl of caramel. I am duly chastened. Christine is a fan of the pistachio; Bill and I are quickly converted.
Like so many things, the sum of Hot Italian is greater than the parts. Despite the noise from its high ceilings and stark interior, a desire is somehow conjured to linger, catch up. Ain’t nothin’ at the office that can’t wait. There’s a tinge of guilt over not languorously sipping a cappuccino and hearing the full woof and tweeter of Bill and Christine’s latest projects.
Guess that has to wait until next time.