On the waterfront
Pizza Antica5540 Douglas Blvd.
Granite Bay, CA 95746
Patio dining can sometimes seem like the impossible dream. It’s too hot. It’s too cold. There are too many bugs or there are too many cars going by your sidewalk table. All you want is a nice table, tasty food, a pretty view, a cold glass of wine and a big umbrella. Is that so hard? Well, not at Pizza Antica in Granite Bay.
Yeah, it’s a branch of a Bay Area mini-chain and, yeah, it’s in a shopping center—but what a shopping center! Its patio, edged with herbs, artichokes, and strawberries in pots, overlooks the center’s eponymous quarry pond (which is really very nice, though I’m not sure how it will be when mosquito season really ramps up). If it is too hot for outside, there’s a spare, appealing air-conditioned dining room done up with a white and black tiled floor and a ceiling that, at first glance, looks like old-fashioned pressed tin, but on closer inspection is actually acoustical tiles molded to look more interesting.
Here, pizza—in the old style, per the name antica—is the name of the game, and they have the wood-burning ovens to prove it—but I have a feeling a few of the cooks, at least, are still figuring those ovens out. The other dishes, mainly a sampling of California-ized and refined Italian classics, are nice, in any case. I was also a fan of the short but well-curated wine list, as well as the non-alcoholic choices, like a yummy sour cherry limeade.
Service is a little uneven. Our server was extremely affable but a bit inexperienced: When I asked about a rosé, he read the tasting notes haltingly off an index card; he forgot to tell us the specials; and we found out about the featured-wines program (in which wines normally available only by the bottle are poured by the glass) by overhearing another server telling another table about it. Other little glitches, however, weren’t his fault—like the fact that the green garlic and mascarpone tortelloni I ordered weren’t available, because, as he let slip, the chef said they were “still thawing out.” Still, he was eager to please.
We started off with fried artichoke hearts, which came in fresh, hot and crunchy bite-sized pieces, with just enough pepper in the crunchy breading to keep things interesting. I compare all fried artichokes against the memory of an unbelievably delicious, crisply browned whole one I had in Rome, which is probably unfair to stateside artichokes. These little nuggets were quite different, with thicker, less lacy breading, and we gulped them down. They came with a slightly bland and thin aioli, as well as lemon wedges. I preferred the latter to the former.
More of the saucy aioli was placed on the spring vegetable antipasti plate, where I felt it wasn’t needed at all. The plate came with long, thin, stylish, Parmesan-crusted focaccia crisps (our daughter liked these so much we asked for more, and our server nicely obliged). The house-made mozzarella was sort of melted and amorphous rather than a delicately creamy globule, but it had a fresh dairy flavor. I loved the fava beans, which tasted just like spring even though some peel residue had found their way in. Cubes of sweet beets, a heap of mild spring onions and roasted red peppers were all nicely executed additions to the plate.
My husband ordered a three-cheese pizza with shaved broccoli, caramelized onions and crunchy bits of pancetta—a nice, if slightly wintry, combination. Pizza is made or broken by its crust, and the crust here is resilient and yeasty in flavor, though the baking can be a little inconsistent. On our first visit, the pizza was not quite as crisply blistered as one might like, with a dark-brown sear at the thin, tapered edges. On another visit, I tried a strikingly light yet robustly flavored combination of radicchio, dabs of goat cheese, more crisp pancetta and a drizzle of fresh pesto. On this pie, the crust was perfectly crisp and thin, and more evenly cooked. You can also build your own pizza from various toppings.
On our dinner visit, I ended up with chicken piccata, a dish that seems rather ordinary until you taste Pizza Antica’s version with three tender, almost sizzling chicken breast pieces sautéed to a moist, flavorful and perfect nut-brown, bathed in lemony, buttery sauce with lots of capers (and, to quibble, a couple of stray lemon seeds, as well). What made the dish was not just the precise execution in how the chicken was cooked, but also the delicious grouping of spring vegetables that served as a base for the poultry and sauce: a lot more of those lovely favas, bits of artichoke, asparagus, sweet fresh carrot, and a scattering of herbs. For once, a vegetable mélange doesn’t feel at all like an afterthought. Another fairly successful entrée was the tender calamari in spicy tomato sauce. I thought the sauce a little too uncomplicated and sweet, but the calamari was just right.
Desserts, in keeping with the tone, are simple and mostly Italianate, like affogato and biscotti, or American, like warm rhubarb crisp with strawberry gelato. The latter is what we ordered, and it was tasty if a tiny bit underbaked.
We also had a long wait for it. As the server delivered it, he sympathized by saying, “Yeah, these take forever.” The time to tell us that would probably have been when we ordered it, but I liked the tart rhubarb and sweet, creamy gelato anyway—as with the restaurant generally. What’s done well is very nice. The little flaws are easy enough to overlook if you’re sitting outside under a shady umbrella, sipping a sour cherry limeade.