My first visit to Novo Pizzeria and Wine Bar in the former Incendio space beside Fifth Avenue Cinemas in Kits, was back in early August while it was still coming together after a complete tear-down to the studs, followed by an extensive renovation to accommodate the separate venting stack for the new wood burning oven. This time around I returned to taste the food, in particular, the classic margherita pizza, which is my litmus test for the current authentic Neapolitan pizza wave underway in our fair city.
The newly transformed space is a smartly laid out open concept, furnished with black leather banquettes, wooden table tops and a comfy wine bar, complete with a state of the art preservation system. The walls are covered with extensive stone work, and the wine bar and surrounding ceiling have some custom wood accents made from wine barrel staves. The eye is quickly drawn to the bright orange flames of the forno oven at the centre of the kitchen. Burning alder wood, the temperature hovers around 800 degrees Fahrenheit, the proper hearth baking temperature required for a 90-second Neapolitan pizza.
Novo Chef Michael Nokes invites me into the kitchen to watch the process of pizza making close up. Using Italian Caputo “00″ flour from Naples (the “00″ is a Italian rating that shows how finely ground the flour is and how much of the bran and germ have been removed), Michael easily pulls the dough into a circle with just a few efficient motions. With a gluten content of 11-12%, Caputo flour is blended to be consistent and give the dough just enough stretching capability without too much elasticity or ‘bounce back’.
He then ladles on the house made sauce, which uses San Marzano tomatoes sourced from California for their consistent high-quality and year-round availability, and then adds thick slices of fresh mozzarella cheese before placing it in the hot furnace oven for baking.
Within 90 seconds and after a few careful rotations, the sauce and cheese are bubbling hot. He uses the long paddle to lift the pizza to the top of the inside of the oven for one final blast of heat to sear the top, and it is pulled out for it’s final touches: a healthy splash of quality extra virgin olive oil and careful placement of fresh basil leaves.
Novo’s pizza is a fine balance that works, and one they continue to tweak daily. One of the signatures of an authentic Neapolitan pizza is a bit of charring of the dough, but not too much as it will create an unsavoury bitterness if overdone. They achieve just the right amount of crisp and chew with a nice bubbly crust, which is utterly delicious. Simple food well-prepared really is hard to beat.
If pizza is not your obsession, there are a lot of other classic Italian dishes worth considering. Here are a couple I sampled:
While being next to a popular movie theatre is certainly good for business, the owners want to be known as a neighborhood restaurant. With a solid and well thought out concept and pizza this good, I think they won’t have much of a problem drawing them in.
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