Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Best Pizza Crust Ever?

Yesterday we went over to the San Fernando Valley to have a farewell lunch with Richie's brother Charlie and his wife, Rosalind, who flew back to Long Island today.  We deferred to them on restaurant choice  and they both enthusiastically shouted, "Maria's!"

Maria's is one of the many restaurants located on Ventura Boulevard.  Midway through lunch, I realized that the scene outside could be on Long Island itself - two-story buildings, not an inch of space between them, a mad mix of dry cleaners, furniture and clothing stores, and restaurants.

Maria's has a patio running the width of the building and two dining rooms that clearly indicate that at some time in the past, the restaurant expanded into the building next door.  This room is more formal with white tableclothes and painted frescoes on the walls.  We ate in the other half which has big banquettes behind the picture windows onto the patio and street.  This is the take-out side, bristling with neon signs.

With our beers came a basket of wonderful warm bread -- thin, chewy on the outside and soft inside as well as cruets of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Our server, Julia, from Peru then brought a separate shallow dish with the above plus flecks of garlic and green onion.  The bread was pizza dough that had been baked and cut into wedges.  We were  nearly  growling and drooling as we ripped into it. 

Rosalind was thrilled to find that the soup of the day was Cream of Broccoli.  She astounded me further by announcing, "Oh, I love broccoli!"  My sister-in-law is a strange one.

Richie and Charlie got minestrone -- a clear broth crammed and jammed with cut vegetables and then pasta with marinara sauce.  I ordered a small Caesar salad and a thin-crust pineapple and pepperoni pizza.

I may have found nearly the perfect Caesar salad.  The lettuce was so fresh and crisp that I could visualize it out in a garden, eagerly bouncing up to say, "Take me!  Take me!" to the chef.  Maria's makes their own dressing which may explain the excellence.  It makes all the difference in the world as good as Girard's Caesar dressing may be.  It also helps that they didn't drown the lettuce in dressing or add too many strips of Parmesan.

The pizza crust was perfect -- so light it had risen above the pan edge to bask in the oven's heat and so weighed down with sauce, pepperoni and pineapple that it was thin in the middle.  I've made it last remarkably well -- two slices at lunch, two more for dinner last night and -- grand finale -- three slices for lunch today.

MARIA'S ITALIAN KITCHEN 13353 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks  818-906-0783

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