64 rue Charlot, 75003 Paris
Métro: Filles du Calvaire
I regularly talk about how Southern California has made me contemptuous of numerous features of life elsewhere in the globe. These include, but are not limited to: winter, farmer’s markets, and people with normal-colored, uncapped teeth. What can I say, except that Southern California does weather, produce, and cosmetic dentistry very well. One thing that Southern California does not do particularly well, however, is pizza. Moving to Orange County from New York, I was bewildered to discover that the thin-crusted, wood-oven fired, San Marzano tomato, mozzarella di bufala, and fresh basil based pizzas that are ubiquitous in NYC are virtually non-existent in the land of never-ending sunshine. I say “virtually” non-existent because there is a peculiar breed of born-and-bred Angeleno who knows the most amazing place in the most non-descript shopping center somewhere in the Valley where you can get every single delicious thing you could ever dream of eating from anywhere in the world. I’m not going to knock that guy – sometimes he grows up and becomes Jonathan Gold, sharing his adventures in eating and delightful turn of phrase with the masses. Mr. Gold, you are always near the top of my fantasy husbands list. More often than not, however, that guy ends up being one of those sneering SoCal natives who hoard their shopping-center wisdom as a kind of collective fuck-you to the millions of transplants who flood into the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area every year in the hopes of becoming famous just for being famous. Don’t get me wrong, I get tourist-loathing. Native Coloradans like myself have a lot of sneers saved up for Texans on all-inclusive Breckenridge ski vacation. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t know where to get good pizza in Southern California, but I’m sure that there is someone reading this who does. I might ask that if you are such a person, you either share the wealth or keep quiet, otherwise I might have to put you in the corner with my Angry Reader. Oh, and if your suggestion is that I go to Pizzeria Mozza, I’ll beat you to the punch and tell you that I did and am going to give it a resounding, overhyped “eh.” It was fine, I guess, and the celebrity-to-normal-person ratio seemed pretty high if that’s your thing. But it’s pizza, for chrissakes. Shouldn’t there be a little bit of the Everyman in a pizza place? No Everyman has ever walked through the door of Pizzeria Mozza and ordered himself a beer and a slice. Pizzeria Mozza is one of those uncomfortable LA places where all of the striving that everyone is doing leaves the air fetid with desperation and greed. It’s not my scene, but I’m glad you like it. I’ll just say that I think it is a little too smug. As my ex-boyfriend always said, “don’t go breaking your arm patting yourself on the back.” Don’t go breaking your arm patting yourself on the back, Pizzeria Mozza.
All of this is to say that the past few years of my life have seriously lowered my standards for pizza. My criteria have shifted from “Is that with fresh green manzanilla olives?” to “How many minutes did you say delivery takes? Does that come with cheesy breadsticks or is that extra?” Moving to Paris, I knew that I would have to forget about a few things that I really enjoy eating, like Mexican food. I included pizza in the list of desires better left abandoned. I was thus pleasantly surprised to find La Briciola, a seriously decent Neopolitan pizzeria in my Marais neighborhood. I really appreciate a cohesive aesthetic vision in restaurant décor and they hit the mark at La Briciola with exposed brick, stacked cans of beautiful tomatoes, chalkboard menus, and unfussy furniture. One of the reviews I read online said that the crowd was an intimidating combination of “fashion and gay” (my friend S: “You be fashion, I’ll be gay.”) Yes, while the neighborhood is a kind of Mecca for emergent fashion designers and gays, and the crowd therefore inevitably slick, La Briciola is a bustling, decidedly friendly place. The bartender is absurdly nice, making sure that you have a glass of wine and a dish of olives while you wait for a table. When we corrected our bill (they hadn’t charged us for our second carafe of their lovely house vino), the waitress brought over limoncello for the table. It’s stuff like that that makes you want to go back to a restaurant and La Briciola has it in spades.
And the pizza? It’s pretty damn good, excellent for Paris pizza, and it kicks the ass of anything I ate in Los Angeles. The crust is thin and foldable with beautiful little blackened bubbles on the bottom. The toppings are all natural and they are exactly what you would expect from a real Italian place (no pineapple here). I had the Romana, a gorgeously basic pie with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and anchovies. Some good eating and two carafes of their lovely house Chianti later, my friends and I found ourselves happily stuffed and inebriated at midnight, having whiled away the entire evening at the restaurant. If you asked me to list my favorite things about Paris, I would tell you that even at a hip, busy, people-waiting-hungrily-at-the-door joint you will never, ever be rushed away from your table. Sometimes that means you aren’t getting in that night and the hostess will probably tell you so. Sometimes that means a long wait. But I’ll happily wait for an hour for a table, especially if there is a bar. There is nothing I hate more than being served the check before your plates have even been cleared so that the table can be turned over as quickly as possible to a new party (I’m looking at you, Mozza). This simply doesn’t happen in Paris. I’m always bewildered that people complain about the service here. I don’t want to know my waiter’s middle name or what he thinks about the weather. I don’t need to be checked on fifteen times and interrupt my conversation with my dinner companion to explain to a stranger how much I’m enjoying my food. I can pour my own goddamn wine and water, thank you very much. And most importantly, if I want to make an evening of a meal, I should be able to. La Briciola is a lovely place to do just that and it deserves a visit.
Details: Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Reservations accepted and encouraged, though not mandatory. Pizzas are around 15 euros each. Well-curated list of well-priced Italian wines. Anybody who can tell me what kind of olives they serve you to munch on (enormous, bottle-green, soft-flesh, milky, sweet, and vaguely waxy) gets an extra-special Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background reader prize (probably an obscene, animated, lenticular postcard). Hey, we’re on a budget here.