Pizzeria in the Peleton has developed a following. Frasca’s Bobby Stuckey was there on his night off
My husband and I were in a pizza mood last evening, and we thought we’d try Pizzeria da Lupo, recently opened by Jim Cohen of Louisville’s Empire Lounge & Restaurant. The tables were set, the lights were dim and a sign on the door explained that they were closed that evening for some last-minute finishing touches — which in new-restaurant-speak could mean pretty much anything.
We had to come up with Plan B. Since we were already in the car and on Arapahoe Avenue, we decided to continue a few blocks farther east to Pizzeria Basta. It remains a hidden gem in the sparsely occupied Peleton development, but it has a definite following, even on a Sunday night. Our last visit six months ago was on a mild June day, and we enjoyed the patio and fab pizza. Yesterday was, of course, an indoor evening. The restaurant’s hard-edge, industrial materials — concrete, metal, bare wood, tile and glass — don’t create a cozy feel, but the warm welcome and attention without hovering compensate. And the pizza is still fab.
We were seated on a small table with an oblique view of the open kitchen area and the blazing pizza oven. If I hadn’t already been primed for pizza when we got there, I would have wanted one after seeing the crust being hand-formed and -tossed, and each pizza being watched, rotated, watched some more and rotated until it the center was hot, the cheese melted and the crust puffy and charred just a little — very Neopolitan-style.
We decided each to have starter and then to share a pizza. I ordered a salad and my husband the tomato bisque. The waiter misunderstood and brought him the caprese-inspired salad, interestingly that we had shared and enjoyed a lot last summer. When my husband reminded the waiter of the original order, he offered to bring soup as well — no charge. Remembering how much he had liked the dish the last time, my husband thanked him and said he was happy with the plate put before him. And he was.
Price Check: Charcuterie and cheese, $7-$16; small salads, $5-$7 and large salads, $9-$11; “Market Menu” (four dishes), $12-$17; pizza, $9.50-$14.50 and $1-$4 for additional toppings; sides, $5.-$7; desserts, $2-$6.
Detouring to Frasca
Now a story illustrating what elevates a restaurant from very good to great: We hadn’t expected to see anyone we know at Pizzeria Basta and paid no attention to parties who came in, including a couple who sat at the bar with their backs to us. When we got up to leave, they popped up, their food cooling on the bar. It was Bobby Stuckey, partner at Frasca Food & Wine, and his wife. Frasca is closed on Sunday nights, BTW.
Bobby recognized me, remembered my name and asked about my son, who had taken a sommelier course with him. Much as we’d love to be a regulars at Frasca, it is beyond our budget to dine there as often as we’d like. It is an understatement to say that I was impressed, not just by Bobby’s recall but that he paid attention to who was eating in a restaurant that isn’t even his.
Frasca’s greatness comes both from the kitchen and from Stuckey’s front-of-the-house attentiveness and his excellent waitstaff. When he is not greeting a party at a table, consulting on wine or otherwise interacting with guests, he stations himself in the middle of the restaurant, watching everything. He turns his head left and right, his gaze sweeping the entire dining room. I’ll bet that he misses nothing — or very, very little — and discreetly corrects even the smallest blips. As I noted, such attentiveness has elevated Frasca to the pantheon of the finest American restaurants. We’ll be there again in early 2011.