When we met outside the door of 150 University Ave, the new home of five-week old Campo Pizzeria, we didn’t know quite what to expect. We all wondered how the new pizzeria would compare to prominent downtown pizza joints Pizza My Heart, kitty-corner from the new restaurant, and Paxti’s, just across the street.
Walking in, we were met by dim lighting and a host standing politely behind a podium. Having chosen to spend our Sunday evening reviewing a restaurant instead of watching the Superbowl like the rest of America, the restaurant was almost empty and we were shown to our table without a wait.
Scanning the menu, we struggled to decipher the long, Italian names of each dish and debated what exactly to order, before settling on classic and iconic Italian dishes: caeser salad ($15), margherita pizza ($16) and lasagna ($18). We payed little attention to the prices which, looking back, may have been a bit of a mistake, as the bill came out to just under 60 dollars.
The caser salad came first, and was a prime example of the strange, large-plate small-food phenomenon that often occurs at fancy restaurants. But although the white rim of the plate dwarfed the small pile of lettuce in the center, the salad was most definitely up there in our ranking of the meal. The dressing tasted more strongly of anchovies than most, giving the salad more flavor per bite. The lettuce wasn’t old and limp, but it wasn’t pale and tasteless either, instead walking the tightrope of perfection between the two. The salad also lacked the croutons we’re all so familiar with, in favor for a more refined sprinkling of crunchy bread crumbs throughout.
Next came the two main courses, neither of which lived up to the expectations the salad set. The pizza was good, but was served in a traditional Italian style, with sporadic globs of mozzarella here and there instead of the uniform covering of cheese us Americans are used to. Although we felt sophisticated eating such a traditional dish, we all agreed that the mozzarella globs were just too cheesy, while the rest of the pizza tasted too overwhelmingly of tomato sauce.
The lasagna, too, was a bit of a disappointment. Served in a messy, unsightly pan covered in sauce splatters, it contrasted with the elegance of the salad. After taking our first bites, we concluded that it was a bit heavy on the meat, light on everything else, and grew too salty and unappetizing after a few fork fulls.
After finishing the meal we decided to split a desert, choosing the apple crostata ($6). Upon taking our first bites, we unanimously agreed it to be the unquestioned highlight of the meal, surpassing even the caeser salad. Although the menu made the dish sound more like a sort of apple crumble, the crostata turned out to be like an Italian apple pie, richer and less syrupy than its American cousin, and was topped with vanilla ice cream.
But even better than the heavenly apple dessert was the service. Our waiter was upbeat, and happily answered the many questions we had about unknown, unpronounceable Italian dishes. The service was quick, and our water glasses never got below halfway empty, thanks to the attentiveness of the staff. Finally, the executive chef, a man by the name of Sean O’Brien, even agreed to take the time to let us interview him, giving us insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the restaurant.
“What makes us maybe more unique than other places is our pizza dough,” O’Brien said. “We use a sourdough starter which gives it kind of a unique flavor. There’s a strain of it that we got off the Izquida Island off the coast of italy. Half of the dough is a high gluten bread flower from the United States, and the other half is an Italian flour called Double Zero from Italy.”
In addition to their unusual approach on pizza, we also learned that all desserts and pastas are made in-house. These are just two of the things that, according to O’Brien, set Campo apart from Pizza My Heart and Paxti’s.
“We’re rustic Italian, obviously focusing and specializing in pizzas,” he said. “We have a different crowd than Paxti’s, which is Chicago deep-dish, and I think Pizza My Heart is more by the slice.”
The bottom line: Campo adds a unique flavor to downtown Palo Alto, and the service is impeccable. Some of the dishes are a bit disappointing and pricy, but overall the restaurant is a great new dinner destination.
For more information on Campo Pizzeria, please visit their website.