100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 33, Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg As close as one can get to the perfect pie at Dolce Vita.
My family used to go to Florence, Italy, in the summers, and there was one restaurant that we always made sure to go to at least once, for a special dinner. It's called Trattoria 4 Leoni, and it's known for having great food in general and one incredible dish in particular. The signature dish that everyone raves about is fiocchetii di pera in salsa de taleggio ed asparagi. It sounds complicated, but it's really a simple dish. Little "bows" of pasta filled with sweet pear, surrounded by a creamy taleggio sauce with a touch of slightly bitter asparagus. It's a masterpiece of a dish.
I hadn't seen anything quite like it on a menu in years until I found myself at Dolce Vita shortly after I moved to Houston. I was perusing the pizza menu when two words jumped out at me: Taleggio and pears.
It was similar to my favorite pasta dish, only in pizza form. It starts with Dolce Vita's perfect crust -- not too thin, not too chewy, with just the right amount of doughy pull when you bite down on it. Then there's a layer of rich, creamy taleggio, a soft, tangy cheese with a strong smell but mild flavor. On top of that are thinly sliced pears and a drizzle of truffle oil, which often overpowers more delicate flavors like pear.
In this case, the truffle oil is used with enough restraint that it gives the pizza a hint of earthiness while allowing the sweet pear and sour taleggio to shine through. After the pizza is cooked -- quickly, in a Neapolitan-style, wood-burning oven -- it's topped with a sprinkling of fresh arugula, which gives the slices an extra peppery bite, typical of the green often referred to as "rocket."
It's a simple pizza. Crust and four ingredients, each of which is top quality, and each of which adds a little something extra to the pie.
Taleggio and pear are not a popular flavor combination here in the United States, but I wish they were more prevalent, as they complement each other so well. Until the rest of the country figures out how to pair sweet, ripe pears and tangy, musty taleggio cheese, Dolce Vita is my go-to place when I get a sudden desire to be back in Firenze.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.