Pizza is everywhere and everything: classless, inclusionary, ecumenical, vegan, and carnivoran. It’s hardly surprising that if a new pizzeria demands space at the table, the onus is on it to show what novelty it brings. That is especially true if it plans to go national. Based on recent experience, Vivo 53 is going to deserve a seat.
The first site of Vivo 53 is in Fort Worth, Texas, near, but a full two blocks off, the lively downtown epicenter of Sundance Square. It opened earlier this year and occupies the ground floor corner of The Tower, a condominium high-rise owned by Vivo’s founder, Paul Daneshrad, through his company StarPoint Properties. Daneshrad’s plan is a national chain of Vivos, and the real estate connection means that several future locations are known. Belleville, Washington, opens at the end of August. The next two will be in Seattle and Beverly Hills. Expansion then returns to home base, moving 35 miles east to Dallas, but there’s no date set for that yet.
The 53 in the name refers to the purported number of attempts to perfect the crust recipe, something the folks at Vivo take very seriously (using 00 flour, as do VPN pizzerias). In fact, everything has been taken seriously at Vivo, even the creation of fun in the bar. The drinks list describes some 11 cocktails, each of which looks like it had to bid to get its space. Beers reflect a weather eye on trends, with local craft beers from the area and national (e.g. Brooklyn Brewery) as well. There is a nod to Italy in the (disappointing) Birra Moretti ($5). And if you are dining with someone who you hold in total contempt, there is Bud Light ($4). The wine list (the hardest category to fill) is fair. The roughly 30 selections offer serviceable Chianti in Ruffino Il Ducale ($40), good dry white in Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc ($34), and three Texas wines (Duchman Sangiovese, $35, is the best). Wine markups are below the DFW norm of three times retail.
The look of the place is modern, angular, metropolitan. I left before nightfall but I suspect the creative use of lighting would make the space even more attention-grabbing after dark. I just hope the hard surfaces don’t make it difficult to hold a conversation.
Most of the attention to detail has to go, of course, to the food. We started with an order of the bone marrow ($9) appetizer. It was good by comparable standards. Cauliflower and yogurt ($8) is a more problematic appetizer due to its composition — the garlic yogurt is loaded in the same bowl as the roasted organic cauliflower, making it slosh across the latter with the removal of each piece of cauliflower. If I had made the dish, I would have put the yogurt in a pot in the center of a circular plate and placed the florets around the edge. But then, I failed flower arranging.
One of the best pastas is the Vivo truffle fettuccine: a fettuccine Bolognese sprinkled with truffle oil. The pasta is cooked perfectly al dente and the long-cooked intensity of the Bolognese goes on and on in the mouth. Truffle oil is, sensibly, just an accent.
The pizzas started coming thick and fast and I can summarize and say that they were all good. The crust at Vivo is puffy and chewy; not too thick, and not flatbread-thin either. There is enough salt in that 53rd recipe to make it hold the palate’s interest when eaten on its own. The meat paradiso ($12) is a charcuterie plate on a pizza crust, with fennel sausage, salami, mortadella, guanciale, fresh mozzarella, and chile-fennel soffritto. So much better than plain old pepperoni! Bianca ($13) is a topping created from a mélange of melted cheeses. In this case mozzarella, sottocenere, fontina, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, all spiked with organic sage. Egg & bacon ($13) was my favorite, and the most visually distinct. A fried egg sits centrally atop a bed of guanciale, Yukon Golds, and, crucially, Bermuda onions. If the egg provided the show, then those onions provided the go, thanks to their Vidalia-like sweetness and the chef’s foresight to slice them as finely as angel hair pasta.
There are 16 pizzas on the regular menu and my stomach (and my virtual dog’s stomach) were not large enough to try any more. However, you get the idea. Vivo prides itself on innovative recipes executed flawlessly.
Dessert, also, was a casualty of the stomach being too small, but the menu has four brief but interesting selections (homemade ice cream sandwich, anyone?).
I’m a convert to Vivo 53. Expansion to multi-site is often the death knell of a concept, but Vivo 53 may have the quality of management to pull it off.