Regina Margarita, Istambul, Vegetale

Many medialunas and a full stomach after my first lunch at Café Tortoni, I stopped by Piola for a second lunch with somefriends around 3pm. Piola was recommended by one of our guidebooks for having some top-notch semi-thin non-parilla pizza. And as a New Yorker, a considerably strong craving for pizza comes once about, oh, every afternoon or so. Although being part of an international chain of pizza restaurants originating in Italy, I can assure you this is no California Pizza Kitchen. Piola Buenos Aires has a fairly strong following and, as their website claims, "revolutionized the Buenos Aires food scene." But while the menu is incredibly diverse with nearly 100 varieties of pizza, ultimately, I found the pizzas to be simply average.The restaurant is incredibly long, narrow, and dark, as the main windows are at the front by the entrance. While the walls are dark, the tables and artwork are incredibly colorful which bright solids: red, yellow, and orange. The lack of light reminded me of being in a club after hours with painted black walls, house lights that don't seem to illuminate much, and strange but glaring artwork. It was empty when we arrived off-hours, in contrast to what we'd read about long waits; so, we were lucky in this respect. The very friendly hostess sat us down, handed us our menus, and proceeded to explain how things work at Piola -- where sharing multiple pies was encouraged for variety. Ultimately between the 3 of us, we chose 3 small pies: Regina Margarita - Salsa de tomate, muzzarella de búfala y albahaca (tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, basil), Istambul - Tomates secos, muzzarella de búfala, rúcula (dried tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and arugula), Vegetale - Salsa de tomate, muzzarella, berenjena, morrones, brócoli, zucchini, hongos (tomato sauce, mozerella cheese, eggplant, sweet red pepper, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms). I'm always a fan of the traditional margherita pizza -- no frills, just good cheese, fresh marinara sauce, and well-cooked crust and I'm very happy. The margherita slice is also a great common denominator for comparison between restaurants; otherwise, it's like comparing zucchini to mushrooms ... literally.

The pizzas arrived to the table very hot, fresh out of the oven. They sure smelled fantastic. My biggest problem for both the margarita and the vegetale pies was the mozzarella cheese which I thought was excessively salty. From my food shopping here, I've found decent mozzarella hard to come by and maybe this is an availability problem. My second problem was the lack of sufficient sauce -- two of the three pies that had marinara sauce didn't seem to have very much. And of the sauce that was there, the flavor was somewhat bland, likely to please the Argentina palate. I wanted to taste some garlic! There was certainly none in this sauce.

The crust, on the other hand, was very nice -- right on that fine between a little burnt and too white. Ironically, I thought the best pie of the three was the Istambul, a pie I never would have even looked at on the menu if it weren't for my friend. This pie, perhaps, was the highlight since it lacked both cheese and sauce. Though, it could be argued, these staple ingredients for pizza!

I would certainly stop by Piola if in Recoleta with a group of people -- the diversity of the menu is a crowd pleaser and, due to the number of large tables, it seems like the restaurant is set up to handle them. But if I had one night in BA solely for pizza, I would probably pick somewhere else.