Try the Salad

Everything at Pizzeria Vivace is excellent—except for the pizza

When I heard that Daniel Scordato was going to open a pizza restaurant in the former 58 Degrees and Holding Co. space in St. Philip's Plaza, I was thrilled.

I love great pizza (who doesn't?), and Scordato knows what he's doing in the kitchen. His Vivace restaurant is one of Tucson's most renowned Italian restaurants, and the late Intermezzo served some of the best lunch food in Tucson during the year or so that Scordato owned the place.

Therefore, I was surprised to find that the pizza at Pizzeria Vivace was decidedly ... unremarkable.

That's not to say that Pizzeria Vivace doesn't have any charms, because it most certainly does. The service we received was generally fantastic; the atmosphere is lively and upscale; the prices are reasonable. But the pizza is only OK.

Pizzas come in one size—12 inches—and we tried three of the nine offerings. The best of the three was the mortadella, pepperoni and soppressata pizza, with fontina and romano cheeses and tomato sauce ($14.50), with the addition of sausage ($2). The mortadella (a bologna-like cured meat) and soppressata (a salami) were both delicious, and all the ingredients worked well together. (Of course, when do meat, cheese and tomato sauce not work well together?) However, aside from the high-quality ingredients, there was nothing spectacular about the pie, partially because the sauce and dough didn't distinguish themselves. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the pizza.

I can't say the same thing about the margherita pizza ($12). When done well—and, sadly, it rarely is—margherita pizza is one of my favorite foods; it is so simple yet so tasty. However, Pizzeria Vivace's version was tragically bland. There are only four ingredients, really, in proper margherita pizza—dough, tomato, mozzarella, basil—and the basil was not distributed well enough. Some slices had only two small basil leaves, meaning most bites were completely devoid of basil. Meanwhile, the tomato sauce was bland. This was not a highly processed sauce—there were still tomato seeds in the concoction—but the tomatoes used seemed, like so many tomatoes found in stores these days, to be lacking in flavor. Since mozzarella (even when freshly made) and crust can't carry a pizza, this margherita was a major letdown.

The strangest pizza we tried was the robiola, fontina and mozzarella cheese pizza with chopped kalamata olives, roasted mushrooms, fresh arugula and parmigiano reggiano ($15). That's how the pizza is described on the menu, with the ingredients listed in that order. Well, arugula should be listed first, because that's what dominates the pizza: The pie is delivered with so much arugula (added after the pizza comes out of the oven) that it looks like someone spilled a salad on top of it. Garrett gamely tried to eat the pizza as delivered, but he soon realized that the ample arugula easily overshadowed the muted flavors of the mushrooms and the cheeses. After removing about three-quarters of the beautiful green leaves, the flavors started to balance out a bit, although the bites that included kalamata pieces (which were not well-distributed) were exponentially saltier than bites without the olives. Garrett was also unhappy about the fact that the crust was burned a little more than it should have been.

Pizzas we didn't get a chance to try included the classic pepperoni ($13.50), a chicken meatball and ricotta pizza ($14) and the eggplant, zucchini and roasted red pepper pizza with both tomato and pesto sauces ($14.25).

The other offerings at Pizzeria Vivace include three desserts, four salads, an antipasto plate, a stuffed red pepper and garlic toast. Three sandwiches are on the lunch menu, whereas oysters casino ($7.95) are on the dinner menu. Surprisingly, all of the non-pizza dishes we tried outshined the pizzas.

The antipasto plate for two ($11.95 for dinner; on the lunch menu, it's $10.25, and the words "for two" are dropped) was enjoyable thanks to the expected cheeses and meats (mortadella, soppressata and prosciutto), but the star of the plate was the warm and delicious cheese and spinach frittata that sat in the middle. During our lunch visit, Garrett and I shared the gorgonzola cheese and grape salad ($8.95); the vinaigrette, the salt in the cheese, the sweetness of the grapes and the sweet earthiness of pine nuts all offered delightful contrasts. This salad was the highlight of our two visits.

Garrett's Italian grinder ($10.50) with soppressata, mortadella, ham, crescenza cheese and kalamata olives was also a hit; the smallish grilled sandwich, served with a side of mixed greens, was hindered slightly by the over-salty kalamata olives, but Garrett enjoyed it nonetheless. The cheesecake ($5.50) was fantastic; it was not too sweet, and the lemon prosecco zabaglione (kind of a creamy lemon/white-wine custard) on top was so tasty that it could have been put in a cup and served by itself.

Pizzeria Vivace has three dining areas (four if you count the bar area), all decorated masterfully, and each with a distinct character. During our dinner visit, we sat in the largest room, which is chock full of whimsical décor touches (including cubby hole-like openings in the wall between the room and the bar that include art, like a sculpture depicting a plate with pears); during our lunch visit, we sat in a triangular room with only six tables and low, padded chairs. Our table was right next to an almost-full-wall depiction of a wine cellar tabbed "Vivace Enoteca."

I can recommend Pizzera Vivace for that décor, the fine service and dishes like that gorgonzola and grape salad. But I can't recommend it for the pizza; what we tried is not worthy of the Vivace name.

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