Don Day and Don Day’s Wife were in Cent’Anni‘s wine bar early on Thursday night. It was 7:30 pm and there were a grand total of two of us in a San Miguel restaurant that probably holds well over a hundred. The decor dangerously uses white and beige as their primary colors so it was especially cold and lonely…no, make that icy and bleak.
Despite Cent’Anni‘s superb pizza accompanied by superb service, right then and there I decided to take the advice of superb food blogger Susan York (you’ll find her at cupcakesandcrablegs.com but don’t you dare go there until you’ve finished reading this) and check out her recommendation for another thin crust pizza in San Miguel.
It took less than 24 hours to make it happen.
“Ready to try out a new pizza joint for lunch?”, I said to Don Day’s Wife.
“Is the Pope Italian?”, said Don Day’s Wife.
I liked the place as soon as I got there. It was in Socialite‘s old home, a good Italian restaurant that didn’t quite understand how to be great.
There was nothing Don Day remembered from the old days. But Don Day liked everything that he saw. A well-designed logo. A classic wood-fired brick oven. Primitive, handmade furniture. A mural, in soft pastels, that I wanted on my own kitchen wall. Creative postcards on the counter that showed they understood you’ve got to build it if you want them to come. The place is also a small hotel. And I especially liked their line “bed and pizza”.
With apologies for the fact that Don Day often still lives in the seventies, the place was very funky, and Don Day liked where we were. The place is called Casa Chiquita Pizza and it’s the very antithesis of Cent’Anni. Cent’Anni is big. Chiquita is small. Cent’Anni is cold. Chiquita is warm. Cent’Anni‘s decor looks like the work of an interior designer. Chiquita‘s decor looks like the work of an artist.
Christian, our server, suggested we sit at one of the four seats in the front window and watch the world go by on Calle Correo. Don Day’s Wife, who recognized how close we’d be to the wood-fired oven and who knows what to do when you can’t stand the heat, suggested otherwise. Don Day who remembered that Socialite had a pleasant roof deck asked if it still existed. After 36 steps and a few stepping stones added to Don Day’s Wife’s daily FitBit count we were there.
It was like the previous night at Cent’Anni. There were just the two of us. We were the only folks on the roof. But it was very different. We weren’t alone, we were together. In a setting like this, we didn’t need anyone else around to create that buzz, that bustle, that is almost essential in a restaurant.
The roof of Chiquita is an oasis. Where Cent’Anni‘s roof is one of the best in town, it only has 90 degree views, Chiquita has almost 360 degree views. I could count a dozen different domes and steeples. Where Cent’Anni has a roof that’s slick and stylish, Chiquita has a roof that’s homey and…oops, here comes that word again…funky. There’s a succulent garden, a gravel path, a little pool, dining seating for twelve and almost impossible dining seating for four on distressed, handmade Adirondack or Muskoka chairs (Adirondacks just nip rocking chairs for their degree of dining difficulty).
But what about the food? Chiquita wasn’t going to try and sell us a banana pizza were they? And sooner or later for Don Day it’s pretty much all about the food.
At Chiquita, there’s a choice of pizza or pizza. Don Day likes that he doesn’t have to make a lot of decisions. Because Don Day is not very good at making decisions. But the choices here were still difficult at first.
There’s one pizza that’s got four different meats and Don Day loves any number of different meats. There’s another with five different cheeses and Don Day loves every number of different cheeses. But man cannot live on meat or cheese alone…or, then again, maybe he could. If the meat was on one side of the scales and the cheese on the other, wouldn’t that be a balanced diet?
From the eleven different choices we settled on two (with a Robinson Crusoe promise to share and share alike). The Cipriani had pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, something called aderezo Harris (which neither Don Day nor Google have a clue about), beef carpaccio, parmesan, black olives and sundried tomatoes. The Napolitana had pomodoro sauce, a selection of cheeses, salami, spinach and raw onions.
The pizzas arrived in handmade wooden boxes with jars of melted cheese dressing and olive oil and chili flakes. The serving plates were also wooden boxes. The bare wood is everywhere in Chiquita and it makes a nice visual theme. Having often tried to get red sauce out of white shirts, I couldn’t imagine how you get it out of unfinished wood boxes.
The pizzas were very generously piled with toppings and Chiquita is smart enough to know that certain ingredients like carpaccio and arugula go on after the pizza comes out of the oven.
Don Day’s Wife took one bite and looked at Don Day. When Don Day’s Wife gives Don Day a look he rarely knows what she’s thinking. But this time he did.
“It’s the sauce isn’t it?”, I said to her.
“It’s the sauce,” Don Day’s Wife said.
In days of old (when Don Day was a teenager), chefs would put a couple of cans of tomato paste in their pomodoro sauce. In the middle ages (when Don Day was in his forties), chefs cut back to one can of tomato paste. These days, many chefs have done away with the bitter tasting paste altogether.
Not only did the salsa pomodoro have too much tomato paste, there was too much of the pomodoro sauce on the pie.
Don Day’s Wife liked the crust a lot. Don Day didn’t like it enough. Don Day likes his thin crust to be almost charred, very thin, very crispy, like a cracker with air pockets which Chiquita‘s wasn’t.
Don Day was also a little puzzled by the choice of two sizes that Chiquita offers, medium and large. Despite how good we thought the pizzas were, from the original 16 slices that we’d started with, there were five left on the plate. Despite how much Don Day likes cold pizza for breakfast, that’s at least three too many. If we’d ordered only one medium, there wouldn’t, of course, have been enough for lunch. The large on the other hand is big enough for about three people but probably not quite enough for four. A slight alteration might make customers happier and, perhaps, make the restaurant more money. Though all of those wooden serving boxes might be obsolete.
It was time to check the scoreboard. Cent’Anni was the reigning champion as our favorite wood-fired, thin crust pizza. Had it been dethroned by Chiquita?
We hummed and we hawed (despite Don Day being unsure about how to haw). Don Day preferred the crust at Cent’Anni. Don Day and Don Day’s Wife both preferred the toppings at Chiquita. There are some imaginative toppings at both places but we also gave that vote to Chiquita (looking forward to trying the roast beef with gruyere and the marinara with mussels, shrimp and octopus). The pomodoro sauce that’s on almost every Chiquita pizza needs work so Cent’Anni got that checkmark. And despite the fact that we liked the coziness of Chiquita there are only 12 practical seats on the roof; we wondered what might happen if eight of us showed up on a Friday or Saturday night which has never been a problem at Cent’Anni.
There was only one thing we could do. We would settle it the same way we settle all life-altering decisions in our life. We would toss a coin.
It bounced once, bounced twice, went for a little roll and ended up heads.
Casa Chiquita Pizza is located at Correo #45 at the corner of Chiquitos in San Miguel de Allende. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.