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Pizzeria Ortica – 
Real Pizza in the O.C.

We'd never met L.A. Pizza Maven before, but we'd read some of his reviews and comments on Slice (our other favorite pizza blog) and we'd hoped that when we reached Southern California on our most recent visit that we could sit down and share a pizza with him.

Cary & The Maven
Cary (l) and the Maven (r)

We shared four one afternoon at Pizzeria Ortica, and the company and pizzas were fine.  We'd never heard of Ortica before, but the Maven had heard good things about it so we followed his lead.

Pizzeria Ortica is in Orange County, a land of wealth, privilege, Botox, malls, and not a place we'd expect to find truly fine pizza.  So Ortica was a surprise.

We'd agreed to meet L.A. Pizza Maven (his 'nom de pizza' – we're not giving up his real name) during Happy Hour, when pizza is the only food served at Ortica. The rest of the time they offer an extensive menu of Italian dishes.

Before we got in the car we checked the website and learned that Ortica's pizza is made with – get this – a 300-year-old biga from outside Naples. A biga is a pre-ferment, a 'starter', like a sourdough starter, and can be used from batch of dough to batch of dough. It influences the taste and texture of the crust. So three hundred years is an impressive lineage to those who think about these things!

We arrived at Pizzeria Ortica and somehow recognized the Maven immediately – a hungry-looking guy  in front of a fancy restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, seeming to be in motion while standing still. If we'd gotten there first, he'd have recognized Cary by the same look.  Greetings, handshakes, and we were all ready for pizza. We knew we'd talk about it and take pictures of it – we all hoped we'd like it.  A lot.

the oven at Pizzeria Ortica

The first thing we noticed walking in was the oven: stainless steel and brick in front, fire in its mouth.  We could smell the burning oak as we walked past it to our table.  Our hopes were high, even here in Costa Mesa. But the oven doesn't make the pizza, and we were eager to taste the pieman's wares.

As we said at the beginning, we ordered four pies for the three of us:

Lillian and Margherita
Lillian and Margherita

First, a Margherita as usual – the tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil standard for any wood-fired pizzeria. The dough had a perceptible saltiness, but this was not a bad thing. It was delicious, light, great-looking spotting on the cornicione, and a slightly chewy, flavorful mozzarella. A little floppy in the middle, but hey, it's Neapolitan.

the Salsiccia

Next, the Salciccia – with sausage (it seems to be the Maven's favorite topping), caramelized fennel (yum!), red onion, mozzarella (they make this pizza with mascarpone – we asked for the switch), and buffalo grana (a grated hard cheese from water buffalo milk – somewhere between parmesan and romano). The combination of topping flavors was outstanding. Ortica uses an excellent sausage, the fennel was distinctive but couldn't overwhelm, everything worked together in balance. This pie had one drawback – it was definitely undercooked.  The soft crust got chewier as the pizza cooled. This was the only one of the four that should have been in the oven a bit longer.

Prosciutto and Arrugala

Margherita with Prosciutto and Arrugala – Seems to be the year of the Arrugala. Before our dinner at Nomad last October, we had never seen a pizza with arrugala on it – or prosciutto, for that matter.  Maybe it's just us. Pizzeria Ortica's version had way too much prosciutto. Ordinarily, Cary would say that there is no such thing as too much prosciutto, but it really was overwhelming the other flavors.  Since Lillian doesn't eat prosciutto and ate hers without the ham, this was her favorite – she said that the Margherita underneath was even better than the first one.  We all agreed that the crust was perfect. Maybe there's something to this 300-year-old biga!

the Amalfitana

Finally, the Amalfitana - zucchini, onion, ricotta and pecorino romano.  Although Cary usually favors pies with sauce, this one was his favorite of the meal.  The squash was delicious and fresh, the ricotta was smooth and tasty, with just the right bite from the romano. “I really want to try to make this one at home!” Cary said.

Three pizza lovers, four pizzas, a 300-year-old biga and no leftovers - what's not to like?

Pizzeria Ortica -650 Anton Boulevard, Costa Mesa, CA (714) 445-4900


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