A Bee-View of the Drive – Famoso Neopolitan Pizzeria

by admin - October 14th, 2012.
Filed under: Commercial Drive Restaurant Reviews. Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , .

We were very excited back in April when we learned that not one, but TWO Neopolitan pizza restaurants were opening in the Commercial Drive area, both right around the corner from the Bee & Thistle, our Vancouver B&B! Coincidentally, someone special in our family was having an important birthday so it gave us a wonderful excuse to take our whole family out for dinner. But our dilemma was which one to try – Via Tevere on Victoria Drive or Famoso at 1380 Commercial Drive, two long anticipated grand openings! The decision was made for us when we discovered that we couldn’t make a reservation at Via Tevere and we knew our grandchildren don’t do restaurant lineups very well, so Famoso won the day. As it turned out, Famoso didn’t do reservations at the time either (they may do so now), but they did get our big group in right away.  It was pretty chaotic in the restaurant that night since they had so recently opened and were totally full, so we didn’t feel it would be a fair time to do a review. Going back recently, things were definitely quieter – we could enjoy the experience and, mmmm-mm-mm….. savor the heavenly aromas wafting out of the oven and from the food on the nearby tables!

Our initial impression was one of stylish & attractive decor and polished, professional, yet warm and friendly wait staff. And you do meet several of their staff because of their unique ordering system. Immediately upon being seated someone appeared at our table to explain their ordering process. There are order cards & pencils on the tables and you are to fill out your order and take it up to the service counter to order. After that, you are served at your table. Hmm..more about that later.

The pizza that caught my attention was the Funghi Tartufo, with roasted white mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, white truffle oil and reggiano parmesan cheese – there are never too many mushrooms or too much garlic in any dish for my taste! It comes as a personal size pizza for $14.50, or as a “pizzetta” for $9.50, but my choice was a “pizzetta combo” with blackberry arugula salad for $11.00 (blackberries & arugula – two of my favorite foods!). Michael had to try something different so he opted for the Conforto Pizza (Italian sausage, roasted mushrooms & roasted red peppers) in a pizzetta combo with tomato bisque for the same price.

While waiting for our pizzettas, we had time to do a little reading – you know, the menu, the back of the menu, posters on the wall…all those very intellectual pursuits we enter into while waiting for food in restaurants. I learned some interesting stuff – Famoso’s pizzas are made with Caputo low gluten flour, “fior de latte” (fresh whole milk) mozzarella, Campania tomatoes imported from Italy. How delicious does that sound?!

We were really glad that we had ordered the combos. They were the perfect amount of food and the arugula blackberry salad and the tomato bisque were both delicious! The pizza is the super thin crust type which, according to Famoso’s website, is cooked at 900 F for no more than 60 to 90 seconds. The concept sounds very intriguing but, unfortunately, the result (for us, this time) was a pizza that was burnt on the edges and little more than cold sauce on top of raw dough in the middle. Perhaps this is how Neopolitan pizza is supposed to be and we just haven’t learned to fully appreciate it (?).  We admit to being of the generation that grew up with basic thick crust chain store style pizza. (Being very accommodating sorts of people, we are quite willing to spend a few months in Naples for full immersion pizza appreciation training!)  And, of course, great restaurants and excellent chefs must have off moments – perhaps there was a new chef on the line, or the oven not working well, or any number of other reasons why our pizza came out both over & under cooked. The flavors of both pizzas were good and, with some selective nibbling between the crust and the doughy bits in the middle, we did manage to find some pizza that was quite enjoyable.  For our taste, we would like a bit more seasoning in the sauce, but that could definitely just be personal taste.  But I should also comment about dessert, especially since not many pizza restaurants offer a lot in the way of dessert.  We read that their nutella pizza is amazing, but that seemed a bit over the top after already having a pizza main course. So we settled for a sample of gelato, which seems to be a fairly major component of their menu. We opted for burnt sugar banana cioccolato since two of Michael’s favorite flavors are banana and chocolate, and we knew who would end up eating it (the same guy who keeps the cookies in our cookie jar rotating regularly!). We must admit to a bias toward the Drive’s well known gelato shop a couple of blocks away, but we genuinely didn’t feel that this particular gelato lived up to its’ very enticing sounding name. Maybe we need to try another flavor next time (and we are always most willing to try any gelato, any time, any where!).

Summarizing our feelings about this restaurant is a bit difficult. We wanted so much to love it and indeed we did like many things about it, including the lovely staff, the ambiance, and the wonderful smells that are so tantalizing as you walk past it on the Drive. But a pizza place is all about the pizza and ours was, sadly, definitely underwhelming. However, it’s very possible that our experience was an anomaly and not at all the norm. The salad and soup were delicious, so we know they can and do prepare great food. We do agree with comments from many other reviewers that the ordering system is not at all appealing and we don’t see that it makes ordering any smoother or better. It certainly did not enhance our experience of the restaurant and detracts from the nice, upscale Italian eatery vibe. The waiter could easily have taken our order in the amount of time it took to explain the self order system to us!

So, would we recommend Famoso to our guests? We would be a little nervous to endorse it wholeheartedly but we don’t want to base our opinion of the restaurant, or influence that of other people, on pizzas that were not cooked correctly one time. We would probably point them to the reviews on Yelp (3 1/2 stars) and UrbanSpoon (4 stars), tell them about the various pizza restaurant options available nearby (numerous), and ask them to let us know what their experience is like if they do choose to go to Famoso.

As a postscript, I had a fun time reading Famoso’s website as I was preparing to write this review. It’s extremely informative about the history of Neopolitan style pizza, where & when it was invented, etc. If you are interested in food, and Italian food in particular, it’s well worth a read. http://www.famoso.ca/history.php