MagoGuide Winter Tour 2013: Via Tribunali

Outside Via Tribunale

As you already know, we’re currently on our MagoGuide Winter Tour 2013.  In this post, we continue with another Seattle restaurant review – this time it’s all about pizza.

Via Tribunali

Address: 913 E Pike St, Seattle WA 98112— Get directions
Telephone: (206) 322-9234
Hours of operation: Tuesday - Sunday 5PM-2AM
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Rostra rating: 2

You go to Naples and study the art of pizza making with “a talented pizzaiolo.” Then you import an oven, replete with bricks “from Naples rich with Vesuvian ash” and assemble it with “a team of masons … flown in from Naples.” You import all your ingredients from Italy. And the result… you produce expensive bad pizza. What’s up with that?

Via Tribunali, with four locations in Seattle, bills itself as having “grown out of an almost unnatural passion for the food and wine of Southern Italy.” Well passion is important, but in this case at least it falls short of producing even mediocre pizza.

The authentic wood fired oven held such promise

We at MagoGuide are stone pavlovians for good pizza (see Panis Focacius Regit) so we had to try the pies at a place that seemed so fanatic about getting things right. We showed up early and after viewing the impressive wood fired oven expressed concern as to whether the beast had had time to come to the appropriate temperature. The friendly server informed us that the oven was currently operating at 1000 degrees and that it was kept stoked 24/7 (al a the Temple of Vesta) throughout the year. He informed us that they even came in when the pizzeria was closed on holidays to keep the fire burning.

Happy hour antipasto

We started with a happy hour antipasto, which turned out to be the best thing we ate at Via Tirbunali. Not that it was very good, however, consisting of semi-tasteless mortadella, a few small chunks of old grana padano, decent but by no means exceptional prosciutto, and Castel Vetrano olives that were sharp tasting with old age. If all of these products had been imported from Italy, they had made the journey long ago. This is Seattle fer Chrissake!! Why not get your meat from Salumi and your cheese from any of the several trillion artisan cheese makers in the area?

Then our pizzas arrived. The toppings were OK, but the crust sucked. I looked at the bottom of my “putanesca” (kalamata olives, anchovies, capers, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil) and it was nicely blackened. Nonetheless the crust was soggy and insipid. The pie looked very good, but the taste was awful. Patti’s margherita was even worse. She complained that it was undercooked and they put it back in the oven, but it returned no better for the experience.

Bottom line: Via Tribunali is a Potempkin Pizzeria that churns out expensive (my single person pie cost $16.00) facsimiles of Neapolitan pizza that compare unfavorably with an American pizza chain. Their mistake lies in the assumption that you can make authentic pizza by replicating the technology and ingredients and watching someone else make it. Good pizza is one of those deceptively simple masterpieces that require years of repetition to get right after you figure out how to do it in situ as opposed to a microclimate half the world away that has virtually nothing in common with the prevailing weather conditions of Seattle.

Perhaps Via Tribunali’s pitiful product is simply the result of over-expansion. We were dining in the original restaurant in the Capital Hill neighborhood. Since its opening in 2004, the owners have created a mini-chain with satellites in three other Seattle locations, one in Portland (Jupiter help them), and one in New York (talk about hubris!)  Once an establishment has begun to spawn clones, it is usually the original location that suffers as the talented staff is siphoned off to open the new outposts. But I would be very surprised to find things any better at their other locations. The whole approach is based on buying your way into decent pizza without paying any dues or attention to local product, climate variation, or training staff in the baking a sub-genre of pizza.

Beers at Via Tribunale - those who know Morgan recognize the "I'm hating this" smile

We drank beer with our meal. Another mistake. The draft Peroni Nastro Azzurro was overly fizzy and almost warm. Draft Italian beers often do not travel well, especially if the kegs are allowed to languish. Their Odin’s Gift microbrew was mediocre in a town where you can get fantastic craft draft in any dive bar you stagger into. Oh, and their website sucks. Avoid this pretentious, expensive, and bad pizza chain masquerading as an artisan establishment at all costs.

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Morgan Hart was launched in 2011 as a website and virtual storefront to showcase Patti's software and Morgan's content. Dedicated to slow travel, culinary excess, and ripping good yarns, MagoGuide is the digital scriptoria for the Mago Scrolls, Morgan's historical fiction series about the Punic Wars in general and one Mago of Syracuse in particular. Although Morgan has written a great deal of non-fiction over the years in the form of specialized journal articles, book reviews, op-ed pieces, and (his personal favorite) the most unpopular coffee table book in the history of the planet, he always viewed himself as a happily frustrated novelist. Get more information about Morgan's novel and travel writing at our Products page.