Amici's East Coast Pizzeria
Reviewer: Aleta Watson
Score: 3 Stars
What the ratings mean:
4 stars: excellent
3 stars: good
2 stars: fair
1 star: poor
0 stars: inedible
Pizza lovers divide themselves into tow irreconcilable comps: Thick crust and thin.
Devotees of thick, chewy crusts, sturdy enough to handle a mountain of toppings and cheese, will not be happy at Amici’s. But those who prefer an elegant, crisp-edged crust, blistered and charred from the oven, have been celebrating every since downtown San Jose’s newest pizzeria opened June 13th.
It would be enough just to have such good East Coast style pizza available in the city center. To have it arrive in such a stylish package is a real bonus.
Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria is no neighborhood joint dominated by big screen televisions and overrun with baseball and soccer teams. Here, the sports link are historic black and with photographs of Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and the like, dramatically framed in black and hung with precision on walls painted in shades of coffee and cream. The ceiling soars two stories, light floods in from tall windows, and there are enough stainless steel, blond wood and polished granite surfaces to warm the heart of and architect.
This is a real restaurant with waiters and a wine list of reliable California vintages in an addition to microbrews beers on tap. Only the flames dancing in the two gas-fired stone ovens, placed center stage in the open kitchen, suggest this is a pizzeria.
The San Jose location is the eighth in a small Bay Area chain that began in 1987 with the first Amici’s in San Mateo. Founder Peter Cooperstein is a Boston transplant who hungered for the legendary East Coast pizza of his memory – thin and foldable with blackened spots on the bottom from the searing heat of 700-degree ovens. Together with partner Mike Forter he developed an upscale pizzeria where everything but dessert is made from scratch with top quality ingredients. Garlic and peppers are roasted, pine nuts toasted, veggies sautéed and cheese grated every day.
Five years ago, the partners opened their first South Bay restaurant in Mountain View to popular acclaim. Fans anxiously awaited the opening of the 60-seat San Jose pizzeria on the ground flour of a West Santa Clara Street office building. They wont’ be disappointed.
Despite the heat, groups of diners were sharing pizza at the sidewalk tables when my companions and I arrived for lunch. Luckily for us, there were seats available at one of the rust-colored laminate tables at the rear of the airy ding room. The place was packed and the din of dozens of conversations bounced around the hard surfaces.
Our server, bustling between tables, was cheerful and helpful. When we asked for a selection of minis, 7-inch individual servings ($6.95-$9.55), she suggested we get the 10-inch small pizzas, each topped half and half with two different combos ($10.95-$14.55). “It’s more pizza,” she advises, “and it’s cheaper.” (Medium pizzas are 13 inches in diameter and large are 15 inches.) She also offered to bring us half servings of salads.
Service was efficient, but we never felt rushed- just what you need for a workday lunch or dinner before a concert at nearby HP Pavilion. When we asked for the check, it came quickly.
The most popular option is the New York pizza ($6.95-$17.75, depending on size) covered with freshly cooked tomato sauce and high quality whole milk mozzarella. It can be topped with the diners’ choice of 30 different toppings, form the traditional pepperoni to fried eggplant, at an additional charge. Amici’s also offers 14 combinations spanning the spectrum of taste from traditional meats ($9.55-$22.95) to the California-style mildly spicy pepper chicken and the distinctly Italian Calabria ($9.55-$22.95), scattered with crunch pancetta and zesty sliced green olives.
The crust is the star here. Most topping are designed to enhance rather than obscure the wheaty, faintly smoky flavor of the base. Minimalists will appreciate the pizzas made without sauce: A cloud of aromatic basil crowns the classic Margherita ($8.25-$20.35), with its mild, creamy mozzarella and sweet chopped tomatoes. Plump, briny clams play off the garlic and bacon in the New Haven white clam ($9.55-$22.95). And what could well be a whole head of buttery, roasted garlic cloves combines with fresh baby spinach and slices of moist chicken breast in the Pollo ($9.55-$22.95).
More conventional tastes will be satisfied by the meaty Amici’s combo ($9.55-$22.95) with pepperoni, meatball, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and black olives or the Philly ($8.90-$21.65) with spicy Italian sausage, roasted green peppers and caramelized onions.
Pizza is the thing here, but Amici’s also offers salads, pastas – including a low-key primavera ($10.75 small) with plenty of veggies in a white wine broth – and sandwiches. Dieters can order low fat cheese and reduced carb spaghetti or extra-thin pizza crust on any dish.
Garden Salad ($5.75) is unimpressive, with little but a few pepper and onion slices and quarters of tomato to enliven the torn romaine. Steamed broccoli ($5.95), served chilled with olive oil and lemon juice, is a refreshing, crunchy alternative. Spinach salad ($6.95) is a terrific toss of fresh spinach, salty, bacon, sweet tomatoes, roasted red peepers, crumbled feta, chopped red onion, and a generous handful of toasted pine nuts in a light lemon, basil and balsamic vinaigrette.
Among the sandwiches, the hot Italian sausage ($5.95 half, $8.95 whole) buried beneath a thick drift of roasted peppers and sautéed onions on a baguette is winner, although one of my companions called it “indigestion on a bun.” Half is more than enough for one hungry diner.
Dessert is not a course usually associated with pizzerias, but it would be a shame to pass up the tall, New York style cheesecake and tuxedo cake (both $5.50) – a thick layer of chocolate mousse sandwiched between two layers of white cake and iced with fudge – from Petaluma’s J.M. Rosen bakery.
At Amici’s, tempting taste doesn’t stop with the pizza.
Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria: 225 W. Santa Clara St., at N. Almaden Ave., San Jose (408) 289-9000
The Dish: Thin crust pizza lovers have reason to celebrate the arrival of Amici’s in downtown San Jose. The setting is stylish and the pizzas are true to their East Coast inspiration.
Price Range: Salads $3.95-$7.95, Pizza $6.95-$22.95. Corkage fee: $8
Details: Sidewalk dinning. Beer and wine. Free Delivery with minimum order in San Jose and Santa Clara.
Pluses: Blistered, lightly charred crust lifts pizzas above the ordinary. Calabria combination is exceptional.
Minuses: Low-key pasta primavera, unimpressive garden salad.
Mondays-Thursdays 11 a.m. – 10 p.m
Fridays 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Saturdays 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sundays 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. The Mercury News pays for all meals.
Contact Aleta Watson at email@example.com or (408) 920-5032.
Posted on August 19, 2006