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The Mozzarella Bubbles in Pondok Indah

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Why do I use the above title?

Attending the launch of Izzi Pizza's first restaurant in Jakarta last month, I couldn't find the words to describe the fresh-from-the oven dish sitting in front of me. Flipping through my culinary bible a few days later, I read a description made by Leon Gessi in Rome et ses environs about pizza: "A blossoming flower, noble and full of fragrant odours; Mozzarella bubbles in the heat of the fire, revealing spots of oil and touches of tomato. Rust-coloured streaks soften the bright red of these touches, but it is the anchovy puree which strengthens the taste on the palate - which is difficult to define because it subtly covers a range extending from a sweet kiss to a sharp bite."

That's where I got the 'mozzarella bubbles' part. I can't describe pizza better than Mr. Gessi did. I'd just describe it as: "A slab of bread with tomato puree, shredded cheese and whatever is left in the fridge on top of it. And calories, calories and calories!"

Seriously, what is a pizza? It is actually a popular Italian dish originating from Naples. In its simplest form it consists of a thin slab of bread dough spread with thick tomato puree and Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese, seasoned with herbs and garlic, then baked in an oven. There are countless varieties of pizza, garnished with vegetables, etc. It can be served as an entrée, a savoury or a snack.

Location & Looks. Izzi Pizza, located at Pondok Indah Plaza I, Blok UA 64, Metro Pondok Indah, South Jakarta, is the first of 14 Izzi Pizza restaurants planned to open within the next three years. People can hardly miss this place, as their huge bright blue neon sign above the door could attract blind bugs from a mile away. Promising to serve "real Italian Pizza" with authentic Italian ingredients, the restaurant's interior is far from anything Roman. Consisting of two floors, the place can accommodate about 104 patrons. Their design concept is stylish, clean, artistic yet comfortable. The guests can even enjoy a rare view of the restaurant's pizzaiolos as they twirl and flip their pizza dough in the air from the show kitchen on the ground floor.

What It's Got: "We provide the best quality - Italian crunchy pizza, pasta and deserts with affordable prices and good service in a friendly environment," promised Andy Ryan, the Planet Hollywood veteran, not an Italian migrant, who manages IZZI Pizzeria.

My friends and I searched the menu seeking out weird and wonderful antipasti, pizzas and desserts. First night syndrome struck - while all of my friends were ready to nibble on their steaming hot food, the waiter told me that he had forgotten my order. I had to wait another fifteen minutes, he told me. Why does this always happens to food reviewers?

Taste Factor: For anchovy lovers, try ordering their Caesar Salad for an appetiser. Unlike the usual Caesar Salad recipe, the anchovy was not pureed within the sauce, instead the salty fish - as big as your forefinger - was laid on top of a bed of fresh romaine lettuce, surrounded by crunchy croutons. It was good as the 'fishy' flavour and the saltiness of the anchovy created were more controlled, though I found that the sauce - they call it Izzi Pizza's special dressing - had a strong peppery taste.

From the antipasti list, the Izzi Dough Balls are the perfect choice, especially when you're starving and can't wait till the waiter delivers your main course. The eight dough balls arrived freshly from the oven accompanied with garlic butter. The balls tasted a bit yeasty (no pun intended!), but the butter, which instantly melted on the smooth surface of the balls, added a delicious zest of garlic.

Izzi Pizza has included a variety of vegetarian pizzas in their menu. Funghi pizza was served with mushroom, garlic, mozzarella and tomato topping. Vegetable Pizza had a vegetarian's favourite ingredients including broccoli, red bell pepper, onion, zucchini and mushrooms. I discovered that the strong flavour produced by the sliced bell peppers somewhat dominated the whole dish. The combination of the delicate and fruity flavour of the walnuts and Gorgonzola's sharp tang in the Fiorentina Pizza was irresistible.

Probably swept by his past role in dealing with big Hollywood movie stars, Andy Ryan just couldn't help naming one of his pizzas Al Pacino. The fresh, authentic flavoured pizza had black olives, onions, mozzarella and tomato toppings. The dark and mysterious aura of the actor, Al Pacino, was captured somewhere in the ripe olives, the Mediterranean fruit whose tree, according to Greek mythology, sprang from the ground when Pallas Athene struck Acropolis with her spear.

For seafood addicts, Cervino Pizza with smoked salmon and zucchini and Marinara Pizza with shrimps, mussels, garlic and chilli were surprisingly not too rich - and very enjoyable.

From the meaty offerings, I tried Milano Pizza, which is topped with Italian beef sausages, Gorgonzola, mozzarella and tomato. Presentation wise, it looked dreadful. The sausages were just too thickly sliced. One of my friends said: "If a pizza that looks like this tastes nice, then I'm sure the rest of the food listed in the menu tastes wonderful." Believe it or not, the sausage pizza was quite yummy.

The famous Sicilian ice cream, Cassata, which is a smooth blend of chocolate, mocha and vanilla flavoured ice cream, and Tartufo, Izzi Pizza's dark chocolate ice cream, flavoured with mocha and sprinkled with cocoa powder, were just delightful. They portrayed the cool dim autumn in Rome

Price Points: Izzi Pizza offers good value for money. The price of the pizzas varied between Rp 19,500 and Rp 35,500 each. A three-course dinner for two will cost from Rp 120,000 to Rp 200,000.

Minus Points: Slightly soft surface topped heavily with rich toppings, the pizza bread tasted a little far from crunchy. I also found that the dried oregano, sprinkled on top of every pizza after cooking, a bit annoying. Oregano, also known as wild marjoram, is a herb with a pungent flavour. In its dried form, it has a much stronger flavour and is subtler if added in the beginning of cooking process. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the word pizza derives from an Italian verb meaning to sting?

Verdict: Izzi Pizza is a great place to have a relaxing meal with your family or even with your beer, or wine buddies. Great food, good location, and Izzi Pizza's commitment to allocate Rp 50 million a year as a donation to the WWF for Nature is noble. This will be taken from the sales of their Clive Special and Pepperoni Special Pizzas. Well, that made me feel less guilty when consuming a big bite of the cheesy dish!

Originally published in the Jakarta Post 2002

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