Campo Pizzeria’s late December opening in Palo Alto had been heavily anticipated since it marks the return of Executive-Chef Sean O’Brien to the restaurant scene after a year+ absence. He was the much acclaimed chef of the closed-too-soon-before-its-time Myth and then Zinnia restaurants in San Francisco. Taking over the former Lavanda space in Palo Alto, this is the 3rd restaurant from the team that owns Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay and Osteria Coppa in San Mateo (not counting the Sam’s Chowder Trucks).
Anchored by pizza on the menu, it’s a very casual place that also features a mozzarella bar, antipasti and some pasta selections. We started off with a couple of cocktails, which unfortunately arrived long after our appetizer came. The bartender did not know how to make a Negroni, so we opted for some cocktails off of their menu: Ramo Spezzato “Broken Branch” (Old Scout Rye, Maraschino liquer, Averna Amaro) and Old Fashioned Boot (Old Portrero Rye, Montenegro Amaro, sugar):
The Mozzarella Bar is an interesting concept offering 4 different types of the fresh cheese in different preparations: House-Stretched, Burrata, Buffalo and Ciliegine Balls. We ordered the Italian Tre Stelle Mozzarella di Bufala Campania version served with a pistachio pesto and what turned out to be too few slices of grilled bread. The nutty pesto was a great accompaniment for the creamy cheese:
We were pleased to see Italian varietals represented in their short but well intentioned wine list. As big fans of Southern Italian wines, we found that this 2008 Sardinian Cannonau (Grenache) was a great value, even at a 2.3X markup from retail:
We decided to split 2 pizzas between the 3 of us to share. We ordered the charred brussels sprouts pizza that came with bacon, ricotta, garlic cream, chili oil and lemon. We added more of the buffalo mozzarella as an option to the crispy crusted pizza:
We ordered the Four Cheese pizza with an egg added. Fior di latte (cow’s milk) Mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta and fontina cheeses were melted over tomato sauce. Drizzled basil pesto added a nice flavor to the rich pizza:
Both of the pizzas were very good and very rich. The ingredients all tasted market fresh, and the crust was crispy enough to pick up the slices. They definitely are not Neapolitan-style pizzas and they do not advertise it as such – we found this refreshing in a way since there has been more than a spate of Southern-Italian style pizzerias opening up lately.
Since it was such a cheese-centric meal, we thought what better way to wash it all down than with more red wine? This Nebbiolo d’Alba was reasonably priced and served as a great pairing with the pizzas:
For dessert, we shared an order of the Bomboloni: cinnamon-sugar fried donuts served with an Italian hot chocolate dipping sauce:
Since the place is relatively new, it may take a little bit of time to work out all of the service kinks, such as the server not knowing the menu and constantly referring to ours prior to writing down the order, or our need to flag down a server when more bread for the mozzarella was needed. The kitchen is up and running and providing great food. The front-of-house staff were very friendly and earnest in their endeavors and probably just need a little more time to settle in. The owners are very experienced with their other restaurants, so we have faith that it will be a great Palo Alto restaurant.
Update: March 15, 2013 – Executive Chef Sean O’Brien has left to pursue his own project. Former Marzano Chef Robert Holt will take over in April.
Update: September 3, 2013 – Campo 185 closed over the Labor Day weekend and will reopen as a Palo Alto version of Sam’s Chowder House.