by Andrew Morrison | Bufala, the new pizzeria from Wildebeest owners Josh Pape and James Iranzad, is now officially open at 5395 West Blvd (Arbutus) at West 38th in Kerrisdale. We broke the news of the 55 seater’s imminence exactly a month ago, so it’s been a quick turnaround (find out more about the build here).
Granted, it wasn’t a big construction job, but I like what they’ve done with the place. The booths and the communal table fit the room nicely, and the wee little kitchen bar is pretty adorable. My favourite thing? The corks piled high against the front window (see the first and last photos in the gallery below). These were collected over time at Gastown’s now shuttered Boneta, where the bartenders used to toss the corks behind a partition every time they opened a bottle of wine (I tossed quite a few myself). There must have been a thousand of them by the time Boneta closed last Christmas. It’s nice that Pape and Iranzad – both long-time regulars at Boneta – were able to save them and put them to decorative use.
Anyway, like a good sport I tried to eat my way through the menu last night with the help of friends and family, but I feel like I hardly made a dent. The feasting was fast and furious, but I took a few staccato notes, the first of which reading as follows: “the crust is really good”
And I mean really, really good. Rather than go the traditional Neapolitan “00” Caputo flour route, they’re using a mix of bread flour and Pape’s family wheat flour (from Vancouver Island) with a sourdough starter. It’s turned out to be an excellent blend, and despite the comparative low heat/slower baking time of their double decker electric oven (compared to wood-burning ovens and most other electric ovens), the dough still achieves good char-pimpling and retains its heat and structural integrity long enough for a full pie to be enjoyed (ie. it doesn’t flop but can fold, libretto-style, without creasing). The taste is there – subtle, singed, superb – and so is the chew, which is consistent from rim to center. And to have the crust play a different tune, simply anoint it with any of the four different bottled oils provided (ham, parmesan, herb, chili).
As for the sauces, the rosso is made from Italian plum tomatoes (not San Marzanos) and the bianco is straight bechamel spread thinly with a hint of nutmeg. The toppings, mercifully, stay at home in both sauces, which is to say that they don’t slide around like messy, untrustworthy bastards.
And that’s a good thing, as the toppings are really what makes Bufala special. The house smoked ham and pea bianco pizza with truffle oil and taleggio, for example, is absolutely revelatory, on par with the best pies I’ve ever had at my favourite Vancouver pizzeria, Barbarella (It’s already 24 hours later and I’m still thinking about it). The unlikely bedfellow oxtail and kale pizza was also a winner on account of its originality and the punch of its roasted garlic, as was the far more standard (but equally impactful) pesto and ricotta bianco.
In all, there are 11 pizzas to choose from, and nearly all of them will lift your brow. Think bacon and clam, bresaola and horseradish, sausage and Wildebeest’s famous smoked castelvetrano olives, et cetera. Given the kitchen’s background in butchery and charcuterie, and the proximity of the Kerrisdale Farmer’s Market (across the street), every ingredient that makes it onto a pie is either going to be made in-house or vetted, hawk-like, for quality and provenance.
The menu also includes many starters (love that kale Caesar!), sides, and shareables, not mention a full spread of desserts, wines, beers, and cocktails. But it’s the pizzas that’ll make people swoon. The West Side – when it finds this new arrival in its midst – will almost certainly rejoice…