Anglo-Italian deference. Contemporary Pizza at i Tigli.
British people are debilitatingly bad at eye contact. The steward on my flight will not under any circumstances look at me. She is trapped three feet away, between her drinks cart and the next. I awoke at the moment she was handing my neighbor a wine bottle. I stared directly at her face as she served drinks to every person in a 270-degree arc around me. The mechanics of her craning neck to avoid locking eyes were owl-like or extra-human, an evolution. It’s a skill honed in a lifetime of walking the High Street searching for points on the ground or in the mid-horizon to look at, in grim defiance of greeting neighbors and strangers.
Similar professional optical focus was on display at I Tigli in Verona last night. The kitchen team are a study in singular intensity, knowing intuitively the movements and intentions of each other member, a skill marshaled through countless hours of near-contact. When a couple of the cooks bumped heads on the pull-down spotlights, proximate colleagues and injured parties barely flinched. The synchronicity continued. The pace of pizza production belies the attention and craft focused on each ingredient. I order from a short list of classics, which represent exceptional value. My first pizza is studded with wild mountain capers, the second is an anchovy pizza. The crust is big and holy, less ephemeral than the Neopolitan style. It strikes me as a valid take on crust, more wholesome perhaps, and certainly easier to work with. Toppings on the restaurant’s more creative pizzas are mounded to intimidating heights. The pizzas fly from the kitchen in the hands of a front of house staff that match my BA steward’s resolute avoidance of eye contact. They have a higher purpose. The pizza must land on the tables of this very full room while still hot.
I arrived at 7:30. It was quiet. Two Maseratis were parked outside. The host’s request that I return to the 20% full dining room in 30 minutes seemed arbitrary. By the time I was eating, I Tigli was transformed into a fascinating cross-section of Verona. There were a scattering of couples. Mostly, 8-18 tops filled the room. Several were solely one gender. I was seated at the one high bar table. A group of men in casual workingman’s polos occupied the other end of my table. I was facing the wine cellar. The selections are brilliant. Tight, intelligent, with range, vision, and a nod to localism. All a drinker could hope for. Binner, Germain, Terpin, Daniele Piccinin, Pra, Gaja, Pepe, Laherte, Maule, Egly, Gravner, Foradori. Maybe 50 wines, all priced at American retail. A master class.
I thought I’d order more food, but the ancient grain crust is filling. I’ll return for pizzas created with raw gambero rosso shrimp, fiore di latte cheese, rare tuna, mountain cheeses and meats, more.
The waiters fly past. They also smile the right amount, ask the right amount of questions, are friendly, not familiar. This is also a dream. I like people. I value a few words, to share moments of being human. But this team keeps focus and organizational shape. They don’t loiter at tables. They don’t have to curry favor for tips. We are in Italy, and they are dynamite professionals doing their jobs.
The room is at least 70% women. Two large parties are all women, and two other sizeable groups are 80/20 female. I love that the restaurant elevating perfect quotidian food isn’t overrun by dude bros. I am alarmed though at the amount of people drinking beer. Pizza loves wine, and I love I Tigli’s wine list. Beer is good, and Italy has found beer (first love really) during the craft beer renaissance. Italy is making better beer than ever before. But they are making better wine than maybe anywhere else on the globe.
Bravo to I Tigli. A rewarding experience. In the top 10 for my 2018 pizza travels. Two maseratis.
Chicken curry or veggie plate is my current predicament. I abhor industrial meat, but I do love a curry. Flavor must prevail. Trapped in a window seat, 5,000km from home, it’s enough to keep hope of a better future meal alive.