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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Zoca Pizzeria Caffetteria

While I haven't tried every pizzeria in Taipei, I have eaten my share and resigned to the fact that one cannot get a decent pizza in the city. Some of the pizzerias just don't know how to make the dough, producing one that is crunchy instead of chewy. Others either don't have a hot enough oven or don't cook the pizza enough, resulting with a pizza that lacks a crisp and charred dough at the bottom and without a puffy crust (cornicione as the Italians call it). One would think pizza, flatbread with flavorful toppings, should not be so difficult, yet most of the pizzerias in Taipei cannot produce a decent one.

When my wife, Maria, asked me recently to go try another pizzeria, I was initially a bit reluctant. However, she assured me this one, Zoca Pizzeria, would be different and it turned out she was right.

Zoca Pizzeria is located at 臨江街149號 in the Da-an district of Taipei on the ground floor of a nondescript building. Up front there is a small terrace that allows for some semi-outdoor dining. As one walks inside the glass storefront, the first thing one sees is a counter and a display of house-made Italian pastries. Behind the counter is the work space of the pizzaiolo and one of the owners, Federico Zocatelli. Every time I go to the restaurant, Zocatelli is there in front of all the customers stretching the dough into shape, adding the sauce and the toppings, and baking the pizza in the oven next to his worktop. Above the opening to the oven hang two clocks, seven hours apart, one set to Taiwan time and other to Italy, Zocatelli's home country. The rest of the interior of the restaurant is very simple, light yellow painted wall and dark colored wooden chairs and tables. A few pictures of the chef's home town, Verona, seem to hang randomly on the walls. Decor is not the strength of the restaurant.

The main attraction is really the pizza, in fact the menu doesn't offer much else; there is a salad, a soup and a lasagna. There are over 40 different types of pizzas to choose from; some of the differences between the different pizzas are simply an additional ingredient or two. The pizza is usually served not too long after the order is placed. The pizza comes with toppings that are bubbling. The cornicione and the bottom of the crust are nicely charred. We typically order Margherita, Salamino, and Pugliese, all of which are very good. Occasionally we will order a Fagottino, more an open-face calzone than a pizza, which is also quite good. The only ones I tried that I don't like are the pizzas with mascarpone cheese. I prefer the more savory ones.

After the pizza, we always order some desserts, Tiramisu, Millefoglie, Sacher, Torta di Verona, all of which are made by Zocatelli. Sometimes, he even makes baba au ruhms. All the desserts are fairly good: not fancy, simple, and just sweet enough with good flavors. Together with the good espresso, our meals at Zoca always end on a happy note.

So what's not to like about Zoca? Since I am an architect, I wish the interior can be a bit more designed. Some acoustic treatment on the wall or the ceiling will help reduce the noise a bit. The other thing I don't like about Zoca is that there are simply too many choices for the pizzas. I am not sure this amount of variety is really necessary, considering a pizzeria like Da Michele in Naples only serve two types, and Motorino in New York City serves less than ten types.

While there are fancier pizzerias in Taipei, Zoca is the best place I have eaten so far. Until someone shows me a better place in the City, Zoca is where I like to go for pizza.

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