A&E

Fired up

Vesta's Neapolitan pizzas are rustic, yet refined and enticing

My new favorite pizza in the whole world is the carbonara at Vesta in downtown Redwood City. What could have been a dense, gooey affair was feather light, packed with flavor and satisfying on a pizza level, an umami level and an Italian food level.

The pizza ($23) was deftly topped with mascarpone, mozzarella, crisp Applewood smoked bacon, parsley, garlic, black pepper, red onion and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, with an over-easy egg plopped in the center of the pizza. Pricking the yolk allowed me to dip pizza slices into it. The bacon, egg and cheese were marvelous with the pliant, puffy and slightly charred pizza crust. On subsequent visits, I had to force myself to order other menu items so I could complete this review.

Open at 2022 Broadway St. since 2012, Vesta's genesis actually dates back three-and-a-half decades. Roy and Rose Borrone opened their eponymous café in 1979 in a building Roy owned at that location. The Borrones operated it for 10 years before moving to their current, popular location on El Camino Real in Menlo Park. Now son Peter and daughter-in-law Courtney oversee the Broadway space with their hand-crafted pizza and small-plates restaurant.

Vesta is no secret to the downtown Redwood City dining scene. While I have no comparative financials, I would venture to say Vesta is the most popular spot on a street filled with good restaurants. Well before noon, Vesta was packed while other restaurants were still putting out their streetside umbrellas. Reservations are recommended.

The main dining room, painted a mossy green, has high walls, one sizeable abstract canvas and a large fresh flower arrangement. One corner of the space is devoted to the pizza makers and the wood-burning brick oven. Out back is a covered patio with a garden feel and plenty of heaters. A passageway with seating links the main dining room and back patio. In good weather, there is also pleasant streetside seating under market umbrellas. The uniting theme is an outdoorsy feel that seems just right for the space.

Everything about Vesta is big. Besides the high ceilings, which make the main dining room feel lofty, portions are large, flavors are outsize and aromas are prodigious.

The food was hearty -- post-fox hunt at Downton Abbey kind of fare, earthy and aromatic, rustic, with huge portions meant for passing round the table while sharing stories of hounds and horses or perhaps more mundane conversations about jobs, sports and the weather.

Grilled, then sautéed cauliflower ($9) was a robust plate of vegetables smothered in toasted almonds, currants, and serrano chilies, drizzled with honey, and topped with breadcrumbs -- a small-plate appetizer that could satisfy two to four people

The baseball-sized pork meatballs ($12.50 for three) were served under a pile of crisp arugula tossed in a jalapeño aioli with curls of fragrant Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese atop. The pork balls were cooked through, despite their size, without being charred on the outside.

The savory mushroom toast ($12) featured a medley of sautéed forest-fresh mushrooms with crème fraiche and thyme, served over thick slices of grilled bread. Lush and aromatic, it was almost too rich for a first course and very filling.

One waiter told me the most popular pie is the sausage and honey pizza ($21). Topped with tomato sauce, big chunks of spicy Italian sausage, mascarpone, serrano chilies, parsley and drizzled with honey, it was just a tad too sweet for my taste but clearly enjoyed by many.

The Margherita pizza ($16), on the other hand, had that classic Neapolitan quality to it -- simple ingredients of tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and fleur de sel with simply amazing results. It had a bubbly soft crust and thin layer of sauce, dotted with tiny puddles of melted cheese.

Even when packed, the service was attentive and I appreciated that there are linens on the tables and not paper napkins. The busy dining room could get loud as noise ricocheted off the stark high walls. The pizza oven has limited capacity and can get backed up when the restaurant is filled. All the more reason to take advantage of the inviting appetizers.

The restaurant itself doesn't make deliveries, but Vesta accommodates several independent food delivery services. A word of caution though: Vesta's pizzas are Neapolitan style with soft crusts that could be soggy by the time delivered. They are best eaten hot from the brick oven.

Vesta offered a solid selection of craft beers, both draft and by the bottle. The wine list was built around the food: high acid whites and spicy reds, with most labels available by the glass or bottle.

Peter Borrone grew up in the restaurant business. He and Courtney have translated that knowledge into a contemporary, vibrant, thriving restaurant.

Now that this review is completed, I can shower my attention solely on that scrumptious pizza carbonara.

Freelance writer Dale Bentson can be emailed at dfbentson@gmail.com.

Vesta

2022 Broadway St., Redwood City

650-362-5052

vestarwc.com

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: street and city lots

Alcohol: beer and wine

Happy hour: no

Corkage: $15

Children: yes

Takeout: yes

Delivery: available from independent companies

Outdoor dining: enclosed patio and streetside

Noise level: high

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

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