Chill… Out…

2007.Mar.08 Thursday · 10 comments

in Life, Restaurants

“When it was first born, twenty years ago, Piola was received with perplexity and indifference mainly due to its appearance, to some too modern, bold and inconceivable.”

– Piola pizzeria chain website

Buenos Aires – As most of you know, I’ll go pretty much anywhere to check out pizza. Alan, over at Buenos Aires Argentina Guide wrote up his recent experience at Piola, Libertad 1078, Centro, a chain of a dozen and a half pizzerias in six countries, that, other than slow service and being a bit pricey, he liked quite a bit. Still, that left the pizza itself as worth checking out. He starts off with a quote from their website (which is, perhaps slightly different from exactly what they said on their website, no Alan?). Piola is about twenty years old worldwide, I’m not sure when their branch here opened. The name is street slang for “chill”, or “chill out”… and the quote above sort of fits my thoughts on entering the place. They’re definitely into promotion(s) – both self and other – and they get involved in local community activities wherever they are, at least based on their website, and also offer various types of promotions (they did not, however, invent the idea of giving movie discount tickets in New York… really).

Immediately to the right as you enter the local branch is a display of Mistral shoes. They’re not, as far as I can tell, for sale, they’re just on display – a little advertising for a domestic brand. The center of the room has a large, meter long model of a TAM airliner with the name prominently displayed on both sides (it’s also the lead advertiser on their website). There’s a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, blessedly not lit up by spotlights, nor spinning. Two large televisions were showing ESPN, without sound. Music, mixed format, was playing at a fairly loud volume. The walls are sort of mud brown-grey, with scattered fake chalk drawings of things like, well, teapots with faces, on them. The tables are covered in black cloths with orange, blue, and green stripes, and then those are topped (and the chairs too) with clothes in the same orange, blue, and green, plus a few in red and yellow. I don’t think the original Piola, assuming it looks much the same, was received with indifference due to its appearance, though I’ll buy perplexity… as in, who would design a place to look like this???

There’s a long bar on the left, with a few small tables on the right, and then the main dining room behind. I seated myself at one of the small bar tables (there were a couple of other folk in the bar as well) and proceeded to wait – but I was prepared for that – Alan had warned that the service was interminably slow. A couple of waiters looked my direction but no one approached. I realized after a few minutes that, at least at lunchtime, the bar is merely a waiting area. I moved myself to a regular table in the dining room and was immediately greeted by a waitress. From that point on, I had delightful, friendly, and attentive service, as did everyone else around me. I did note that not once did anyone from the restaurant ever go into the front section where the bar is and speak with customers, despite people waiting, sometimes clearly for tables – they simply ignored them until they entered the dining room. Very odd.

As a side note… I was sitting next to a group of Japanese businessmen and women. The “boss” was clearly the last to arrive, and they’d all dutifully waited for him. Now, this is just an observation – I don’t know much about Japanese business culture, and I don’t know that this was typical or an aberration. The boss ordered a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Now, the rest of them had all spent 10-15 minutes perusing the menus while waiting for him. Immediately when he ordered, the other five all piped up with “yes, I’ll have that too, spaghetti and meatballs” – and they all did. The same happened after their lunch with coffee. They waited for him to order, a café cortado, and then immediately all announced that they’d have the same as well… except one guy who said “no thank you”. They all turned and glared at him, and he turned red and immediately ordered a cortado – he didn’t drink it mind you, but he ordered it. They even followed suit with putting in exactly half a sugar pack, just as the boss did. Either this guy runs an anally tight ship, or there’s a promotion looming for someone, or maybe it’s just a cultural thing that I don’t get. I leave it at that.

But, I was there for the pizza. The menu is four pages long of plastic coated bright green paper. The first page lists three columns of different types of pizzas, the rest of the pages list pastas, antipasti, cocktails, and a decent wine list – including, and I give them major points, a selection of both half bottles and quarter bottles (you know, those airline sized ones), a nice plus when you just want a glass of wine, because you know the bottle hasn’t been sitting around open for the last three weeks. I ordered a quarter bottle of Doña Paola Sauvignon Blanc, a favorite, and a Napoli pizza – sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, fresh basil, and buffalo mozzarella. One thing I’ll definitely give Piola is a good selection of combinations on their pizzas. Do they have the most combinations? No. And they charge extra (4 pesos) if you want to make a substitution of any ingredient, which is just silly, it’s not like the pizzas are pre-made. Their prices are a little high, as Alan mentioned, ranging from a plain tomato sauce and mozzarella at 11 pesos (for the small size), on up to a 26 peso combination that I don’t recall. The large size pies are more, by about a third.

Piola - pizza NapoliThe pizza… nice thin crust, well browned and just slightly crispy on the edges. At first I thought that the pizza was sort of swimming in grease, as their was a puddle forming around it quickly – then I realized that it was the buffalo mozzarella, which has a high water content, and was not grease, but simply the whey from the cheese. It does, however, make the pizza a bit soggy in the center – however, that’s specific to this particular cheese, and most of the pizzas use a “regular” cow’s milk firm mozzarella or other cheeses. The basil was nice and fresh, the sun-dried tomatoes nicely softened (oil packed and seasoned too), the olives black rather than the more common green here – and four of the six were pitted, two weren’t… that’s actually, a negative, much as I’d rather have them all pitted, having a mix is just plain dangerous for the teeth… Flavorwise – the crust, while cooked right, is simply flavorless and disappointing – use some salt in the dough, please, that’s all it would have taken. The tomato sauce, well, it was so lightly painted onto the dough that it may as well have been a touch of blush. It’s a good thing that the toppings were tasty, or this would have simply been a non-entity in the pizza world. For the price, a big disappointment. One interesting feature on their website – you can vote on how much you like the pizza. While 78% have voted “very good”, 17% have voted “bad”, and another 5% are split between “okay” and “good”… I’d be worried about my product if one out of six people who responded to that question rated it “bad”.

Piola - profiterolesWhen it came time for dessert, Alan and one of his commenters had both recommended the tiramisu highly. I started to order it and my waitress stopped me. She said, “look, alot of people order it, but it’s really not very good – very alcoholic and just not made right.” I don’t know if she was referring to that day’s batch in specific, or a general commentary, but she steered me to the profiteroles (maybe they had extras they needed to sell) – not very Italian, but turned out to be interesting – first off, the largest profiteroles I think I’ve ever seen – one would have been plenty for one person – so a shareable plate (a good thing too, since it runs 16 pesos – in fact, the desserts seemed to be particularly pricey, even in comparison to the rest of the somewhat pricey menu). The pastry, once again, lacking in salt – you don’t need a lot, especially in a dessert dough, but you need some to give it flavor. The ice cream and the chocolate sauce were good. It wasn’t a wow, by any stretch. I’m now wondering about the tiramisu.

A nice touch at the end, after your meal and/or coffee, they bring a shotglass of sgropino (not limoncello as a couple of folks stated) – which is traditionally a blend of grappa and lemon sorbet, in this case a variation – vodka and lemon gelato. I’m not so sure I like the creaminess that the gelato brings to the drink, it’s better when it’s sort of sharp and tangy.

All in all, just an okay experience. There’s far better pizza in Buenos Aires, at a lower price, and often in settings that are easier on the eye…


I leave you with some architectural shots along Marcelo T. Alvear that caught my eye as I wandered…

A government building along MT Alvear

Interesting window

Great balcony!

Some interesting detail work

More interesting detail

And one more...

Alan Patrick March 8, 2007 at 22:07

Hi Dan… nice review.

I think restuarant reviews taken on their own can be a little hit and miss, especially when it comes to something like service. Two people that went at different times/days can come back with completely different experiences, and one of them may well have been a genuine one-off occurrence. Also I think the tone of a review can really depend on the mood youa re in when you go to the restaurant, and also when writing… it’s impossible for any human to ever be truly objective… ah, sorry about the quasi-philosophical rambling already!

All the same, given that both you and Robert Wright (the Tiramisu recommender… not I!) reported good service, perhaps my bad experience in that area at Piola was an unusual occurence for them. Or maybe it was that you went at lunch, and I went in the evening when it was rammed full of people – perhaps they just can’t cope with volume well?

Also, strange that I had one completely opposite experience to you… when we came in, we were immediately greeted in a friendly manner and seated, it was only after then that the service went downhill. Again, perhaps a day/night difference.

As for the Pizza, I really enjoyed mine, maybe they are strong in some pizzas and weak in others… or maybe I am just a bad judge of Pizza šŸ™‚

Anyway, it’s good to have a range of opinions in the BA blogosphere so that people can read them all and make their own conclusions.

Finally, I didn’t distort the Piola quote, I promise. It really is THAT arrogant! I just didn’t link to the exact page on their website where I got it from because there is something funny on their website that means the links to direct pages don’t work… you have to go to Locations/Menus in the left sidebar and then click on Buenos Aires, and you will see the exact quotation I copied and pasted. I thought for a second after reading your comment that maybe they had changed their site after seeing my blog post!

Oh, and a big whoops about my limoncello/sgropino confusion… showing up my complete lack of foodie knowledge there… I’m going to do a sneaky edit on that post now to avoid further embarrassment šŸ˜‰

Keep up the great food blogging,


dan March 9, 2007 at 08:50

Ah, my apologies for suggesting you hadn’t quoted directly. I didn’t see the paragraph on the little subpage, just the blurb about Buenos Aires on their main page – which is so humbly titled “20 Years from the Last Italian Revolution”:

 the press talked about it like a “new gastronomic phenomenon in Argentina”Ā and recommended it enthusiastically. Even today, after thirteen years, Piola Buenos Aires is known by everyone as a unique place that has given a very strong impulse to a new gastronomic culture in that city.”

When it comes down to it, of course, we’re just poking fun at them. Self-promotion isn’t a bad thing, and we’re all guilty of it – it’s why we blog, right? It’s just often amusing to see how someone else approaches it!

In terms of the pizza – hey, maybe the day I was there someone simply forgot to put salt in the dough. It happens. And that lightly painted on sauce thing isn’t unique to them – I see it often on very thin crust pizzas – I don’t know why… in my view, showcasing your sauce ought to be more important than presenting a cheese or some ingredients that someone else made or raised. As long as, of course, you don’t go overboard… it’s such a fine balance.

Personally, I find myself just scrolling up and down over that first architecture picture… I’m getting this cool optical illusion as I go up and down and up and down…. I better have another cup of coffee.

Saratica March 9, 2007 at 09:19

Yes, more coffee definitely gives better tracers!All the architectural details are so CLEAN!. Is BA a particularly clean city? Or just your camera…? Pura vida.

Alan Patrick March 9, 2007 at 14:15

No worries Dan… to be honest, I was really hoping that they had seen my blog and decided to tone down their self-promotion a little… not that there is much wrong with self-promotion as you say… just that it would have been cool to effect them in that way!

I’m getting that optical illusion effect on the first picture too. Strange stuff.

dan March 9, 2007 at 14:50

I just didn’t post any pictures of the dirty buildings… šŸ˜‰

And no, BsAs is not particularly clean as major metropolitan cities go. Lots of litter, soot, dirt, and, of course, the famous dog poop everywhere…

ksternberg March 9, 2007 at 18:15

I found BA pretty clean. And I could spend days (well, maybe hours) exploring the pizza and ice cream there.

kaos.geo March 18, 2007 at 17:20

Hello Dan.
Piola also means cool.
Pizza Piola, also translates as “Cool Pizza”. Not as in cold, but as in fasionable or smart. An example of a guy that thinks of himself as “El Piola” would be fonz from happy days.
Translations appart. It was a VERY cool place when it opened more than 10 years ago, good music and nice people to look at. A lot of very special weekends begun with a pizza at piola’s.
All this years have gone by and the place looks a little dated buy still keeps some of the magic.
The sgroppino is nice for me, vodka and cream. I bought comme des garcons “Odeur 71” perfume and for me, it smells like piola’s sgroppino: Like the beginning of a weekend that is open to all sorts of adventures, sex, food, dance and fun.
Keep discovering Buenos Aires! I have lived all my life here and I’m still in the process.

dan March 19, 2007 at 11:26

K – “cool” and “chill” are pretty interchangeable in norteamericano street slang these days, though the latter is probably gaining use while the former is more, well, my generation.

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