Venue Review: Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar
The Charlotte Observer
Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza | Bar
Handsome, inconsistent Phillips Place spot with very smart service.
Food: * * 1/2
Service: * * * 1/2
Atmosphere: * * *
6706 Philips Place Court; 704-295-0101
Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza | Bar is the internationally known chef’s second go-round in Charlotte, and a dramatically better go-round it is.
Still a little problematic – but let’s start with the marvelous: Service.
Ours proved consistently smart, quick, convivial and accommodating from start to finish. Have a menu question? They knew the answers. Water carafes, cool and welcome, never dipped below half full; same with little glass jars of long, thin grissini (crunchy breadsticks). Plates were brought and cleared with friendly aplomb, and service niceties – knowing how many ounces the by-the-glass wine pour is; replacing silverware between appetizer and entrée – were beyond what you might expect from their denim-and-sneaker uniforms.
Pacing was fine, and servers – who help each other, which is always more efficient when done well – worked carefully around table conversations. Well done.
The space aims at rustic warmth: lots of handsome wood and leathery booths, lots of glass in serving pieces and hefty pendants, lots of warm light in the form of glowing light-bulb wires. A roomy bar is central and comfortable, and three beautifully cropped simple photographs anchor the dining room with sepia tones.
One drawback: Sound bounces off every surface back at you, so it can be loud. But table spacing is more generous than most places, so the sound tends to be more of a background din than the intrusion of specific conversations.
Now to difficulties: When this first opened, in the former Smith & Hawken space at Phillips Place, pizzas emerged from the kitchen bright and light and crisp and chewy in all the right places.
The dough, it was explained then, required a nine-day process with two fermentation periods. This becomes pizzas that are thin in the middle but with a heftier edge (in Italian, the cornicione) with bubbles, a little char and chewiness. California-style is what some still call the notion of nontraditional toppings, and Puck’s got plenty: potato and egg, smoked salmon with roe and dill cream, shrimp and chimichurri sauce.
But the last two pizzas I’ve had fared not as well: One turned leaden in the middle – though the housemade lamb sausage on it was exceptional – while a Margherita’s fresh mozzarella had been cooked past pleasant lushness into unrecognizable melding with sauce and crust.
Linguine with pesto and shellfish arrived with shrimp no bigger than the last section of my pinky and a handful of tiny clams – I love small clams, but these had been overcooked as well.
A thick piece of Scottish salmon, on the other hand, arrived tender and pleasingly topped with charred tomatoes. Risotto made with pearl pasta, rather than rice, was a bit soft to the tooth and blandly tomato-ey, but greatly improved when mixed into its underlying arugula pesto.
Juicy grilled rosemary chicken (boneless) was the best entrée I tried, with garlicky roasted potatoes, while chicken meatballs with tomato sauce and ricotta were the best first course we tried. Simple and perfect.
Close were an appetizer of burrata (cream-filled mozzarella) with prosciutto and arugula (just a little more cheese, please) and a beautiful, plain salad of greens from Tega Hills in delicate garlic dressing.
Save room for desserts, like a plate full of delicate, fresh cinnamon-sugar donuts with an espresso-cup-sized espresso milkshake, or a pear-cranberry cobbler that’s really more a crumble, but delicious.
The Pizza | Bar, which opened in May, is the first of a new brand by Puck; his first Charlotte venture was the defunct Wolfgang Puck’s Carolina Bistro, near Ballantyne, which never found its footing. A second Pizza | Bar opened about three weeks ago in Greensboro. I wish Puck had solidified it before spinning it off.