What would you expect to find on the menu of a restaurant that names itself “Pizzeria Romano“? Duh. That’s what I thought too. However, I have asked several people – articulate, knowledgeable, well-traveled people – this question, and they have all, without exception, been wrong (this has less to do with them than with the restaurant in question).
At the outset, I want you to know that this post breaks several rules.
First, I am breaking a self-imposed rule that has applied to every restaurant review that has thus far appeared on the FTB Blog: I have only eaten at Pizzeria Romano once, instead of my usual minimum two visits. Why? Well either it’s very, very good, or it’s very, very bad. You’ll soon find out.
Let’s begin with that menu card. Yes, I found pizzas in there. I also found several pasta dishes. Okay, I can live with that – it is, after all, ostensibly an Italian restaurant. However, Pizzeria Romano also offers the following:
- Hummus and pita
- Thai red curry
- Moroccan kuskus
This causes me to break yet another rule, one that pertains to good writing: “never use more than one exclamation mark to denote surprise”. With apologies to all grammarians, the Pizzeria Romano menu merits a “!!!!“. Methinks the good folks at the pizzeria are in the midst of resolving an identity crisis.
Service With A Smile – And Little Else
At this point, I’d like to spend several hundred keystrokes on the service (yet another rule about to be broken – this time one that involves political correctness). Those of you who’d like to skip straight ahead to the food, feel free to scroll on down.
The primary job function of wait staff is to communicate with customers, answer their questions, and accurately convey their orders to the kitchen. Unfortunately, while the impeccably dressed and coiffed young men and women at Pizzeria Romano may think they are speaking English, they are sorely mistaken (there, I’ve said it – it’s out in the open now).
I myself have been speaking English since I was two. Despite that, I could not understand much that the staff members were saying. It wasn’t just the hard-to-decipher accent (I have lived on three different continents and am used to that) – it was a complete and unmerciful massacre of the language by all of the staff members with whom I interacted.
I am certainly not implying that the entire population of India be expected to speak the Queen’s English; I am saying that the staff who served me at Pizzeria Romano were unable to speak English in a recognizable form. I am further going to go out on a limb and point out that this seems to be a problem currently plaguing many establishments in Bangalore. And yes, I did try Hindi – hamaara raashtra bhaashaa – but was met with a vacuous stare. Did I try our vernacular, Kannada? Don’t make me laugh. Maybe I should have tried Italian. Sigh.
Then there was the surreality of it all. Perhaps because management recognizes that language is an issue, staff appears to be trained to work from a script of some sort. Without exaggeration, every time something was placed on our table, the waitress waited exactly 20 seconds (we timed it), walked over to our table, smiled, and – without regard to whether she was interrupting a conversation or not – pointed to the most-recently-delivered dish with upraised palm, and asked haltingly, “How. do. you. like. this. *insert name of dish/beverage as printed on menu*?” Worse, she wasn’t even listening to the answers – by the time dessert arrived, I was in the mood for mischief and answered, “it looks strange.” She flashed the obligatory smile, said “Thank.you,” and walked smartly away.
I must stress that staff is not unfriendly – in fact they smile a lot, perhaps to cover their obvious discomfort. They are just a very, very inexperienced lot, ill-equipped to serve a largely English-Hindi-Kannada-Tamil speaking clientele.
Flipping right past Pizzeria Romano’s astounding culinary world tour, I homed in on the main draw – the pizzas. These come in three sizes – 7″, 10″ and 12″. While there seems to be a decent range of vegetarian options, the non-vegetarian range confines itself to chicken – “chicken ham”, “chicken sausage”, and various other travesties – with the lone exception of a tuna topping. No choices of cheese. “We use either Mozzarella or processed cheese,” I was told. There was an audible “pop” as my quattro formaggi pizza-flavored bubble burst.
We opted for a 10″ Margherita pizza with the addition of mushrooms, and a 12″ Spicy Tuna pizza for good measure.
Ordering a 12″ pizza gives you the further option of choosing between a “wood-fired” or “thin” crust. Now a wood-fired pizza tastes and looks distinctly different from one that’s baked in an electric oven. At the most basic level, it has a smoky aroma (the difference between kebabs cooked in a coal tandoor and an electric oven) and the crust does not brown uniformly – it even chars in places – depending on where the flame emerges. Over and above that, depending on the wood that is used, the pizza could absorb some of the fragrance of the woodsmoke itself.
Although we ordered our larger pizza “wood fired”, and paid an extra Rs.45 for the privilege, I neither tasted nor saw any evidence that the base had been cooked in a wood fired oven. Sure, it was crisp and thin – but smoky? Not. Unevenly browned? Naah. In fact – browned at all? Take a look yourself, above, then look at this one from Herbs and Spice, which, by the way, isn’t wood fired, and doesn’t claim to be.
The Margherita might have scraped by as barely acceptable, were it not for the fact that the mushrooms used as a topping came straight out of a can. So did the tuna on the 12″. Shudder. Dear Pizzeria Romano owner, Even chain pizza outlets like Domino’s and Pizza Corner use fresh mushrooms. Please be advised that it is uncool to use anything canned as a pizza topping – especially when your prices are on par with those of fine dining establishments. Also, please note that a Margherita, by definition, needs to feature fresh basil leaves so as to correctly represent the colors of the Italian flag (Mozzarella – white, sauce – red, basil leaves – green). As you can see from the picture above, your version, sadly, omits the basil. Tut, tut. Yours Truly, The Wicked Witch of The Feast, a.k.a. Me.
The dessert – a chocolate mousse – was excellent, the sole bright spot of the meal. Other confections include banana dessert pizza, Portuguese rice pudding, and tiramisu. I don’t know what these are like, and I probably never will – needless to say, I will not be returning.
I suppose my biggest grouse is that Pizzeria Romano charges Rs. 425 for a large, allegedly wood-fired pizza (Margherita with added mushrooms) and uses canned ingredients atop it. You also get socked with a service charge for the robotic “how do you like the _____” performance. For that price, I’d rather visit Via Milano or Herbs and Spice, where I can get a fabulous thin crust pizza of the same size with Parma ham or fresh mushrooms and seafood, a choice of some excellent cheeses, and superior service.
Sure, if you are used to chain pizzas, this is arguably one step up in terms of the base being fresh-baked. But if you’re looking for The Real Thing, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of biting into a hot, crisp crust brushed with olive oil, topped with a robust tomato sauce, a smattering of quality ingredients and a sprinkling of natural cheese, run in the opposite direction just as fast as you possibly can.
Of course, you could always visit Pizzeria Romano to sample the Thai or the Lebanese or the Mexican or the Moroccan cuisines… maybe they are better than than the pizzas. Just a thought.
P.S.: A little birdie just told me that Pizzeria Romano is now hosting a “Eurasian buffet” at Rs. 259 plus tax, Monday to Friday, 12.30pm to 3.30pm. Since Eurasia is a supercontinent that comprises countries as diverse as Kyrgyzstan, China, Japan, and Yemen, I guess we’re in for quite a feast!