A lucky customer walks away with the best pizza in the world
Originally uploaded by ajkinik.
My sister called me the other day from San Francisco. She’d been rereading Saveur’s “Saveur 100” issue from earlier this year (Jan./Feb. 2004) when she came across #37, entitled “SECOND BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD.” There, the editors claim that the second best pizza in the world is produced in a restaurant in Nice called Le Safari (apparently they’d already written that the world’s best pizza is made in Naples in their July/August 1995 issue). The only reason this is of significance to us is because in September my sister and I spent two days in Nice as part of a little French vacation we had. Days before we made it down to Mediterranean coast, we were in Paris having dinner with my long lost friend Pari. Pari had just spent several weeks in Nice taking a French language course and when she heard we were thinking of going to Nice she gave us all her best recommendations, all her hottest tips (what walks to take, where to find the best ice cream, what Mediterranean day cruise to take, etc.). One of her strongest recommendations involved a restaurant called (you guessed it) Le Safari. She made us promise that we’d go there. She told us it was THE BEST.
Well, a few days later we found ourselves in Nice. We were only there for two days and we had no shortage of excellent food experiences while we were there, so we didn’t exactly feel like we missed out on anything [note: our hot tips for Nice and Marseilles will be appearing soon--ed], but, to be honest, we only made a half-hearted attempt to find Le Safari (I’m sorry, Pari). You see, two things came up: 1) we were never so crazy about a restaurant named Le Safari; 2) we found the street (we thought) that Le Safari was located on and it struck us as being tourist hell. We did look, but we never actually found it, and when we didn’t, we didn’t sweat it.
Fast-forward two months later, and my sister’s leafing through a back issue of Saveur, when—what does she discover? Not only is Le Safari recommended but it serves THE SECOND BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD.
Like I said, I’d feel a lot worse if we hadn’t had such great meals while we were in Nice… and if we hadn’t discovered THE FIRST BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD a few days earlier—in Marseilles.
We had traveled to Nice via Marseilles, and actually my sister and I liked Marseilles so much that we ended up spending an extra day there (and thus one less day in Nice). We were impressed by the town’s sense of mystery, its wonderful architecture, and its energy, but one of the reasons we were so taken by Marseilles certainly had to do with the dinner we had there on our first night. We’d arrived in Marseilles in the early afternoon, and after check-in at our hotel, we made our way down to the Vieux Port for lunch, then spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening drifting through Le Panier, just to the north of the port. We wandered the crooked streets and alleyways, took photographs, visited La Charité and other landmarks, and then found ourselves in a lovely café on Place Daviel. We had tea and wrote postcards and then decided to walk back downtown to do some shopping and find some dinner. Not far along our way (maybe only 500m), between Place Daviel and Place Mazeau, a couple of blocks north of the Quai du Port, we came across a vending truck that had attracted a rather animated crowd. We both know from experience that some of the best eats in North America are to be had out of similar trucks, so we decided to check it out. We weren’t sure what kind of specialty we’d find there, but we certainly weren’t expecting pizza. That’s right, pizza. The truck had a staff of two: a young woman who was taking the orders, boxing pizzas, dealing with the exchange of money, and handing over the pizzas to the truck’s eager patrons, and a man who was busily making pizzas as fast as he could. The dough was being kneaded and rolled out fresh, every pizza was being made to order, and each and every one was being baked in the truck’s relatively small wood-burning oven. We could tell this place was the real deal, and we promptly placed an order for a slice (it was still a little early for dinner). Five minutes later we were enjoying a piping-hot piece of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted—no cheese, just an amazing tomato sauce made with the freshest tomatoes and seasoned with herbes de Provence, a single slice of anchovy, and a truly incredible thin crust. That was it. One slice simply wouldn’t do. We promptly decided to race into town, find ourselves a bottle of water and a bottle of red wine, and hustle back for an entire pizza pie. An hour later we were back at the pizza truck, and 30 minutes after that we were sitting on a bench by the water of the old port drinking our bottle of wine and having our perfect Marseillaise-style pizza (“moitié-moitié”: half with cheese, half without). Ten minutes later we were done, and it was so good we almost went right back for a second one. We knew we’d be hard-pressed to ever find such a good pizza again. Then we talked about the logistics of running our own wood-fired pizza truck back in North America…