Where pizza calls, lasagna answers

Southern Italian cuisine shines at Doppio Zero

My mother never made lasagna. We ate spaghetti Bolognese every Thursday, although we just called it "noodles with meat sauce." No frills, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese from that familiar green cardboard tube. It wasn't until later that I experienced the layered pleasures of sheet pasta.

Doppio Zero on Castro Street in Mountain View makes me want to sing the praises of lasagna. Their Neapolitan lasagna ($16) is the best I've ever had. Not that I claim innate expertise of the dish, but I've made up for lost time these past few decades.

It's not a vegetarian lasagna, either -- no zucchini, spinach, squash or eggplant. It's the real deal: tiers of ground beef, veal, pork, gooey mozzarella and tangy tomato sauce with a singular green basil leaf atop, not unlike the way Fabergé overlaid his exquisite eggs with gold leaf.

During late summer, an overhead California sycamore dropped a gold-orange leaf on my alfresco table. It broke my concentration momentarily, but my knife quickly resumed gliding through the crimson tomato sauce with gilt-capped cheese. No talking during this meal. I was giddy with delight.

It has been claimed that aroma is 80 percent of taste. I don't disagree, but the sight of that lasagna coming to my table revved up the taste buds before the ambrosial scents wafted nostril-wards. I took home what I dared not eat. It reheated just fine, still lush and inviting, forkful after forkful -- perhaps not quite as good as fresh from the pan, but close.

At Doppio Zero, Gianni Chiloiro -- a longtime restaurateur who owned Figo and Pasta Q in downtown Palo Alto -- has partnered with Angelo Sannino: another restaurant veteran with an impressive resume. Sannino's brother, Alberto, a 20-year pizza artisan, was lured from Naples, and is the restaurant's master pizzaiolo (pizza maker).

Doppio Zero is all about the cuisine of the southern Italian region of Campania: lasagna, yes, but especially Neapolitan-style pizza. "Doppio zero" refers to the grade of flour used in making the pizza dough, double zero being the finest and lightest grade.

Their 5,500-pound Stefano Ferrara brick oven bakes pizzas in 70 to 90 seconds at 800 to 900 degrees. The pizza crusts on my orders were perfect -- puffy, light, slightly blistered, pliant and chewy. The pizzaiolo evolves the pizza menu seasonally.

I loved the pizza Alberto ($19) with house-made mozzarella, cream of walnut, porcini mushroom, pecorino Romano and fresh basil. Bits of walnut added the occasional surprise of crunch. There was nice char on the crust of this very rich-tasting pizza.

Not exactly a pizza, the pizza salad ($10) comes in flatbread form with the same dough used in pizza crusts. The base is piled high with crisp organic arugula, tomatoes, red onion and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, all tossed in a zesty lemon vinaigrette. Alas, the pizza salad is only available at lunch.

I didn't adore all the pizzas though. The bold-tasting Pizza Napoletana ($13) with tomato sauce, anchovies, olives, oregano and fresh garlic looked beautiful as it sat before me. The salty anchovies, though, overwhelmed the flavor. Not only were there whole fillets, but anchovies had also been chopped into the sauce. There was no escaping the salt shaker taste. Better quality anchovies -- or longer soaking before use -- would tone down the saltiness.

One other dish was wild with salt. Polipetti ($11) -- baby octopus with tomato sauce, Kalamata olives and capers -- was so salty my tongue burned. Too bad, because the octopus was tender and the dish looked delightful.

Every other dish I ordered was delicious. The melanzane alla parmigiana ($11) brings
Neapolitan-style layers of eggplant together with basil, buffalo mozzarella and roasted tomato puree, drizzled with olive oil. It was the kind of dish I would be happy eating often as an antipasto, first course or main course.

Pollo a la Milanese ($18) was a somewhat odd yet delicious dish of breaded chicken Milanese piled over with arugula, tomato and onion, and served with french fries. The chicken was fork-tender, the greens crunchy and the french fries crisp, but I wasn't sure why I was eating french fries with southern Italian food.

The interior of Doppio Zero is smart, with bare tables, wood and upholstered chairs, mustard-colored walls and festive chandeliers. It seats 75 inside, another dozen at the bar and 30 in a patio along the street.

Chiloiro is rightly proud of the beverage program, which features hand-crafted cocktails from champion mixologist Carlo Splendorini, 10 craft beers on tap and a worthwhile wine list with more 60 labels.

Tiramisu ($8) was the only house-made dessert, with ladyfingers, espresso, mascarpone cheese and cocoa powder: creamy, feather light and ambrosial.

Doppio Zero isn't just another Italian restaurant. They specialize in the cuisine of Campania, excel with pizza and have elevated lasagna to cloud nine status. If my ever-slender mother was still around, I am sure she would ask for a second helping of their noodles with meat sauce.

Doppio Zero

160 Castro St.

Mountain View



Sunday-Thursday: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.

Happy hour: Monday-Friday, 3-6 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Credit cards: yes

Parking: city lots

Alcohol: full bar

Happy hour: yes

Corkage: $14

Children: yes

Takeout: yes

Outdoor dining: streetside patio

Private parties: yes

Noise level: moderate

Bathroom cleanliness: very good

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