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Cox: Diavola spices up Geyserville

  • House Cured Salami & Cheese at Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, in Geyserville.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Geyserville is one of the sleepiest little towns in Sonoma County — except at 21021 Geyserville Ave., where on Fridays and weekends, you might find people standing three deep or more, waiting to be seated in Diavola.

The word "diavola" is Italian for she-devil. Whatever chef and owner Dino Bugica (pronounced BOOJ-ik-uh) had in mind when naming the place, the most devilish aspects of this popular restaurant are the wood-burning pizza oven and Bugica's fondness for mouth-searing spiciness. Each table is set with a bottle of spicy chili oil and a glass full of shoelace-sized breadsticks made by hand every morning.

Not everything is spicy, of course. But when he decides to use heat, he doesn't hold back. His approach to Italian cooking, in fact, is muscular and masculine. For example, the regular menu lists a dozen different pizzas. The <b>Salsiccia Pizza</b> ($16.75, 2-1/2 stars) is a big pie with big flavor and big bubbles of air in the dough, burnt spots everywhere, thin crust in the middle but thick around the edges, lumps of house-made Italian sausage, pecorino and stringy mozzarella, and long strips of red onions.

Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria

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The specials on a recent night included the Dictator Pizza, costing $18. The crust is loaded up with garlic, serrano chilies, kimchi, and shichimi — a spicy Japanese condiment consisting mostly of powdered hot chilies — along with marinated rib-eye steak, scallions and mozzarella. You can work up a sweat just thinking about it.

Diavola is not just a pizzeria. The chef makes his own salumi. An appetizer of <b>House-Cured Salami and Cheese</b> ($18, 4 stars) was a revelation. The appetizer is served on an inch-thick slice of tree trunk and included a portion of pork and bitingly hot peppers pounded into a spreadable paste — a delightful delicacy that was anything but delicate and required a sip of wine to cool down the mouth.

Then there were three sliced salamis lined up: Genovese, soppressata and Toscana. Each had a unique flavor, so different than salami from the big, commercial producers whose products have a tiring sameness of flavor. Four slices of rustic toast were provided, along with a local blue cheese and a very special blue cheese called La Casearia Carpeneda, from the Blue 61 company located near Treviso, Italy, in the Veneto region. It tasted like no other cheese I've ever encountered and was sensational.

I say hooray for chef Bugica for building inimitable character into his salumi. Believe me, it's rare. If you're going to build "autenticita" (authenticity) into your Italian food, you need some great Italian wine to go with it. Diavola's wine list includes eight whites and 18 reds, straight off the boat. The 2009 I Favati Irpinia Campi Taurasini "Cretarossa" — 100 percent Agliancico from Campania for $48 a bottle — would be my go-to red, but bone up on your Italian wines and choose one yourself. Corkage is $15.

Even before the house fills up, service can be painfully slow. It took one hour from my ordering the salumi until it arrived at my bare table. It was, however, followed quickly by <b>Grilled Preston Lamb Merguez </b>($14, 2-1/2 stars), a flavorful sausage with a North African heritage, spiced with cumin, chilies and harissa, the size of a good cigar. It was accompanied by a frothy puree of peas and favas, and an inexplicably greasy pancake.

A salad of <b>Oven Roasted Beets</b> ($13.50, 3 stars) offered cubes of dark red beets in a large pile, glazed with a citrus-herb vinaigrette and topped with a white cloud of whipped ricotta. The pile was flecked with orange segments, arugula, pea shoots, quinoa and almonds.

For the pasta course, <b>Pappardelle with Duck Sugo</b> ($17, 3 stars) turned out to be a delightful choice. The wide noodles were given a savory, non-tomato, duck-meat sauce enhanced with saut?d spinach, spring garlic and scallions. The menu said there would be baby artichokes, but they had evidently escaped.


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