True Italian pizza is like the holy grail, something much sought and seldom accomplished outside of Italy. Even there, an ideal has developed of the Vera Pizza Napoletana, the “True Pizza of Naples” with precise and demanding definitions of ingredients and how it should be made.
As a result, I was surprised to be confronted with a sign promising “real Italian pizza” in Cusco on Plateros Street. Accustomed to the hype of restaurant barkers and signs trying to draw you in, I chuckled to myself and walked on, making a note to come back but really not expecting anything.
The place was new. Is name is Carpe Diem (Plateros 361), seize the day, and so I did. I went back a couple of days later with Walter, followed by a visit with more friends and then a large group. But it was not I that seized the opportunity. It was the pizzero, the pizza master and his friends.
They overwhelm you with Italian charm and, fortunately, they offer good food and come as close as you can, perhaps, without ingredients.
At first I was doubtful. The pizzero took the turn to serve us the first time, a tall and serious man named Mattia. From the area of Venice he claims fifteen years of experience as a pizza maker. I questioned him as to the flour required for a good Italian pizza, and he calmly responded that they did not have the 00 Italian flour in Peru but that they had taken time to experiment with different flours to find the right combination to come as close as possibly.
I ordered a Margherita, the most basic of pizzas to let the crust, sauce, and cheese show off without any distractions. And, they did.
The pizza crust had that unique combination of crispness and yet flexibility, along with flavor that characterizes the Vera Pizza. OK, if it were side by side with a Neapolitan pizza, you would tell the difference, but this is Cusco and there is nothing else I have had that gets that close.
The cheese had that wonderful, slightly sour, taste of good handmade mozzarella, even if just a tad grainy as it cooled. The sauce was wonderful in its rich flavor of ripe tomatoes. I asked about the sauce because, frankly, commercial Peruvian tomatoes are becoming flavorless like those in the United States. Francisco, “call me Ciccio—that is what my friends and family call me”, a friendly and caring Sicilian as well as the other waiter whose wife is Peruvian and is responsible for the pastas, said they made the sauce themselves from carefully selected Peruvian tomatoes.
The result was an outstanding pie. Good ingredients (the cheese comes from an Italian family in Lima) and an excellent balance of flavors.
At the moment, Carpe Diem and its three Italians with their spouses makes some of their own pastas. They confessed to buying spaghetti and linguini at the moment. I had their tagliatelle ubriachi. The tagliatelle had the kind of texture and flavor of hand cut pasta that make you want to just adore them in the simplest of sauces so that the pasta stands out as a monument. In this case, the ubriachi sauce, a drunken sauce, was a superb addition. It did not overwhelm the pasta and added that perfect complement to make you savor and moan with pleasure on every bite.
Besides good pizza and pasta, Carpe Diem also offers a small but well selected wine list and well as hand crafted, Peruvian artisan beers.
This is a place where you will make friends. Even if you are just traveling through, you will be charmed and carry with you the joy of good people, good conversation, and good food.