That’s amore

Indian pizzas — and others — tempt Portland with sultry spice
By BRIAN DUFF  |  November 28, 2007
UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Indian pizza at last! At Haggarty’s.

Bonobo | 46 Pine St, Portland | 207.347.8267 | Siano’s Pizzeria | 476 Stevens Ave, Portland | 207.771.7878 | Leonardo’s Pizza | 415 Forest Ave, Portland | 207.775.4444 | Haggarty’s | 849 Forest Ave, Portland | 207.761.8222
The invention of pizza in the 17th century coincided with a turning point for the most enduring sex-adverse culture in history — Catholicism. Did the bakers of Naples, in combining Italy’s austere flat bread with the blood-red acidic sweetness of the New World tomato, overcome or merely reconfigure their culture’s asceticism? One new Portland pizzeria turns to primatology to associate pizza with sex positivity. Another, at long last, promises to bring to Portland’s pizza the flavors of the human culture with the most enduring reverence for sexuality — the Hindus of India. Portland’s new pizzas suggest that while evolutionary considerations are fun for a lark, it is from our fellow humans that we can learn something truly transformative.

If you are waiting for a table at BONOBO, one of Portland’s new pizza places, you can peruse a book of photographs featuring the large primates after which Bonobo is named, in various forms of sexual congress. Bonobo are popular in certain circles because of their reputation as being peaceful, feast-prone, sex-loving, matriarchal, and a little gay. Hippies are pleased to find an alternative evolutionary cousin to replace the violent, scheming, masculinist chimpanzee. Now Bonobo the restaurant hopes to benefit from an association of pizza and sex-positive communalism.

But what we know about the bonobo is mostly based on what happens if you provide them with lots of food. In their natural environment, where food is more scarce — wild bonobo live only in an isolated section of Congolese rainforest — the situation is much murkier. The females have a disturbing habit of ganging up on the passive males and slowly chewing off their fingers or genitalia. Perhaps the proliferation of new pizza places in Portland, in satisfying our appetites, will help us stave off our own gender conflict.

Bonobo itself is a fine place to ponder such questions. It’s warm in there, thanks to the brick oven, and with the room’s green and copper colors you could almost imagine yourself in the rainforest at sunset. A pesto pizza heightens the effect by arriving at table a little damp. This is mostly the result of a very good fresh ricotta that pools and blends into the mellow pesto. The resulting pie is creamy and rich. Flavors were more pronounced with the “smoky,” which is dominated by big chunks of butternut squash. A regular we chatted up agreed that the roasting really brought out the sugars of the squash, but thought that the sharp and salty Gorgonzola kept the pie from becoming cloying.

We appreciated that Bonobo does not over-crisp its thin crusts. There is so much praise for crisp pizza that bakers often cook them till they snap like a brown Dorito. But the bottom of a Bonobo pie is a more complex pattern of auburn and beige and it offers a more interesting chew that lets the starchy flavors of the bread accompany their pies’ thoughtful array of cheeses and toppings.

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