The thing that an Italian abroad looks for the most is good cooking, especially pizza.
For us, two Italians born and raised in Rome, Chicago offered some enticing possibilities. While pizza in Rome is uniform -- thin crust, parsimonious toppings, limited cheese -- America offers a panoply of pizza options. There's New Haven style, Chicago deep dish, New York by-the-slice.
So we set out to find the best. We chose nine contenders and started our Chicago pizza tour last month.
Our first visit was to California Pizza Kitchen, the ubiquitous national chain with a reputation for untraditional toppings.
We avoided the pear-and-brie pie, instead choosing a margherita, with mozzarella, basil and fresh tomato, and a Sicilian, with marinara sauce, ham, salami, fontina, mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
The pizzas were thin, and similar to what we've grown up with in Rome. But we found the Sicilian a bit heavy.
Next, we moved on to Chicago's famous deep-dish pizza.
Romans would tell you this is not pizza. But we disagree. It's pizza, and it's great.
We'll miss it when we go back to Italy.
We tried three deep-dish purveyors: Gino's, Pizzeria Uno and Pequod's Pizza.
We liked Pizzeria Uno, where the sausage pie was rich and spicy, but not too heavy.
Gino's and Pequod's left us stuffed but not so impressed. Pequod's struck us as too spicy; at Gino's, we enjoyed the pie, but thought the cheese overwhelmed the other flavors.
We also enjoyed the thick, bready, mozzarella-free pizza at D'Amato bakery on Grand Avenue.
Then we sought out pizza-makers who seek to duplicate the paper-thin, blistered crust that one finds in Rome.
First up was Pizza D.O.C., in Lincoln Square. We tried the margherita, the classic by which all pizzas are judged in Italy. We also sampled a mushroom and sausage pizza.
We were impressed. Pizza D.O.C.'s pies were clearly better than the others we'd tried. While the crust was nearly identical to what we eat in Rome, the toppings were American, leading to an interesting, and delicious, cross-cultural experience.
Next up was Spacca Napoli, a critic's favorite in Ravenswood run by chef Jon Goldsmith.
His pizzas were closer to those in Italy than the ones at Pizza D.O.C., with a more authentic balance -- fewer toppings, thinner crust.
In the end, after weeks of pizza-eating, we decided on a favorite: Pizza D.O.C.
We named it the winner because it offers the best of both Italian and American-style pizza.
Pizza D.O.C. opened in 1999. It's helmed by Giulio Mazzocchetti and Cesare D'Ortenzi, restauranteurs from Rome who had founded La Bocca Della Verita, a well-regarded Italian restaurant nearby on Lincoln Avenue.
"They choose the most European area of Chicago in order to evoke an Italian atmosphere", says Elisabeth Cinelli D'Ortenzi, Cesare's wife.
The name refers to Denominazione di Origine Controllata
, a quality standard applied to food and wine from particular regions of Italy.
It was chosen "to point out that every ingredient is selected with attention and care," says D'Ortenzi.
The restaurant's olive oil, cheeses and pasta are imported from Italy.
What is the secret of their pizza?
Cecil Rodriguez, 23, one of the chefs, says that they do not use a lot of yeast when they make pizza, which makes the crust thinner than a deep-dish pie. A wood-burning oven produces the heat necessary to char the crust a bit.
All in all, it's a very Italian pizza -- but one with an American twist that made it especially memorable for us.Laura Elia and Giulia Donati are journalism students in Rome. They are interning at the Daily News.