Milano Makeover: Newer, Hipper, Sleeker

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Milano Pizzeria is back. Sort of. Long a favorite of the after-work crowd in the Inner Sunset, Milano closed its doors several months ago for renovations. Paper covered the windows from inside, and a bright yellow public notice announced an ownership change for anyone curious enough to stop and read. Eventually, these were replaced by signs seeking kitchen and wait staff, and the restaurant reopened at the beginning of November. Fans of the old Milano will be disappointed to find that this new incarnation's only resemblance to its former self is the name. But if they stick around long enough to try the pizza, they'll be pleasantly surprised.

"The only connection I have with the old owners is that we're still friends and they come to eat here from time to time," says Bruno Matos, the new proprietor (who once worked as a distributor for SF Weekly). "Other than that, it's a new crew."

That much was apparent during a visit last Sunday.

Where the old Milano had reviews clipped from newspapers and photos of neighborhood denizens on the walls, the new Milano has a fresh coat of paint, and artwork in the modern, rustic style. Woodwork decorated with flowers dots the walls, and a row of artful pizza dough rollers hang from the ceiling over what used to be comfortable-but-worn booths. Plastic pitchers and checkered tablecloths attended by servers in jeans have been replaced by Mason jars and friendly waitstaff dressed in black.

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The old Milano was loved for its late hours and reliably good, if somewhat simple, pizza. It was occasionally criticized for eschewing "fancy" toppings like spinach. Few will make this complaint at the new Milano. There is a chorizo Pie with pico de gallo and roasted jalapenos, and the classic Italian is baked in the oven first, with the toppings added afterwards. There is also a list of salads (spinach!), and several promising appetizers, a few of which were unavailable on Sunday due to fluctuations on the menu since opening.

Of course, the new Milano won't be judged by its hours or what's on the menu, but by what's on the plate. It's off to a good start -- the pizza was excellent. The house combo came with red bell peppers and onions, white mushrooms, black olives, salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, and chorizo. The toppings were fresh, and distributed in a manner that made for a pizza that was filling without being too heavy. The chorizo stood out the most, and left a desire to double down and order a chorizo pie.

The mixed green salad came with the usual suspects -- walnuts, goat cheese and red peppers -- as well as grapefruit, which provided a counterpoint flavor that practically jumped out of the salad. The weakest part of the meal was the creme brulee dessert, something the server encouraged with a mention that the dessert chef went to Cordon Bleu, a French culinary school. It was good, but tasted simply competent next to the excellent pizza.

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The prices were reasonable, and surprisingly comparable to the old Milano given the quality. The margherita pizza was $15, the house combo was $20, the salad was $9 and the desserts were $5. There is also a wine list, with glasses starting at $10, and a selection of draft and bottled beers in the $5-$6 range.

Ninth Avenue regulars may have lost a casual place to grab a slice or a lump of fresh pizza dough on their way home, but they've gained a pizzeria that's well worth having a seat in. And things at Milano are just getting started. Matos said that he plans to open up the back room again soon, and he has lots of ideas for creating new types of pizza.

"We're going to have chicken liver and even crocodile pizza," he said. "We want to make something different."

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Milano Pizzeria is open daily from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at 1330 9th Ave. (at Irving), S.F. Call 665-3777 or visit facebook.com/milanopizzeriasf.

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