Hidden Gem: V Lounge

Friday, September 17, 2010

V Lounge caused a tremor in Hawaii's pizza scene when it started serving up its kiawe-wood-fired creations in 2009.

The pizzaiolo chef, Alejandro "Aker" Briceno, has a global perspective: Born in the U.S., hailing from Venezuela, with intensive culinary training in Spain and Italy. He was a pastry chef in Miami, Las Vegas and finally Honolulu, where he worked at Nobu. Briceno has brought that pastry-chef precision to his pizzas, which are meant to recreate the textures and flavors you would find in pizza from Naples – the Capitol of Pizza.

The ingredients are local whenever possible, only substituting for Italian ingredients as necessitated by the chef. The dough is fresh (made only with Caputo flour, water, salt and yeast), hand-made and fermented with minimal yeast at room temperature over 18 hours. The San Marzano tomato sauce is clean, slightly tart, a perfect platform to let the toppings and dough shine. Using kiawe wood, which grows in abudance in the drier zones of the Islands, adds the perfect smokiness.

The result? You simply haven't had pizza like this anywhere. The flavors are bursting, the dough is creamy and soft inside, lightly crispy from the wood firing on the outside.

I've been a couple of times now, and another only to find the kitchen was shut down because they ran out of dough (that's the risk you run when everything's made fresh). Each time my party got quiet as we worked our way through those first impeccable bites.

On our latest trip, my friend repeated with the Sopressatta pizza (pictured, top) – pepperoni to you and me, but as you can see in the picture, not what you get at Pizza Hut. Thin, succulent and savory, crisped ever so lightly by the wood firing. Naturally salty.

Mine was the Aosta (pictured, right): fontina cheese and locally grown tomatoes, basil and macadamia nuts. The nuts were chopped so fine they added just a hint of texture, almost like garlic. The basil and tomatoes popped with freshness and the dough... What can I tell you about this dough except when my friend ate three of her slices and boxed the rest for lunch the next day, she asked for the uneaten crusts to be included: She wanted to dip them in something.

For a time, there was buzz about a "pizza war" of sorts with the introduction of V Lounge added to the excellent pizza produced at JJ Dolan's, another recent entrant. I'm a fan of both and choose not to compare them directly; the styles are different. In a nutshell, V Lounge is Italian style, JJs is New York style. You may have your preference, but both are good.

You'll find this hidden gem tucked onto Kona Street, which is an alley that runs along the mauka (mountain) side of Ala Moana Shopping Center. Look for the sign, below.

Visit V Lounge in 3D »

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