I don’t know if it’s fair to judge a neighborhood on the quality of its neighborhood pizza joint, but I have to think it’s fair to judge a pizza joint on the quality of its neighborhood. For example, Wheat & Water recently opened in Bird Rock, La Jolla, where median home sales are just shy of two million, and median rent exceeds four grand a month.
Mediocre pizza shouldn’t fly in Bird Rock, and a pizzeria good enough to thrive in nearby Pacific Beach should rightly be run out of town.
The name Wheat & Water makes it sound like the food here is going to be simple, even austere, but I didn’t find that to be the case. While the menu even claims “we like to keep it simple,” it immediately goes on to describe a blend of imported flours that goes into the pizza dough, which is then fired in a wood oven fueled to 700 degrees by white oak.
The pizza selection also belies simplicity, with topping combinations featuring the likes of béchamel, grilled pears, roasted shishito peppers, and braised pork shoulder in salsa verde.
5737 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla
Even The Classic pie I ordered ($17) went a little further than a typical pepperoni-and-mozzarella base to include caramelized onions, roasted bell peppers, fresh herbs, and olives. A couple of weeks later, a look at the shop’s website shows they’ve swapped out olives for mushroom duxelles — a centuries old French-style sauté of finely diced mushrooms and shallots. That’s a mouth-watering prospect.
All this on top of a sauce made from San Marzanos, the famous Neapolitan plum tomatoes that grow in volcanic soil and taste perfect on pizzas or in pastas (I’m far from the first to think so).
A lot of pizza spots make their money by scattering pepperoni or other toppings loosely across the pie and hoping you really appreciate melted cheese. The top of this pizza showed a couple small blank spots, but for the most part it was well covered. Given the flavorful toppings involved, this meant each bite packed a lot more taste to back up the pepperoni — aromatic oregano, briny olives, and a base of garlic balanced by sweet though not-too-bright tomato and bell pepper.
Most of the world’s finest pizzerias accomplish amazing things by favoring premium ingredients and the simplicity of one or two toppings. Despite its declared intention, Wheat & Water skips right past simplicity, but I have zero problem with that. These and the other topping combinations I’ve tried play well together here. No one topping, not even the pepperoni, stood out, and nothing tasted out of place. Rather like listening to Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” recordings, this pizza consumes your senses.
And the 700-degree crust? Medium thickness, with a good chew to go with the hint of char and smoke. If I can fault Wheat & Water for anything, it’s that it’s 20 minutes away from me in a neighborhood I’ll never afford.