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Enough is never enough for Kelly Whitaker at Pizzeria Basta in Boulder

Enough is never enough for Kelly Whitaker at Pizzeria Basta in Boulder
Mark Manger
The "Sauce" pizza: crushed tomato, sliced garlic, local oregano, maldon salt and olive oil.

"Alex Weiser, man. He grows the best potatoes."

Kelly Whitaker was standing in front of his roaring wood-fired oven at Pizzeria Basta, slicing a tiny, misshapen purple tuber with exacting precision, then spreading the disks on a just-stretched circle of dough. "I used to get potatoes from a local farm. But it sold the lot where it grows them, and they haven't been the same since. So I went to Weiser, because I used to buy his potatoes at the Grove in Los Angeles. They're epic."

Weiser Family Farms potatoes are also featured on the menus of a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants, including the French Laundry and Per Se, but I didn't need to hear Weiser's client list to know that these tubers were stellar. Whitaker is obsessed with great ingredients and has an almost manic drive to find the best sources possible. To that end, he grows herbs and some vegetables on an unused part of Pizzeria Basta's patio, and pea shoots in his kitchen window. He works his Colorado purveyors for top-notch meats and produce. And although he'll import items from California or Virginia if he sees something he really wants, he won't bring in anything but wine and Calabrian chiles from outside the United States. He doesn't think he has to.

Owner Kelly Whitaker aims for the perfect pie at Pizzeria Basta.
Mark Manger
Owner Kelly Whitaker aims for the perfect pie at Pizzeria Basta.

Location Info

Map

Pizzeria Basta

3601 Arapahoe Ave.
Boulder, CO 80303

Category: Restaurant > Pizza

Region: Boulder

Details

Pizzeria Basta
Scallop crudo $11
Daisy $12
Sauce $10
Market pizza with Weiser Farm potato and pork belly $18
Housemade breads $5
Pickled vegetable $4
Burrata $12
Beef short rib for two Market Price
3601 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder
303-997-8775
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

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Basta means "enough" in Italian. But in Whitaker's quest for perfection, nothing will ever be quite good enough.

After potatoes, he talked about salumi, coffee and pastries, all while stretching ball after ball of dough, topping his pizzas with those great ingredients, then using his pizza peel to move pies around the oven. I watched and listened while I savored the crudo: four slices of firm, fleshy raw scallop, topped with small segments of blood orange, tiny nests of crisp radish, dots of slightly bitter shishito pepper and a sprinkling of black salt. Plated with a smear of sweet, tangy blood-orange purée and paired with a flute of bone-dry sparkling prosecco, the appetizer was an excellent way to start an early spring dinner at a restaurant I'd watched grow from the ground up.

I'd stood in this space when it was still a shell in the Peloton apartment-complex courtyard in Boulder, back in the summer of 2009, listening to Whitaker's plans. He'd recently returned to his home state from Los Angeles to open a pizza place; I was pondering whether I should help run his front of the house. Eventually, I decided against it: I'd never had Whitaker's food, but I doubted whether any talent would be enough to draw the crowds to this tough location, a hidden quad completely blocked from street view by massive buildings.

I was wrong.

Pizza has always been a passion of Whitaker's. Before going to California, he'd worked at the now-closed Pulcinella Ristorante in Fort Collins for several years, then at fine-dining restaurants in Italy for almost a year. That's when he'd wormed his way into pizzerias in Naples, befriending pizzaiolos so they'd let him come in and work with them on his day off. In Los Angeles, he'd trained at the celebrated Hatfield's and manned the fish station at Providence, a restaurant in that same city that boasts two Michelin stars. Then he'd helped open a wood-fired pizza place in Hollywood. When Whitaker decided it was time to open his own top-of-the-line pizzeria, though, he wanted to do it in Colorado. And he wanted to take what he'd learned in Naples but adapt it to his home state, adhering to the Italian philosophy that cuisine is a local expression built on regional ingredients. So when he finally opened Basta in January 2010, he opted not to import San Marzano tomatoes or flour; instead he found domestic purveyors that could provide a suitable substitute, and he kept experimenting with those elements until he got them exactly right. And then he'd change them again, making another small, incremental improvement.

When I'd stopped by a few weeks before, Whitaker had just switched to a new flour, one that added density and richness to his dough. Painted with a ladle's worth of tangy, crushed tomato sauce and topped with disks of hand-stretched mozzarella and leaves of basil — the delicate ingredients of the Daisy, an English translation of a Margherita — and then baked crispy in the 900-degree oven, the crust made for an ideal pie. I was less certain about the market pizza, topped with slices of those purple Paul Weiser potatoes, smoked mozzarella, crisp strips of cured pork belly, a smattering of bitter Brussels sprouts leaves and a poached farm egg, orange yolk oozing over the center. While most of the flavors worked together (I wasn't sold on the potatoes), the ingredients were piled on so thick that this didn't seem like a pizza at all. It was more like a complete dinner served — for no apparent reason — on bread that I'd rather have had on the side.

I ordered the market pie again a few days later, though, and Whitaker had already tweaked it, scaling back the spuds and sprouts, adding more sizzling pork belly and cheese, chopping the egg for better distribution. This time the potatoes worked, and the rest of the bold flavors were used with enough restraint to harmonize perfectly. That night I also had a Sauce pizza, the crust covered with just a thin layer of the crushed-tomato sauce, thinly sliced garlic and a healthy pinch of oregano, then finished, like most of Basta's pizzas, with a dusting of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. It's become one of my favorites, particularly for a light lunch.

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9 comments
NABH
NABH

I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.Regards:NABH

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Weiser Family Farms
Weiser Family Farms

Thanks Kelly for the support and your passion. Boulder is lucky to have you.

kate lacroix
kate lacroix

laura, this was a great explanation of kelly and his m.o...his passion and expertise are top notch for sure, but i need a bit more to chew on here. what is the space like? is it good for kids? do i have to make a reservation? how is the service? is there a salad i can munch on? also, i'd like to see a writer turn the page when it comes to discussing ingredients and their sourcing. people care, but they don't care as much as you think.

Davelovelace
Davelovelace

Sweet, another review of a Boulder restaurant, thanks Laura.

This is the "Denver" Westword right?

calhounp
calhounp

We define Denver as the metropolitan area -- rather than limiting our coverage to Denver City limits. If we did that, Laura wouldn't have been able to review Thai Flavor in Aurora, for example.

Davelovelace
Davelovelace

I agree and appreciate that but I respectfully submit that Boulder is not the metro area

bob b
bob b

Consider Union Station in Denver is closer to CU in Boulder than it is to Southlands in Centennial, and the volume of people who commute between Denver and Boulder for work, puts Boulder well within Denver's metropolitan halo.

 
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