Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Pizzeria Orso

spotlightChange has come to Pizzeria Orso, a City of Falls Church Neapolitan pizza spot. The difference isn’t just seen in the recent addition of Will Artley, the new executive chef of the restaurant. Pizzeria Orso’s menu has been revamped to include a new small plates selection featuring an assortment of petite-portioned dishes.

At more than 20 items strong, the small plates menu offers a variety of tastes and treatments. Servings and prices (most cost less than $10) are small enough that diners can select a few for an appetizer and truly take advantage of the many new dishes.

The small plates are divided based upon their focus, but most are centered upon vegetables. Vegetarians can rejoice (though they should be mindful of the fact that some of these dishes include items like bacon, prosciutto, and anchovies). Among the vegetable-made small plates are the Brussel Chips ($6), in which Brussels sprout leaves are made into a crispy treat. The popularly detested vegetable could very well earn a new reputation if more persnickety eaters had their sprouts delivered as crunchy, lightly charred scoops dusted in Parmesan cheese for excellent flavor with only the slightest hint of the bitterness that once was.

Pastas, too, are featured among the small plates, an excellent accompaniment to the pizza to come. The BLT Gnocchi ($6) is a great example of what makes small plate dining great – the chance to delight in a little bit of a big flavor. The spinach gnocchi is coated in a rich truffled cream, savory with the taste of bits of applewood-smoked bacon set against tomato pieces. It’s a clever way to render the flavors of the BLT sandwich powerfully.

Meats and seafood get the small plate treatment as well, with meatballs and burgers making up the former, and four different seafood items composing the latter. The Fried Calamari ($8), offering a generous portion of the fried squid ringlets for a small plate, is served with marinara sauce or a basil aioli, fragrant and bright with the taste of the herb.

While a meal could certainly be made from choosing several of the small plates, the pizzas cannot be overshadowed. Restaurant staffers can be seen behind a tiled bar, tossing dough in the air, shaping the pizza base, and decorating it with an assortment of toppings. The heat radiating from the large brick oven, a centerpiece of the pizza-making bar, is felt by passers-by. Many colorful images of bears – orso, it seems, means “bear” in Italian – chomping on pizza decorate the walls. The color palate of the decor may well suggest a pizza pie as well, with yellow walls, cream booths and red-padded chairs echoing the cheese, dough, and sauce creation.

Diners can make their own pie, and the fixins go far beyond those of the average pizzeria: a quintet of cheeses; cream, marinara, pesto and tomato purée sauces; and gourmet meat and vegetable toppings like Crimini mushrooms, artichokes, and prosciutto di parma. Pizzeria Orso also serves just shy of a dozen house-made pizza creations, from the Diavola ($12.50), made with tomato, pepperoni and mozzarella, to the Orso ($17.25), serving all five cheese topped with garlic and prosciutto. The Margherita DOC ($12.75) is simple, topped only with a light tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and basil leaves, but showcases the flavor of both the quality toppings and the thin crust, made crispy and slightly blackened by wood-burning brick-oven baking, with some soft chewiness to be enjoyed beneath the baked exterior. The Orso Bianco ($15.25), a meat-free rendition of the house pie, blends the five cheeses wonderfully, while they remain fairly distinct in flavor and texture. The pizza is topped unabashedly with garlic for a potent but not overwhelming flavor.

Change is good, as the old saying goes, and with this change Pizzeria Orso should be able to offer dishes in line with the growing small-plate trend, but still satisfy regulars by serving the quality pies that have made it a favorite neighborhood pizzeria.

Pizzeria Orso is located at 400 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church. For more information, call 703-226-3460 or visit Restaurant hours are Tuesday – Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.; 4 – 9:30 p.m.; and Saturday – Sunday: 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.