I must admit, I have fallen in love with this restaurant, which is partially why I chose it as the first post for our fledgling food blog. UNA has received a lot of attention since its opening, and they manage the success well by tweeting their wait times and allowing customers to leave a cell-phone number so they can go somewhere else for a drink while waiting for their table (which, on busy nights, has apparently been in excess of an hour and a half). The convenience of this becomes fully apparent when you are actually in the hallway-like restaurant space.
The location on 17th Avenue has been devoted to pizza for longer than UNA has been there, as it used to be a branch of the Wicked Wedge franchise. I am happy to say the pizza has vastly improved in quality. UNA’s pizza is the thin-crust Neapolitan style so favored by a growing contingent of new pizza places in Calgary. One can argue for days about the merits and drawbacks of whatever style of pizza a restaurant chooses to focus on, but for what it’s worth I prefer thin, chewy crust, with a freshly-crushed tomato sauce that tastes of tomatoes and not much else, and a small amount of some type of sharp, flavorful cheese. It is upon these foundations that UNA has built its success.
We started with the Pintxos (Pinch-Ohs), a tapas style appetizer that changes daily. Today it was thin sliced bresaola wrapped around a substantial slice of pecorino, topped with cherry tomato, an arugula leaf, and drizzled with truffle oil. These last three ingredients served to balance the saltiness of the cheese and meat. Whoever comes up with these Pintxos has a very good handle on how to create the perfect well-balanced bite, as we have tried them our last 3 times at UNA and were consistently impressed.
Next up we shared the prawn pizza. Can you tell I was super hungry? The menu describes it as “chilli and lime marinated white prawns, spinach, pachino tomato sauce, pecorino romano”. Normally my experience with prawns on a pizza is those watery, mealy canned shrimp favored by fast food pizza chains. Happily they were absent today.
The server that delivered our pizza pointed out that we should squeeze the lemon the pizza came with over the top in order to “bring out the flavors in the marinade” but I’m not sure we’d do that again as we thought the pizza was ever so slightly over-acidic and it was definitely the wettest pizza I’ve had from UNA, but despite that the crust held up well, only getting kind of droopy as I ate my last slice. Other than that the pizza was solid, with flavorful firm prawns and the aforementioned fresh-tasting tomato sauce. The spinach kind of blended into the background and was unevenly distributed, but being a vegetable nut I was happy it was there.
This picture kind of serves to illustrate the non-food reasons I love UNA. In addition to rotating artwork that at any time might picture, for example, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mural that stretches around the entire restaurant, they also play books on tape in the bathroom. On this particular visit it was Anthony Bourdain reading “No Reservations”. Service is unpretentious and competent, evidenced by the relatively creative dress code. Servers are clad in casual yet clean outfits that serve to create a style for the restaurant that is best described as “trendy”, whether or not you choose to view that descriptor as a positive one. If you are a Saturday Night Live fan you should also go look at the pictures they have on their bathroom doors.