When Pizza Vinoteca first announced plans to open a location in Ballston, the then-New York restaurant boasted digital kiosks and iPads on every table for placing orders and even controlling the pace of the meal.
But when it opens Thursday at 800 N. Glebe Road, the grilled pizza and wine restaurant will have none of that stuff. Diners will get paper menus.
The New York location closed a few weeks ago. CEO Ari Malcolm says that restaurant was trying to do much at once, and the takeout, dine-in hybrid proved confusing. "We had guests who didn't even know that we did takeout because it looked like a restaurant only," he says. The Union Square locale and the design also didn't explain what the place was all about. "It looked like this really fancy pizza concept when in actuality, the prices that we're charging and the style that we're trying to convey, it's a casual place." The Arlington location will focus on dine-in only.
Malcolm also says the technology had limitations. For example, the iPads didn't allow guests to communicate allergies to the kitchen. It also sometimes complicated the ordering process rather than simplifying it. "I was thinking, 'I want to order a martini.' You have to go through nine buttons," he says. "It came down to what does a guest really want? After the novelty wears off, it's like, 'No, I just want to order my food. I don't to have to spend time and energy and effort learning how this works when it's easier to say to a human being, 'I want a Grey Goose up twist.'"
The gadgetry also overshadowed the food and drinks. "Most of our pre- and our post-opening press in New York focused solely on design and technology and very little with the food," Malcolm says. "I actually think the food was the most interesting part of the concept."
So about that food: Pizza Vinoteca specializes in thin rectangular pizzas cooked on a custom-made 900-degree Jade Range grill with 16 burners, infrared heat, and three wood chip smoke boxes. (They haven't ditched all the technology, after all.) "You get smoke, you get crisp, you get char," Malcolm says. "But you also have some bite and some chew."
The menu is divided into "simple & classic" pies like pepperoni and eggplant and "modern" creations like nduja meatball with kale pesto and "jowlciale" (pork jowl) with spicy chili pesto, pistachios, and honey. A Hawaiian pizza gets fancy, with fresh pineapple roasted with vanilla-caramel and sherry, domestic prosciutto, pickled Fresno peppers, chili oil, and arugula. Many of the non-pizza entrees and starters also get the grill treatment. (Check out the full menu below.)
The Pizza Vinoteca team tried more than 2,000 wines to come up with its 36-wine list. The offerings are divided by colors including "garnet," "amber," "gold," and "plum." Each category comes with a descriptor like this one: "The wines pizza pizza loves—these plump juicy reds are tomatoes' best friends." The wine is kept in an argon gas-fueled preservation and dispensing system so that it stays fresh longer. All glasses are $10 or less and also available in half pours. The restaurant uses funky looking "swirl glasses" (see above) ideal for swirling your wine without spilling it.
The restaurant also has three custom-made bottles of soda made with organic cane sugar but less sweet than Coke or Sprite. They come in flavors like "Peel" with blood orange, kumquat, yuzu, ginger, and mint as well as "Kola" with maraschino to give it a hint of cherry flavor.
Malcolm hasn't completely given up on electronic ordering systems, but he thinks the current technology available to restaurants would work better for a fast casual concept. And it just so happens that Pizza Vinoteca is looking to open a grab-and-go version of the restaurant in the D.C. area, assuming all goes well in Ballston.
"Technology is definitely going to be something that becomes much more prevalent in restaurants, whether they're fancy or casual. I just think it makes sense for efficiency, for time, for labor," Malcolm says. "But we're not there yet."
Pizza Vinoteca, 800 N. Glebe Road, Arlington; (703) 567-5797; pizzavinoteca.com