Pulcinella used to be Stromboli’s, the type of Italian joint with red and white checkered tablecloths. Now, the family’s younger generation has turned it cool and chic – shiny white banquettes, oversized black and white photo boxes, and a $30,000 wood-burning oven made with stones from Mount Vesuvius.

We arrived on time for our dinner reservation, only to be met by a bit of confusion. The host eventually said our intended table was just getting their bill.

Fair enough. But there was no apology, no invitation to wait at the bar, no offer of something to tide us over. In fact, when the rest of our group of 7 arrived, we were rudely asked to move back even further into the waiting area – to make way for a walk-in couple.

Things got much better once we were seated. Our server was wonderful, patient, and friendly even though she had been working since 7 a.m. at her first job.

Pulcinella, Calgary

Pulcinella is one of only 20 restaurants outside of Italy that gets the stamp of approval from the Associazione Pizzaioli Napoletana, which stringently guards the historic Neopolitan pizza tradition.

The thumbs up is given after training with the group in Italy, and after it’s approved the restaurant blueprints and equipment lists. Flour and toppings have to pass the standards of Italian governing bodies. Them’s some hard core pizza rules.

Pulcinella, CalgarySo I’ll get right to it. Pizza from Napoli is thin-crust with a charring on the underside that’s supposed to add to the flavour. I love Pulcinella’s very fresh simple toppings, sauce of crushed tomatoes and the thin crust – but the burnt part I guess is an acquired taste.

The Quattro Stagioni ($15.95) has different toppings in each quarter of the pizza: mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, artichokes, anchovies, basil, and parmesan. We add grilled eggplant.

The ham is pedestrian but it’s because Christina and I thought we had ordered proscuitto for some reason. We keep looking over at Dave and Tara’s Crudo: mozzarella, cured proscuitto, parmesan, and basil.

The server graciously pities our pitiful proscuitto sad faces and brings us a side plate of the pork. It’s paper thin, and salty, and perfect.

Pulcinella, Calgary

The appetizers were quite unique. I liked the textures of my arancini ($11.95) – a ball of saffron infused arborio rice, stuffed with mozzarella, breaded and topped with fresh tomato sauce – and I was impressed by the tasty Campania buffalo mozzarella in the Caprese salad ($13.95).

Pulcinella, CalgaryChristina loved her fennel and blood orange salad ($11.95) with toasted walnuts drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

The wine list is exclusively Italian and very interesting. The room is laid-back enough for large groups but intimate enough for dates. But it’s hard to get over first impressions, so the proverbial jury is still out on Pulcinella.

But for our great server, and for the proscuitto, I’ll give Pulcinella another try.

UPDATE – August 2007: Yeah, Pulcinella’s pizza isn’t for me. I’d go back for drinks and appetizers if the service at front of house wasn’t so atrocious.

Pulcinella, 1147 Kensington Crescent NW, Calgary, (403) 283-1166. Menu here.

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