Sotto's precarious installation of an imported-from-Italy Stefano Ferrara oven, an odyssey that involved a crane and a couple hundred pounds of Vesuvian dirt, was a sight to behold (and a foreshadowing of LACMA's Levitated Mass transport). When the restaurant opened last year, chefs Zach Pollack and Steve Samson were lauded for their rough-and-ready Southern Italian fare, and rightfully so — but these dudes hail from Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, the place that O.C. residents gloat about whenever the topic of superior pizza arises. Their pies at Sotto, while great from day one, have actually improved over time (ovens often take time to “wear in”). The chewy crust has that signature leopard spotting — blackened in parts, with an inkling of crispness and a slightly damp center. Like Thelonious Monk or the Mona Lisa, the perfection is in the imperfections. There is the aroma of burnt wood and the mild tang of long-risen yeast. The oozing combination of house-cured pork cheek, gooey ricotta, scallions and a thick dusting of fennel pollen should be accompanied by cherubs humming “Tarantella.” Can a pizza be described as soulful? The Margherita, heavily perfumed with basil and olive oil, is probably one of the most soulful things in town. This is hard-nosed Neapolitan pizza in its most unfettered and glorious state. If you have leftovers, you're doing it wrong. 9575 Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson. (310) 277-0210, sottorestaurant.com.
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