Pizza. Pizzapizzapizzapizzapizza. Peeettzzzah. Pizzapizza.
Anyone who’s been eating in Las Vegas remembers a time, not all that long ago, when there were slim pickings for good pizza. Oh sure, the brewpub style spots here and there had their charms, but no one would make any claims that they could rival New York or Chicago.
Then along came the Vera Napoletana-certified Settebello, disproving the notion that the desert couldn’t make legit pies, and perhaps more influentially, The Cosmopolitan’s double-whammy New York style “Secret” pizza spot and Napoletana D.O.C.G. Now, with Due Forni, Five50, Pizza Rock, Dom DeMarco’s, Pop-Up Pizza, Radio City, and more coming (800 Degrees from LA and Flour & Barley from the guys behind Holstein’s and The Barrymore are just two announced for 2014). Pizzamania ‘13 is seriously threatening to dwarf the Great Burger Bonanza of 2012.
Am I complaining? Not on your life.
Wild, which opened at the beginning of October in The Ogden building downtown, is another pizza-centric spot, but with a distinct difference. Imported from New York by entrepreneur Miki Agrawal at the request of the Zappomeister Tony Hsieh himself, Wild offers exclusively gluten-free vegan crust and mostly vegan (the exceptions are obvious), dominantly local, seasonal, organic, antibiotic/hormone-free ingredients. This certainly isn’t the only spot in town to incorporate some or all of these - the menu and website don’t specify which local farms are sources yet - but it’s still rare to have a place where the directives cover the entire menu, for those who need or want them.
Despite what Wild and others claim, from my experience, you have to measure your expectations when it comes to gluten-free pizza dough. After all, it’s the wheat gluten in particular that gives 00-flour crust that irresistible combination of crispy and chewy. Whatcha gonna do? Many gluten-free recipes, typically based on rice flour with other starches like tapioca and potato, can come out too chewy, are gummy or raw-tasting. But others are quite good, just different.
Wild’s falls into the second category, pressed freehand into an uneven oblong, somewhere between rustic New Haven style and “flatbread,” with a cracker-like consistency that at times reminded me of Roman pizza or New Jersey bar pies. We got the chicken tikka masala topping, which came out bright orange, accented by aged mozzerella shreds and chunks of chicken. It had a warm spice to it but was a bit restrained in overall flavor.
The rest of the lunch that I shared with a friend on a quiet midweek afternoon recently could pretty much be described the same way. Creamless corn chowder was closer to a homemade minestrone in consistency, full of rough-cut veggies, just a little oily with a mild hint at more Indian spice. We enjoyed it, but calling it chowder is confusing.
A kale salad with smoked tofu and edamame had a nice fresh balance of textures and subtle flavors, brightened by a lemony dressing, but kale is a hearty green and ought to be chopped finer so the diner doesn’t feel like a goat gnawing away at it.
The wild mushroom herb pasta came as a big bowl of cut spaghetti, sauteed button, shitake and portobello slices, tossed with garlic and oil and covered in some fresh spring mix. It was definitely a “comforting” bowl, but also something I could’ve thrown together at home. We dumped all the grated Parmesan on the table in it, and it was still plain.
I thought prices were reasonable, especially considering the quality of ingredients. Wild’s atmosphere is particularly, and appealingly, unVegasy, the raw space accented by raw wood communal tables, art and signage promoting both social interaction and positive statements.
Unless you’re the type to roll your eyes at such sentiments, you can’t help but smile and take them as part of the experience, and an opportunity to open conversations with your neighbors (“don’t be creepy” advises the “How To Be Wild” card on every table).
The bar is well stocked with premium spirits. Signature cocktails looked relatively interesting, but at $12-$14 each, maybe just a little steep. Everyone in downtown has stiff competition when Velveteen Rabbit’s creative $8 drinks are some of the best in town.
Beer selection is good, and reasonably priced. Wines are somewhat limited and not particularly impressive (Why not an entirely organic and/or unfiltered list?). Still, as the only bar in the Ogden, they have something of a captive audience.
There is a separate smoothie counter near the front door and a brunch menu on weekends. I didn’t get to try either, but both menus show some originality. According to the website, they also offer a meal delivery service based on dietary goals, and pizzamaking classes.
Wild is the sort of place I found myself wanting to like a lot, just for its spirit and intentions. We didn’t hate our meal, but it fell pretty far short of “love,” too. If Agrawal can find a cook as passionate about executing her food as she is about her principles, she’ll have great success.
Count me among the hopeful.