Simplicity — in food or fashion — requires courage and a pitch perfect understanding of what’s essential. At Bufalina, there are no wrong moves — owner Steven Dilley and his staff serve up a Platonian ideal of pizza, expertly fired in a wood-burning oven from Italy. There are fewer than ten pizzas on the menu, a couple of deceptively simple salads, housemade mozzarella, two desserts, and an artfully curated selection of wine and beer. The pizza crust (and any Neopolitan pizzaiolo will tell you it’s all about the crust) exhibits the complex flavors and chewy character of a long, slow rise, something that is simply impossible to rush. Creamy, chewy, and airy all at once, with bubbles of bitter, smoky char from the fire, a good pizza dough stands on its own, and I’d put Bufalina’s right up there with the best I’ve ever had.
*photography by Thomas Winslow
I own and help run Bufalina. At night, alongside a very talented team, I primarily fire pies and keep an eye on the dining room. Days are filled with standard restaurant maintenance: bookkeeping, meetings, orders, inventory, wine list and menu updates, and various other bits of paperwork and restaurant side projects.
If you weren’t firing pizzas at Bufalina, what would you be doing?
Surely something else that I’m not remotely qualified to do.
Favorite food and drink pairing:
Manzanilla and an assortment of really good tapas. Chorizo, olives, some percebes and Joselito Gran Reserva Bellota, if we’re lucky.
Favorite quickly assembled appetizer:
Something out of a bag. Possibly pork skins.
If you could pass on one trick or technique to a new cook, what would it be?
Taste, taste, taste. Learn what properly seasoned food tastes like and season accordingly. You’ll never achieve balanced cooking otherwise.
Laphroaig 10 year old, neat, with a tiny splash of water.
Zuni. Lots of great lessons for the home cook. Especially when it comes to seasoning.
Your favorite food businesses in Austin:
I’m a big fan of Flat Track Coffee. It reminds me a bit of Bufalina: minimalist setting, a focus on doing one thing and doing it right. You walk in, and there’s an espresso machine, some beans, and not much else. They pull a great shot.
One cooking tool you can’t live without:
10” chef’s knife.
What makes a meal romantic?
The right partner.
Favorite fall meal:
I don’t eat as much meat as I used to, but this time of year I always crave short ribs. Simply braised with aromatics, red wine, and high-quality stock. I’ll strain and reduce the braising liquid to almost a glaze. Some Robuchon-style potatoes. Vegetables roasted until they’re nicely caramelized. A large salad. And hopefully something from the Northern Rhone… a Cornas or Côte Rôtie. Salt and Time has been selling some amazing short ribs recently.
Where do you get culinary inspiration?
All over the place. From traveling and eating. From cookbooks and online forums. From talking to others. From my staff. From Kevin, our chef. From the changing seasons and local markets. Prior to traveling, I spend a ridiculous amount of time researching and editing the dining itinerary.
Your favorite ingredient:
Really good, well-balanced olive oil. Something fresh from Liguria.
What does the table look like when you host a dinner party?
When I have guests over, I like to interact and eat and drink wine, rather than spend much time in the kitchen. So dishes are normally family-style. Usually a charcuterie spread, some bread and various snacks. Hopefully some good Riesling. Followed by something I can prepare ahead of time, like a lasagna Bolognese. And a large salad that I can put together at the last minute. Hopefully followed by some runny cheese and more wine.
Tell us a little about your journey to get where you are today:
Other than a love of food and wine, nothing in particular led directly to Bufalina. I was lucky enough to have a job that allowed me to cook in a non-professional environment for several hours a day for over a decade. Five or six years ago, I started experimenting more with pizza, and when the time came for a career change, I decided to give it a shot.
Kitchen Inspirations :: Zucchini Pizza with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Pesto
When you can’t get into Bufalina, here’s a recipe for pizza night at home that honors the Bufalina ideals of simplicity and high quality ingredients.
click here for Elizabeth’s Zucchini Pizza with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Pesto recipe
See more of Elizabeth’s work on Making Groceries