All rise. OK—this is not a religious ceremony. But if things go right for the ambitious and fun-loving folks behind Rise + Roam, their new restaurant will answer pizza lovers’ prayers with a tasty style of pie not seen around these parts. And a flock of fans will be converted.
The key ingredients, from a practical perspective, include: 1) a well-established parent company that also runs Folktale Winery, Seventh & Dolores and Pacific Bowls & Rolls; 2) a gifted and experienced pizza maestro in executive chef Aaron Rayor, whose past stops include award-winning Cantinetta Luca in Carmel, celebrated Bestia in Los Angeles and farm-driven hit Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York; and 3) a 3,500-square foot, strategic and freshly reinvented location on the outside corner of Carmel Plaza (in the former 400 Degrees).
Rayor has been in the kitchen for months working religiously on his doughs, breads and pastries. His most consuming and fundamental passion is perfecting his super-old-school and uber-Italian sourdough starter, or pasta madre, with monk-like focus. It’s a notoriously needy type of starter to work with. Per Rayor, it has to be fed three times a day, kept at a steady 80 degrees and maintain a rapid rate of growth, with a precise pH of 4.1. Pasta Madre will be the foundation for everything from the pizzas to the laminated pastries to the brioches at Rise + Roam. Slow fermentation deepens the flavor, and commercial yeast is not invited to the service. Rayor adds chefs rarely know the bare basics of the process, unless they’ve interned with a master.
“I like that kind of stuff, challenges where you can learn and grow,” he says. “It’s a different type of fermentation. After making salumes and being very technical and holding true to what [different products] are supposed to be, I enjoy it.”
Folktale VP of Culinary & Hospitality Todd Fisher, who oversees the various restaurant projects of the group, has been checking in on the lab. “Aaron got the recipe on the dark web,” he says, laughing.
Two more important elements with Rise + Roam will make mouths water and work as differentiators in a perennially competitive category: its Roman style and metered portion sizing.
The majority of Italian-style pizzerias lean toward Neapolitan. The Roman approach (while it varies in thickness depending on the style) often creates a thinner hand-stretched crust with a crisper edge—“almost cracker-like,” Fisher says—with a light and fluffy center buoyed by a lot of air bubbles. Toppings are often added after the base crust with sauce and extra virgin olive oil emerges from a high-temperature oven. (The pan-style Roman pizza is thicker but still has a very airy focaccia body; the R+R oven is a massive beast imported from Sweden and being installed this month.)
Roman-style pizza is growing in popularity, with sizzling outposts in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. It was added as a division at the International Pizza Challenge at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas just this year. Fisher happened to attend and felt his hope for a Monterey County version intensify as he encountered purveyor after purveyor doing old and new takes on Roman.
At the same time, he knew there were no outlets anywhere near here. (Unscientific research reveals Roman pizza reaches to Berkeley in the north and L.A. to our south.)
“You have to commit to a different style, and there’s a level of security in what people think of as pizza, and staying safe with that,” he says. “It’s kinda scary that Carmel could be on a wave rather than behind it!”
The working menu, which will be finalized as the opening arrives in a month or so, includes: broccoli de Cicco, artichoke, fontina and fennel sausage; San Marzano tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella; pepperoni; quattro formaggi bianco and verde; prosciutto, mushrooms, sage, marsala and provolone; and mortadella, mozzarella, red peppers and pistachios.
Rise + Roam will invite eaters to order the rectangular pizzas by length—quarter meter, half meter, full meter, $9, $18 and $33, respectively—and serve it with outsized scissors, as they do in the old country.
Antipasti, appetizers and salads will also appear on the menu. The neighboring bakery will eventually sell the thicker Roman style by the slice, along with laminated pastries, breads and other treats from Rayor, who is a trained pastry chef.
Folktale hospitality group marketing manager Savanna Leigh has been to Italy enough to know she’s semi-obsessed with the Roman take on pizza, and is stoked on R+R as a result.
“I’m most excited to have an awesome lunch place in Carmel that gives us regular access to this pizza I’ve had a taste of and really love,” she says. “Nothing locally scratches that itch for me.”