Proto's Pizzeria Napolentana 

Comfortably nestled in the heart of downtown Boise's new BoDo development, Proto's Pizzeria Napoletana offers a traditional Naples-style pie with all of the authentic flavors. Originally opened in Longmont, Colorado, in 1999, Proto's successfully established credibility with pizza connoisseurs and opened three more stores in that area. Seven years later, the owners decided that it was time to share their gift with the rest of the world and brought Proto's to Boise.

Upon entering what seemed to be the Boise version of Little Italy, we were quickly greeted and seated by the kind and accommodating staff. The restaurant has a warm and welcoming quality and radiates ambiance. We laughed at the playful title of the drink menu: Liquid Therapy. The amusement came to a halt, however, when we discovered that only four beers are offered on tap. But the extensive mixed drink and wine selection made up for it, and we decided that red wine would suffice.

The appetizer and salad menu is small but definitely not lacking substance. We decided to touch on my Italian roots and go with the savory panini and the tomato mozzarella salad. The panini is hot, fresh-baked bread infused with oregano and parmesan, served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and was outstanding. The tomato and mozzarella salad, which consists of fresh mozzarella, sliced red tomatoes and a tiny sprig of basil drizzled with olive oil and a balsamic reduction, was delicious as well. The portion of basil on the mozzarella salad could be more substantial, but it was still enjoyably consumed. There are 17 specialty pizzas on the menu, and after thoroughly reviewing the descriptions of all of them, everything sounded exceptional. After much deliberation, we decided to go with the Low Rider and the Pizza Margherita. The Low Rider is drizzled with house-made honey, tomato and chipotle sauce topped with bacon, cilantro, fresh pineapple and mozzarella. The Pizza Margherita offers San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella. Both pies are small for their price, but their taste deems gold-star status.

In addition to the traditional pizza toppings generally offered at pizza restaurants, Proto's menu also offers a variety of items such as portabella mushrooms, kalamata olives, capers, feta cheese, anchovies and fresh herbs, just to name a few. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are also strategically placed at each table, and we put them to good use by dipping our crusts in a combination of the two. Craving fresh seafood? Drop in to Proto's on a Friday and order one of their famous specialty clam pizzas. Pie prices depend on size--7-inch to 16-inch--and the crust is thin, the sauce is light, and the toppings are fresh. As our waiter explained to us, "It's how pizza is prepared in Italy." Skipping out on dessert is not advised, for the Tiramisu is some of the best I have ever sampled. Portion size compared to price is a little discouraging, but the robust flavors and the selection of specialty pizzas compensates for it. There seems to be an obvious focus on authenticity at Protos, and it's that type of effort that should be recognized.

--Lauren Tweedy takes her Italian roots very seriously.

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