Stepping out of our cars, my friends and I were greeted first with the toasty aroma of a wood fire followed by the yeasty scent of fresh bread. Cafe Caturra, only two weeks old, in Cameron Village is warm and inviting both from the outside and in. Large black umbrellas and wicker chairs line the exterior where diners munch thru pizzas and salads on the cobblestone sidewalks. The interior, laced with rich reds and stone tones, feels very lounge-ish with large velvet chairs and golden chandeliers.
Our first impression was one of mere confusion: this place is obviously very classy but are those checkout counters? Should we sit down or order like we’re at McDonalds? This confusion would last the rest of the evening, although the food came pretty close to helping us forget. A very friendly server asked us first if we would like something to drink. Cafe Caturra’s wine list is based on unusual, boutique wines served draught style such as a Vinho Verde from Portugal, Agiorgitiko from Greece, or my personal choice of a Primitivo from Puglia.
We received our beverages almost immediately and then were instructed to take a seat. We browsed the menu, an interesting collection of small to medium sized plates including crostini, sandwiches, personal pizzas, and wine fare. The so called Neo-Pizza’s are meant to resemble the thin, wood-fire charred pizzas of Napoli, the home of pizza as it were. Having been to Napoli and sampled a collection of the best pizzeria’s in the city I can attest to their authenticity: pretty close. Cafe Caturra uses a pizza dough shipped in from California, who in turn, uses water from New York to make their dough. Anyone who’s enjoyed Semolina Bread from New York can understand the need for such practices, and it’s obvious Cafe Caturra did its research. Happy as I was to hear of this imported dough, it seems far more troublesome than making the dough themselves, but that’s neither here nor there.
Having decided on our dinner options, our group sat confused once again. Should we get up and order or will someone come to the table? Another friendly server instructed us to leave the table and order at the counter. We got up, now waiting in line with other diners and recited our orders to a few new servers working the registers. We also had to tell them what our drink orders were (more confusion since we thought they had been rung up when we ordered them 10 minutes prior). We sat back down, mumbling our concerns to one another, and sipped our stellar wines for what felt like 5 minutes before the appetizers arrived. We may be puzzled, but damn it if that food didn’t come flying out of the kitchen. We shared a variety of crostini topped with tender beef and gorganzola, pimentos and mozzarella, and sundried tomatoes and goat cheese as well as a sampling of sliders each topped with a different cheese. Our favorite, however, was the large bowl of olives and almonds, a delightful contrast of flavors and textures I’d never experienced before.
As we passed dish after dish around the table, glasses filled constantly by the now-active table service, the pizzas and other mains began to arrive. Each pizza, roughly 10” wide, was served atop a wooden cutting board which made things casual and easy to sharde. The dough, although delicious, was thick like flat bread rather than light and crunchy like a Neopolitan pie. I chose the Margherita, the truly original pizza, with buffalo mozzarella, roma and golden tomatoes, basil and olive oil. The whole thing tasted very uncooked, from the cold diced tomatoes to the stingey layering of buffalo mozzarella (my favorite cheese on the planet). It was incredibly tasty, chewy dough and fruity tomatoes, but it could have been surreal with a little more attention to detail. My friends enjoyed wraps, soups, and other pizza choices with similar enthusiasm, except the Tarragon Tuna wrap which was a hit.
Overall the food was more than satisfying: interesting flavor combinations, beautifully executed plating, reasonable pricing, and impeccable table service (when we had it). That being said, the manner in which we ordered and our frustration on table etiquette has me questioning the thought process involved in Cafe Caturra’s organization? Counter-side ordering seems very fitting for the quick turnaround of the lunch crowd, but if I’m going to spend $20-30 on boutique wine, trendy appetizers, and heirloom pizzas I sure as hell expect a server to take my order as I sip my vino at the table. I especially don’t want to question whether it’s polite or not to ask the server for another drink or leave the table and order it myself. Where are we, Chipotle?
My initial review for this fun, cozy pizzeria serving better pizza than most in the comfort of Cameron Village was 3.5 stars. BUT, the drive-thru-esque ordering and unusual sequence of events (drinks-sit down-get up-sit down-tip?) left an unappealing taste in all of our mouths. Therefore, I feel it appropriate to give Cafe Caturra 3 stars, a more than satisfactory score considering they’ve only been open a couple weeks. I hope the terrific staff of Cafe Caturra understands my, and many other customers, concerns and updates the style of service accordingly.
What do you think of Cafe Caturra?
432 Woodburn Road
Raleigh, NC 27605
Hours of operation:
Mon., Tue., Wed., Thu. - 11 to 10
Fri. & Sat. - 11 to 11
Sun. - 11 to 9