I've been putting together some thoughts on what FinTech can learn from some of the apps I use most frequently. For thoughts on Fitstar (the product, the business model, the opportunities) and what FinTech should learn, click here. Let me know what you think!
I was in SF for a wedding this weekend and had a free morning so I decided to try out another highly regarded Neapolitan pizza place. After checking Google and Yelp, I settled on A16, an Italian place with a wood fired oven in the Marina District of SF.
The name of the restaurant refers to a central highway which runs along a region in Italy that is only now becoming well known for their wine. Accordingly, they have an expansive wine list at seemingly reasonable prices.
I didn't try the wine though. I was here for the pizza.
Tasting Notes: A16
- + The crust was very good. It might need a little more salt, but it was overall excellent.
- + The pie was served whole, with super sharp shears that you can use to cut the pie. Neat touch.
- + Cheese and basil were neither good nor bad, just fine.
- - The sauce was so, so, so tart. Offensively so. Really unpleasant.
Overall: The sauce ruined a good pie. With an average sauce, A16 was looking at a 3 or maybe 4 star rating. As it was, it deserves 2/5.
On the way back to my AirBnB, we happened to drive through a food truck event in the Presidio. When I saw the Del Poppolo truck, I asked my Lyft driver if he wouldn't mind pulling over for 2 minutes for me to check it out. The Del Poppolo truck is the most beautiful food truck I've ever seen. Truly spectacular. I didn't have a chance to try a pie at the truck, but if it's anything like the pies in their B&M store, I bet it's excellent.
Way back in 2008, I remember stumbling on a pizza blog. But this was no regular blog; it was written by Jeff Varasano, a child rubix-cube prodigy who had created the most maniacally detailed recipe for pizza dough that you've ever seen. He went to Italy, became a certified pizzaiolo, and then returend to his home in Atlanta to open his own restaurant.
One thing you'll notice is that his recipe calls for a supremely hot oven. He describes that he used a pair of garden shears to clip the lock off his oven so he could cook pies on oven cleaning mode. He's really, really into pizza. When I was told I had to go to Atlanta for work, I knew immediately that I'd make time to go to the eponymous restaurant to taste this incredible dough.
The first thing I noticed when I went to his Buckhead location was that he used a gas oven. Yes, a gas oven. Apparently, the restaurant had changed locations and switched from a wood to a gas burning oven. The temperature gauge was sitting at 371C (about 700F) which is the upper end of a gas oven, and way lower than what Jeff was cooking with at home.
My heart sank, I grabbed a drink, and steeled myself for what may come.
Varasano's tasting notes:
- + Sauce was sweet (maybe too sweet)
- + Cheese was the perfect texture, and had great flavor
- + The portions were huge for a Neapolitan place
- - The crust was bland. Read that again. The crust was bland. Forgiving the texture is one thing given the oven temperature. But the lack of flavor in the crust was a mortal sin.
- - The pie came pre-loaded with Parmesan all over it. This is unforgivable.
Overall grade: B-/C+ (2 stars)
After that disappointing experience, I went to another spot that my friends told me was far better than Varasano's. Antico Pizza Napoletana was a cool spot, with a wood oven! When I was looking at the pies, the ovens, the folks preparing the pies, I got really excited!
Then the food came out.
- + Sauce was good, but could stand to be both a bit saltier and sweeter
- + The cheese was good, but also could be a bit more flavorful
- - There was Parmesan all over the pie before it came out. What is this Atlanta madness?
- - Uh... there were some inconsistencies from slice to slice. You may notice that nearly half the pie is missing sauce, cheese, and basil!
Overall grade: on the parts with sauce/cheese/basil: B. On the parts that were glorified bread sticks: D. Overall grade: C (2 stars).
I was out in San Jose a little while ago, and of course had to check out the pizza scene. The pickings seemed slim based on what I read on Yelp and Dr. Google, but I found a place that looked promising.
Pizza Bocca Lupo is based in an upscale food court-ish area in the center of San Jose. In the back was a small, wood-fired pizza place that seemed really promising!
- + Crust had great texture; even though it looks dry, it was actually nicely chewy
- + The sauce was excellent. It was sweet, with the tiniest kick at the end. Great
- - Despite having a great texture, the crust was bland.
Overall, it was a good visit! The place is worth a visit if you happen to find yourself in San Jose. A solid B choice (3 stars).
Lydia and I recently had a chance to visit Barcelona, and as is my custom, I identified the few places I would want to try Neapolitan pizza. Somewhat surprisingly, pizza is widely available. It mainly seems to be catering toward tourists rather than locals, but there are shops offering pizza and pasta on nearly every major block.
In the end, I identified two places that I wanted to go to: Reina Pizzeria Napoletana Margherita and N.A.P. (which has two locations).
On our first night there, we went to Reina Pizzeria, a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza place (interestingly, we only saw wood or deck ovens, no coal apparently due to EU Regs). Overall, it was quite good!
RPNM tasting notes:
- + great sauce. It was salty and a bit sweet.
- + the crust was chewy, but had a good char.
- + appropriate amount of cheese!
- - the pizza was a bit watery at first, possibly due to the cheese or the sauce. Once it settled, the texture was far better.
- - the crust was a little bland. It could have used more salt.
- - I would have preferred more basil.
Overall grade: a solid B. A very good place, in a convenient location, with cheap beer!
After RPNM, we intended to go to NAP Mar to do a direct comparison, but it was closed for the day. So we went to NAP Antic near the Picasso Museum the following day. And, boy, this place was spectacular. It's a tiny, tiny place (can maybe fit 30 people), but the beer was cheap, the beer was good, and the pizza was truly excellent.
NAP Antic tasting notes:
- + Perhaps the best crust I've ever had. This competes with Settebello, Il Cane Rosso, and the Brooklyn Pizzerias. Fluffy, chewy, flavorful. Truly excellent.
- + The sauce was also excellent. It was a bit sweet, but not overpowering.
- + Great proportions of cheese and basil.
- - The pizza was a TINY bit watery, but this is a reach.
Overall grade: This is right on the border of an A/A-. It was truly excellent.
I had the chance to interview Aaron Frank and Ben Apel for Wharton FinTech's podcast. Aaron is the CEO of a super interesting startup called Final. I've been tracking them for nearly 2 years now, so it was a treat to get to interview them.
As I wrote on LinkedIn, if you like FinTech, and you appreciate mediocre audio quality, this is the podcast for you!
I just finished up a post based on some conversations I had at Finovate last week. In trying to understand why startups are so much more likely to invent new experiences, I came across a (possibly terrible) analogy that I loved.
The show promises to "pit facts against everything else" and demystify a variety of topics. So far, they've covered fracking, attachment parenting, and gun violence. The first of two gun-focused episodes is below.
I've given three episodes a listen, and I don't think I'll be going back for a fourth. The show is interesting, but it's in this weird middle ground: not quite analytical/rigorous enough for me to trust the sources (though they do provide extensive citations on the website), but not quite emotional enough to keep me engaged.
If you're looking for an overview of the topics to research on a given topic, Science Vs. is a good start, but it falls short of really teaching me something new. Also, in the episode above, the host said "backslash" when she meant "front slash" when describing a URL. Yuck.
I opened a checking account with Santander about a year ago for two reasons: 1) they were paying me $20 a month to do so, and 2) I wanted to compare their account experience (opening, usage, mobile/web, etc.) to Capital One's.
Unsurprisingly, they killed their Extra20 product and the benefits will be changing in ~2 months. Bank strategists and marketers have a few lessons to learn from this ill-fated product.
Read more about it here, on Medium.
Over the past several months, I've been networking with people across the FinTech industry. One of my favorite "stump speeches" is on the future of banks. Long-story short: banks have a choice to either innovate their way out of the trap they're in, or they can embrace it and change their business model.
Both paths have their challenges, but I don't think they'll have time to wait. They need to make a choice.
For the short-story long, click here.