Monday, July 20, 2009

NYC Pizza (food)

I decided to try out a couple more highly regarded NYC pizza places.

Artichoke Pizza (1st Ave 14th St)

Artichoke Pizza is a relatively new slice joint that has gotten comparisons to Di Fara. Opened less than two years, it's gotten quite a following and very good reviews. First, I had the sicilian slice. This was excellent, and as close to Di Fara as I've had anywhere. This was definitely better than any other silician or grandma slice I've had although I still can't say that it beat Di Fara's square slice. They use a similar, if not the same, type of pan for it, creating a brilliant blackened crust that has no taste of being burnt.

I also had the signature artichoke and spinach slice. This was not for me. This was not a red sauce pizza with artichoke and spinach as toppings. Rather, it was more like the ubiquitous spinach and artichoke dip put on round pizza dough. It wasn't bad, but to me paled in comparison to the sicilian slice. The good thing about this slice is that it is huge. One slice will easily feed two people.

The prices aren't bad either, with the artichoke slice at $4 and the sicilian slice at $3.50. There are many places to get quality pizza in NYC. However, it is very hard to find quality slices. This is a quality slice joint and I'd be much happier walking down to first avenue to get their sicilian slice than making the trek out to Di Fara and then still having to wait.

Una Pizza Napoletana (1st Ave 12th St)

There's a wide range of opinion on the pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana. Most of the criticism tends to deal with the price and lack of value. People were complaining back when it was $17/pie (it's quite a small pie, around 10-12 inches), and now it's $21/pie. Yet that doesn't seem to keep it from being busy. I got there at around 6:30pm on a weeknight and there was already a line of about 8 people. Because I was by myself, I managed to squeeze into a seat in the small restaurant. The place seats about 30 and most of the restaurant has a view of the pizzaiolo.

Much has been made about the owner/pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri. He is the only one there allowed to make the pizza, and there's even been a short documentary made about him video here. There are only 4 types of pizza, no substitutions, no plates for sharing, and they close when they run out of dough. I decided to go there because word had appeared on serious eats that Mangieri was thinking about selling and starting a new place in Jersey or San Francisco.

I ordered the margherita, with San Marzano tomatoes, mozarella di bufala, EVOO, fresh basil, and seasalt, and waited patiently. As you know, I love to watch a master craftsman at work, so even though the place was a bit cramped, I stood in the middle of the restaurant to watch Mangieri do his thing. There was not much to the pizza making itself. He simply stretched the prepared dough, added a ridiculously thin layer of tomato sauce, added the cheese, basil, salt, and finished it with olive oil. What happens after the pizza goes into the oven, however, is spectacular. The chef works each pizza, spinning it around constantly, moving it to different parts of the oven, lifting it up toward to the roof of the oven and down, all to ensure the desired spread of heat on the pizza.

The pizza arrived hot and bubbling. There were a couple of charred blisters around the crust (tasteless burnt carbon, not like the tasty char on bbq), but nowhere near enough to ruin the pizza. The pizza is not cut, and you are given a fork and a serated knife. After I cut into it and had a few bites, I felt that I "got it". If you eat this and don't understand why people say it's one of the best pizzas in NYC, you don't get it. If you cut it into quarters so that you can hold it in your hand like a slice of pizza, you don't get it. If you complain that the pizza is limp and not crisp, you don't get it. This is not so much a pizza, in the way that we usually use that term, as it is a bread steak. Yes, a well-seasoned filet mignon of bread that is enhanced by its toppings.

When you get a bite that has a little of everything - the thinner dough in the middle, the thicker dough on the crust, the sauce, the olive oil, the basil, the cheese - it's amazing. Are there enough of these bites to make it worth $21? Not really. But then again, I understand that I'm paying for the chef's passion and technique. I think that it's a unique taste experience that's harder to replicate than one would assume. I definitely recommend giving the place a try, but there's no guarantee that you'll "get it" the way I think I "got it". As I walked out, the line now had about 20+ people and one of the two servers had to come outside and give people plastic cups of water on the warm evening.

UPDATE: It's been confirmed that Mangieri has sold and is moving to the west coast. A branch of Brooklyn-based Motorino (also with good reviews) will open in its place.


amedemonet said...

I hope he is moving to SF.

The Pretender said...

He's still tempted to stay in NJ. I thought there were a bunch of good pizza places and good neapolitan pizza out there in SF. Certainly I can imagine it being better in SF with fresh local ingredients.