Friday, July 01, 2005

Restaurant 46: Una Pizza Napoletana

RESTAURANT: Una Pizza Napoletana
LOCATION: 349 E 12th St
DATE: June 26, 2005
FOOD: Margherita Pizze: San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, sea salt
BEVERAGE: Lemon-lime Italian Soda
PRICE: $24.00

THE MISSION

“Pizza – a word known all over the world, from New York City to Los Angeles, from Paris to Tokyo. It is a word used to describe many products; deep-dish, cracker thin, stuffed crust, etc. However, the meaning of the word “pizza” has been misunderstood and misrepresented over the years. Pizza only means one thing. It is Neapolitan – the word, the definition, the product. The word is a slang Neapolitan pronunciation of the word “pita”. The history of pizza possibly can be traced back to the very beginnings of man and fire. Certainly, the pizza eaten today in the backstreets of Napoli is linked directly to the flat bread baked in Pompeii 2,000 years ago. This said, all the square, round, thick, stuffed and over-topped pieces of dough may be to your liking, but don’t call it pizza.”

THE MAN

Anthony Mangieri is passionate about pizza. His arms covered like a canvas with tattoos in place of Botticelli’s Venus, Mangieri is perhaps the most devoted pizza chef one could ever hope to meet. Though to call him a chef is unfair. If food can be art, then Mangieri is the consummate representation of an artist. To say his pizzas are made with care is a drastic understatement. His is a labor of love, and every savory bite of his pizzas testifies to his unwavering integrity.

Rare is it when a restaurant covers their menu with a food philosophy, but rarer still is when this philosophy means a condemnation of 99% of the other food called by the same name. But at Mangieri’s Una Pizza Napoletana, only true, Napoli style pizza is served in just four varieties. Baked in a brick oven starting at five pm and going until the dough runs out, Thursday through Sunday, Mangieri provides diner’s with an incorruptible view of commitment and dedication – not to mention, the most outstanding pizza outside of Italy. The entire menu details each of the pizza ingredient’s history, from the crushed wheat used in the crust, to the freshness Mangieri requires in his buffalo cheese, to the his finely selected sea salt. When eating at Una Pizza, you know you’re eating only the highest standard ingredients. Mangieri doesn’t cut corners – the results of this are obvious in his pizza’s sublime taste.

As the above menu excerpt shows, the pizza at Una Pizza’s (don’t you dare mix it up with Uno’s) is a very specific breed. Unlike more bastardized American forms, Una Pizza serves only Italian pizza. Outside of tomatoes, cheese, salt, garlic and basil, there are no other toppings. Asking for pepperoni here would be like the monks who blaspheme God in the presence of Pope John in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (review coming soon). You just don’t do it.

Yet, calling Mangieri the “Pizza Nazi” would be inaccurate and unjust. He cooks not out of anger, but because he wants to offer New Yorkers a chance to enjoy true pizza. Truly, we should all thank him for allowing us the opportunity.


THE PIZZA

Mangieri only makes whole pies. Not only does he not offer individual slices, he does not even slice the pizza at all. Diners are provided with a fork and knife and can do their own cutting. As Mangieri tells us in the menu, this is the way pizza is served in Italy and thus the way it is served at Una Pizza as well.

If Domino’s and Pizza Hut are not just palatable but downright delicious to you, avoid Una Pizza. During my visit, there was a family with many children harassing the already taxed waiter. Their requests for toppings and extra large pizzas seemed entirely inappropriate. Their parents would have been better served taking them down the street to get a slice from Nino’s. Una Pizza’s pizza requires an attuned appreciation. This isn’t Digornio, this isn’t Papa John’s. The pizzas are fairly, if somewhat under-priced at $17 each. The cost is admittedly abnormal, but undeniably worth every penny. But the cost is something to keep in mind when you choose a dining companion. As a word of advice, make sure you go with someone who won’t find the price-tag shocking and will appreciate the very best. You wouldn’t take a lover of Mad Dog to the Napa Valley now would you?

Danny and I both ordered the Margherita pizza. When the pizza arrived, I was first struck by its uncomplicated exquisiteness. Leaves of basil circle around the pizza’s center loose and beautiful. Clouds of cheese partially cover a crushed tomato surface that is at once rustic and refined. And finely, there is the crust with its edges slightly blackened from the brick oven. Thin, but not wafer-like, the crust forms an imperfect round, a reminder that the dough is handmade and each pizza made to order. In appearance, it harkens the Italian flag.

As for the taste, there is no equal. Di Fara’s serves a completely different style, while DeNino’s, though similar, still doesn’t match Una Pizza. A bite incorporating all the ingredients, basil, olive oil, tomatoes, salt, cheese, and crust, is enough to leave one speechless. The freshness and purity of the ingredients is evident in every chew. The crust is masterful, the work of a genius, somehow managing to be thick enough to avoid ever becoming soggy, while still maintaining the slimness required by Mangieri’s adopted food-view. Amazingly, it’s soft, tender interior is surrounded by a crisp outside providing the perfect level of chewy pliancy. Imagine your favorite bagel. Una Pizza’s crust is superior. But it’s not one single part of the pizza that makes it so astounding. It’s the harmonious interplay and cohesiveness of the sum of all the parts. The basil tastes like it came straight from the garden. The sea salt is coarse and loud, blending perfectly with the polished silkiness of the extra virgin olive oil. The olive oil is as pure as any I’ve tasted. Then there is the cheese – Artisinal could not offer you a superior. It melted without any signs of stringiness, becoming almost like cream when it entered my mouth. And finally the ripe tomatoes, pert and robust, bursting with a summer flavor that is the essence of Italy. Each of these ingredients would be immensely satisfying on their own – together, they are a vision of heaven here on earth.

I visited Una Pizza on Sunday. Every day since, the pizza has been on my mind, provoking my thoughts like an intricately plotted novel or film. My plate was left completely clear – I found every last drop of oil with my crust. Una Pizza hasn’t ruined all other pizza for me. Instead, it has only sparked my desire to learn more – and to travel to Italy as soon as possible. I can now rest assured that I have had the best pizza in New York. The world needs more people like Anthony Mangieri, willing to make art wherever possible. Una Pizza is no museum, but the pizza is certainly worthy of being commemorated for all eternity.

RATING: 10/10

2 comments:

tara said...

How gorgeous that is! Question, you mention that they serve four different kinds of pizza - do you remember the other three?

Rockefeller said...

The four types are: Marinara (tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, garlic, basil, salt); Margherita; Bianco (mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, basil, salt); Filetti (tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, basil, salt)