Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Una Pizza Napoletana
Imagine the best possible pizza and Una Pizza Napoletana is ten times better. It leaves you craving your next pizza and panicing as you realize that it will be at least 24 hours--even as you're eating one of their pies.
I first learned of UPN through a video on Chowhound. Anthony Mangieri--the owner--rants about his dedication to the art of a true pizza, why all pizzerias in New York stink, and why he doesn't take Napoletan pizza makers in America seriously. His confidence comes across as cocky but something about him made me a believer. On my recent trip to New York, I made sure to visit his pizzeria to see if it he deserved the confidence.
Una Pizza Napoletana is located at 12th street and 1st avenue. I've spoken to many people who claim that as their old neighborhood and have never heard of it. The unassuming facade doesn't look like anything special. There isn't a line out the door and the small dining room is rather indistinguishable from nearby restaurants. It would be easy to pass by it daily and never notice it: Easy and sad because it might be the best pizza in the country.
There are only four pizzas on the menu and no build-your-own option. The toppings range between four and six simple ingredients. Varying combinations of San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh garlic, fresh basil, sea salt, buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomatoes make up all four pizzas. Mangieri argues that each pizza has been calibrated to a perfect balance and adding more options would make his quality slip. It's hard to argue when you taste what he has done.
Each pizza is unique in shape and appearance. The wood-burning oven with its hot spots and fluctuating temperature gives each pizza its own personality. This isn't to say that the pizzas are inconsistent; Mangieri's loving attention proves to be highly consistent. I ordered the Filetti (Fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, sea salt) and after a tortuous wait that involved watching everyone else but me get a pizza, my pie arrived. With the first bite, all of my impatience vaporized. My experience was hard to describe then and now: While I was eating it, I couldn't pin down definite characteristics or tastes. Everything reached a level of harmony that was greater than the sum of the parts. I don't remember ingredients: I remember the pizza.
I've read some reviews online where people complain of how moist each pizza is and how it is almost soggy in the middle. First off, how did they eat it so slowly that they allowed it to become soggy? Second, did they taste the pizza nectar that was the juice? I ended up saving a piece of the crust to sop up the juice at the end. As the pizza quickly disappeared from my plate, it occured to me that it would be a while before I ate there again.
Milan Kundera wrote of the Czech word Litost, which roughly translates to mean the state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery. I, like a heroin addict learning that it will be at least a year until his next fix, felt litost from finishing my pizza. Mangieri has created a dish that I would gladly eat until I died of gluttony. For someone who loves so many different foods, I can think of no better compliment.