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Offline scpizza

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Naples trip report
« on: January 12, 2007, 12:42:39 PM »
Da Michelle Report:

I am in Naples now writing this from the lobby of my hotel.  I thought I would share my observations while they are fresh instead of waiting until I return to the states.

As soon as my plane landed I went on a march through the labrynthical heart of Naples in search of Da Michelle as my first ever pizza in Naples.  I'm taking quite naturally to the rythym of cars, scooters, and pedestrians all ignoring traffic signals and street-sidewalk boundaries to seamlessly share the same space.  You get an intuitive understanding for when to speed up, when to slow down, when to get out of the way, and when to assert yourself, and everyone miraculously flows around each other.

And suddenly there it was.  A guy in a white coat was lounging in a totally unremarkable doorway smoking and looking distant with a submerged belligerence (Neapolitans seem to wear this look by default).  I asked him in Italian if they were open and he expressionlessly motioned me inside.  I ordered and ate pizza and observed everything carefully.

Details below, but the big takeaway is this.  Judged on taste alone, the Neapolitan pizza I/we can now make is clearly within striking distance of this pizza.  When I ate the Da Michelle pizza, my tastebuds felt a rush of familiar tastes and textures - elements I had successfully created at home after many (many, many) experiments and the help of all the good people on this board.  This in itself was a shocking, though very pleasant discovery.  There would seem to be no mystique-shrouded "super-flavor" that can only be had by selling the home, moving to Naples, and building a brick oven, etc.  Essentially, those of us on this board who are making good Neapolitan pizza are already holding the brass ring.  Now it's just a matter of continued improvement and personal taste.  I'll get more perspective on this hypothesis as I eat at the other well-regarded places over the next few days.

Here is the nitty gritty of what I observed at Da Michelle:

The Finished Pizza
- Bigger and thinner than mine, an easy 12-13 inches+, the cornicione is not significantly higher than the middle.  This is reflected in the skin as well, where I did not notice a very large difference between the edge and center.
- The cornicione shows only decent crumb.  It actualy looks dense in parts but it tastes light anyway.  Nice.
- The tomatoes, cheese, and olive oil are akin to or only slightly better tasting than what we can get access to in the states.
- Relatively sparse sauce and very sparse cheese.
- Nicely tart/lactic tasting crust - wish I could do that.
- Noticable smokey/bitter tang to outside of crust.
- Softness abounds - only the lightest of crispiness to the surface of the crust.
- Identical blonde with black spots look both on top of cornicione _and_ on bottom of pizza, wow!
- Pizza is served uncut, presumably so you can cut/fold it any way you see fit.

The Making
- An odd, slap-down on the counter technique was used to form the skin.  I couldn't get a good look at it, but it looked different than the back-and-forth technique I've observed on videos of other pizzerias.
- Tons of flour is on hand, and seems to be used fairly liberally in the shaping.  It gets all over the floor.
- The final skin consistency makes my brain shout one thing when I see it handled: "Too wet."  The dough is not resilient, very pliable, very thin on the counter.
- The skin is dressed on marble.  Two big spoons of sauce, cheese, salt, olive oil, basil are put on in that order.
- The skin is then transferred (drug-slid) by hand to a wooden peel.  Something struck me as odd though, the peel is too small for the skin.  The skin hangs over the side.  In fact, the pizzaolo seemed to re-arrange the skin on the peel so it did overhang!  The significance of this did not hit me until I was walking back to my hotel lost in thought.  He did that on purpose.  That way, he does not have to use so much flour on the peel.  He "catches" the floppy edge of the skin on the hot oven floor and uses that to drag the skin off the peel.  Ingenious!
- The peel is in fact, wood, but not the blonde grain-filled type we are used to seeing.  It's a very dark, very hard, and very smooth looking type of wood.  I did not notice them dusting it with flour at all.
- Less olive oil was added than I've seen used elsewhere, but the thinner crust still allows the oil to create a soupiness.
- All the guys were wearing San Felice shirts.  Maybe they are using the flour too.

The Baking
- The baking peel appears to be iron, definitely not stainless steel.  Like the wood peel it's smaller than the pizza, and this seems to give the desired control by allowing to lift only one side of the pizza then dragging it around to rotate it.
- Sawdust was used to create smoke and the pizzaiolo distinctly held the pizza up in the smoke a few moments before taking it out.
- When placed in the oven, the crust puffs up immediately.  This is a hot oven.
- The bake is very fast.  It was not very far at all over a minute, if that long.  I'm guessing that oven is 1100 degrees.
- The entire staff stopped cooking at one point and did a group shot of espresso the same way college guys do tequila shots.  Unclear how this helps the pizza :)

I went to eat at Trianon afterward but it was closed for oven repair.  There was a guy working on it inside and a sign out front.  Hopefully they'll reopen this weekend.

More to report from other pizzerias tomorrow.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2007, 04:05:04 AM by scpizza »


Offline canadave

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2007, 12:57:42 PM »
Brilliant....simply brilliant.  I'm not even on a personal search for Neapolitan (my area of study is NY style), but this was a joy to read.  Thanks for taking the time to post it!!

I don't suppose photos are possible to accompany this narrative?

--Dave

Offline ehlaban

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2007, 01:21:58 PM »
thanks, i really enjoy these kind of "on the spot" posts, keep them comming  :chef:

Offline Troy T

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #3 on: January 12, 2007, 05:20:11 PM »
Thanks much for the report

Troy

Offline scpizza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2007, 05:55:51 PM »
Brilliant....simply brilliant.  I'm not even on a personal search for Neapolitan (my area of study is NY style), but this was a joy to read.  Thanks for taking the time to post it!!

I don't suppose photos are possible to accompany this narrative?
Thanks for the complement.  Unfortunately I don't have a small camera suitable for travelling.  Happy to answer any questions though.

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #5 on: January 12, 2007, 06:02:51 PM »
Great report. A trip like that is necessary to calibrate your taste buds. More, please!

Bill/SFNM

Offline scpizza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2007, 07:43:48 AM »
Pizzeria Port'Alba Report:

The Service
- Smiling.  Friendly.  Welcoming.  Even spoke some English and was attentive, but...
- Dishonest.  First they charged a €1.3 table fee and mandatory 15% service charge.  Neither of these are unheard of in Naples, though the locals sitting around me were at minimum not charged the 15% service charge.  The server made a great effort of folding the check above the total so I wouldn't review the contents.  Then he took an additional €2 out for himself to make a 30% tip (standard tip in Naples is about 5%).  Total cost of Port'Alba graft-ridden pizza experience, €15.  Total cost of Da Michelle honest pizza experience, €5.

The Finished Pizza
- Large, thin crust just like Da Michelle.  The crusts I/we make are too thick.
- Crust flavor was not as present and complex as Da Michelle.  As crust cooled it tasted more and more bland like cardboard
- Tomato taste was better than Da Michelle.  More salt, and more of the savory delicious tang achievable with the union of tomato, oil, and basil.
- 4 leaves of basil instead of Da Michelle's one leaf, and that was good.  Basil was slightly stronger than states, but not hugely so.
- Cornicione was a bit more tan than blonde, but otherwise well done.  The bottom however reminded me very much of my own pizzas, partial patches of burn.  Could taste the bitterness from the patches.  Don't know whether to feel intensely flattered my pizza rises to the standard of this well-regarded Naples pizzeria or be critical that Alba couldn't meet the 360 blonde with leopard skin perfection of Da Michelle.

The Making
- Got a better view of the skin forming.  3 Phases:
     - Spreading.  Use the finger tips to spread out the doughball.  Flip and repeat about 5 times.
     - Slap-Spreading.  Use the left hand to pull the left end of the skin a few inches off the counter.  Now slap the right end down with the right hand and then press with the finger tips 2 or 3 times.  Pick up/pull out/stretch out the whole skin with the left hand.  Probably rotating the skin when it is up in the air.  Repeat procedure 2 or 3 times
     - Slapping.  Same as above sans the fingertip press.  The right hand keeps its right side down near the counter and open and closes its left side like a gate.  Repeat 3 or 4 times.

The Baking
- As this was a one-man operation, he used a stand to hold up the stick end of the wooden loading peel.  Again, no flouring of the peel observed, he just drug the skin onto it.  Had only a slight overhang and didn't seem to use that when loading.
- Bake was once again very fast.  Like Da Michelle.  I'm thinking this bake really is not over a minute long.  Must be a very hot oven.

Overall, there was nothing about this pizza that made it out of reach of our baking efforts.  More pizza sampling to come later today.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2007, 11:02:56 PM by scpizza »

Offline pizzanapoletana

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2007, 08:26:11 AM »
Scpizza,

I am glad you finally made it to Naples. I am sorry about your experience at Port'Alba... That is what piss me off of many of my city inhabitant (not all luckily), they have this urge of con tourist.... That is the reason I reccomand a visit to Naples with a Local.

Anyway, few comments in no particular order:

Da Michele participate every year at a Pizza day in Salerno (south of Naples) The sponsor at this show is San felice flour. Da Michele DO NOT USE San felice flour.

The Pizza peel at Da Michele was Mahogany. Beech wood is also used (I think that is what you have seen at Port'Alba). Have you noticed how beautiful the Oven at Port'Alba is? with the attached hood for the Fryer?

I have noticed the Oven at Trianon was damaged at Christmas.. .. After 83 years.... They must be repairing that small issue I have seen.

Soya Been oil is used at Da Michele, No Olive oil. The Tomatoes they use do not have comparison in the States, sorry I have searched with two restaurant owners, no match found.

the bitterness was from the excessive flour used on the counter. that is one let down point at Da Michele when they are busy. If you have time, try to get a pizza there at 10.30 in the morning before you leave.. they are closed on Sunday, so Mon or Tue if you can.

The disc forming you have observed is the classic Neapolitan.

It is not sawdust that is used (it would kill the fire), but saw shaving and the purpose is to increase the flame intensity, no to smoke the pizza, even if this can happen if one or two pizza were lifted in that particular time.

Please try to time the next pizza you see being baked in one of this oven so to report back on this forum..

Ciao and enjoy your trip




Offline scpizza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2007, 02:57:01 PM »
That is the reason I reccomand a visit to Naples with a Local.
I'm really enjoying the pizza here.  But due to the local differences in language and culture, I can tell my visit would be more enjoyable with the company of a local.  Especially one who knew the neighborhoods.

The Pizza peel at Da Michele was Mahogany. Beech wood is also used (I think that is what you have seen at Port'Alba). Have you noticed how beautiful the Oven at Port'Alba is? with the attached hood for the Fryer?
Ahh, Mahogany was exactly what it looked like.  And the one at Port'Alba was indeed lighter and looked like Beech.  I indeed was examining the curious oven at Port'Alba.  It almost seems to open on the side, and the hood extending over the fryer was indeed puzzling me!

Soya Been oil is used at Da Michele, No Olive oil. The Tomatoes they use do not have comparison in the States, sorry I have searched with two restaurant owners, no match found.
I caught a glimpse of the oil can, it was tall and light brown with dark brown lettering.  Interesting to hear it's only soy oil.  Guess they need to keep costs down with their rock bottom prices.  The tomatoes did not make an impression on me at Da Michelle - that is the taste struck me as no better than imported San Marzano varieties I've used in the states.

the bitterness was from the excessive flour used on the counter. that is one let down point at Da Michele when they are busy. If you have time, try to get a pizza there at 10.30 in the morning before you leave.. they are closed on Sunday, so Mon or Tue if you can.
Thanks for the tip, I'll see if I can make it there again before I fly out on Monday.

The disc forming you have observed is the classic Neapolitan.
I am excited to watch it.  I saw an even better job done today at Pizzeria Gorizia.  I also "timed" the pizza there.  Report below.

« Last Edit: January 13, 2007, 04:26:00 PM by scpizza »

Offline David

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2007, 03:00:06 PM »
Great!I'm in Madrid (well just a bit North in the Mountains) so close and yet so far,but I can't keep away fom this :-D
I don't think you have Goriza on your list of places to visit?You should really try and visit it if you have the time.
                                                                                                                                                                               David
If you're looking for a date... go to the Supermarket.If you're looking for a wife....go to the Farmers market


Offline scpizza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2007, 03:10:22 PM »
Pizzeria Brandi Report:

One word: Disappointing.  A mediocre pizza.  A tourist pizza.

The Finished Pizza:
- Pizza was smaller, like 10"-11", and had a larger cornicione.
- Incredibly for such a famous pizzeria, the crust texture had a chewiness to it.  Crust flavor was just plain poor.
- On the upside, the crust was cooked well, with a nice blonde leoparded bottom.
- Way too much cheese on the pizza.  With an extra ball of it plopped in the middle.  Uck.
- The sauce was decent with good tomato flavor.

The Making
- The doughballs looked very large and puffy.  Double the size of other doughballs I've seen here.  This seemed suspicious to me.
- The dough stretching technique was a more refined version of what I saw at Alba, with one hand on the bench and the other up in the air and slapping back and forth.  I observed here both hands sort of doing little circles in their respective positions as the skin jumped back and forth.  This may enhance a stretching action.
- Here the dough was loaded directly onto a stainless steel cooking peel.  No wooden peel in sight.

The Baking
- Did not observe.

Total cost for the Brandi mediocre pizza experience was €10.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2007, 11:01:56 PM by scpizza »

Offline scpizza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2007, 04:19:38 PM »
Pizzeria Gorizia Report:

Gorizia is actually located in a cleaner, more modern, safer part of town, so it felt quite refreshing to go there.

But to get there I had first spent an entire afternoon of futile attempts to climb a hill full of maze-like winding cobblestone roads and scary crumbling alleys culminating in a hollering lady chasing me off her sidewalk as I paused to consult my map.  With darkness set in, I resigned myself to return to my hotel in utter failure.  But as I climbed back down I stumbled across a massive modern ski-chalet like underground tram-trolley car which climbed diagonally through a huge tunnel bored through the hill to drop me right at the doorstep of Pizzeria Gorizia.  Unbelievable.

Upon arriving at Gorizia at 7pm they were inexplicably closed.  Instead of getting pissed off as any good American would, I decided to shrug it off as any good Italian would.  I walked around a bit and enjoyed the evening air.  Then I checked at 8pm and found them just as inexplicably open again.  Shops here seem to close for hours at a time on an unpredictable schedule for a range of inscrutable reasons including "lunch" and "holiday."

They were ready to seat me in the separate dining room until I explained I wanted to watch the pizzamaking action closer to the oven.  They took my order but did nothing with it for a while as a younger man carefully prepped the pizza station.  Then out came the heavyweight.  A 60-year old man dressed in spotless white T-shirt who looked very serious about his work.  I stood up from my table and went over to watch him.

At one point, he, another customer, and the waiter let loose a flurry of humorous Italian that was over my head but clearly referenced my watching so intently.  I just smiled bemusedly and figured I would probably find it funny too.

The Finished Pizza:
- Overall an excellent pizza, quite good.
- Pizza was smaller, had a medium-sized cornicione, yet still had an appropriately thin middle.
- Topping flavor was very good, though a little cheese heavy.  Had the soupiness I'm learning is a trademark of the real deal.
- Basil here was strong and good.  Noticeably better than I've found thusfar in the US.
- Crust flavor quite good.  It was cooked better than Alba but not as well as Da Michelle and Brandi.  A bit of burn on the bottom.
- Observed same decent crumb I've observed on all Neapolitan pizzas so far, not as open as I can make at home, but lightness of crust doesn't suffer for it.

The Making
- The doughballs were smallish, flatish, and a bit shiny from fermentation.  I recognized this look from my own doughballs.
- Wooden proofing trays with waxpaper were used.  I wonder if this had any effect on moisture regulation during the rise.  Everywhere else seemed to use the plastic ones.
- The most striking thing about Gorizia was the older gentleman's dough stretching technique.  The grace.  The elegance.  The ease.  First he gave it a few fingertip pokes then in about four gentle, effortless, silent slaps it was done.  I observed how the pizza would fall directly on his left forearm then back down onto the counter.  Would love to film it with a high speed camera and break it down frame by frame.
- Ingredients were added in this order: sauce, cheese, sprinkle of Romano/Parmesan mix, salt, basil, sunflower oil.
- The dough was loaded directly onto a stainless steel cooking peel that _was_ floured initially.  Very carefully in fact.  Twice actually.  But not again through multiple pizzas.  No overhang.

The Baking
- As elsewhere, noted pizza lift to ceiling at end of bake to catch the smoke/heat.
- Lacking a watch, I timed this using the highly sophisticated and accurate 1-one thousand-2-one thousand-3-one thousand technique.  Pizzas were cooking in about 50 seconds which felt about the same as I had observed at the other pizzerias.

Total cost for the Gorizia pizza-lost, pizza-found experience was €10.

Current pizza ranking:
     Da Michelle
     Pizzeria Gorizia
     Pizzeria Porta'Alba
     Pizzeria Brandi
« Last Edit: January 13, 2007, 11:09:41 PM by scpizza »

Offline David

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2007, 08:12:08 PM »
They use suflower oil?
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Online Pete-zza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2007, 09:06:10 PM »

Offline abatardi

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #14 on: January 14, 2007, 03:01:40 AM »
scpizza,

great report so far.  are you planning on going to pizzeria salvo while you are there?

- aba
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Offline Shin

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #15 on: January 14, 2007, 06:12:43 AM »
Great!I'm in Madrid (well just a bit North in the Mountains) so close and yet so far,but I can't keep away fom this :-D
I don't think you have Goriza on your list of places to visit?You should really try and visit it if you have the time.
                                                                                                                                                                               David

Scpizza, great review of Da Michelle....I've just had breakfast and am stuffed, but your review still made my mouth water! Enjoy the rest of your trip buddy!


Hey David

How long are you going to be in Madrid? Pizza in Madrid sucks..but theres a couple of good ones.

Have you tried the pizza joint in La Latina? ..'croco loco' or something like that...It's a tiny joint, about 4 min walk from la latina metro opposite the swimming pool...best pizza ive tried in Madrid...and well priced and friendly staff too.


« Last Edit: January 14, 2007, 06:22:45 AM by Shin »
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Offline scpizza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2007, 11:16:52 AM »
Pizzeria Salvo Report:

This one took me half the day to make it to.  After multiple hours waiting in stations and a train ride to nowhere, I learned the following things about taking the train to San Giorgio a Cremano where Pizzeria Salvo is located:
     1.  There is no map of the trains.
     2.  The specified train to San Giorgio a Cremano on the posted timetable does not exist.
     3.  The train with the digital sign in the destination window that reads "San Giorgio a Cremano" does not go to San Giorgio a Cremano.
     4.  The train to Sorrento goes to San Giorgio a Cremano.

I also had occasion to get introduced to a group of frowning Naples Police who, in the midst of my unplanned travels discovered my train ticket had expired.

I decided this would be an excellent time to utilize my latent English skills.  I yanked out my maps began waving them around and pointing at things while rambling expressively in English telling the entire story of my day.  This very effectively communicated my situation to them as they at first looked bewildered, then smiled understandingly and practiced their own English by holding up my ticket, saying "No good," and waving me on.   I responded "Grazie" and they smiled and nodded.

Minutes later I ran into them again (I had purchased a fresh ticket this time) and they were extraordinarily helpful in conveying to me I needed to get on the Sorrento train which is more than the ticketmaster had been able to share with me.  Nice guys those police actually.


The Finished Pizza
- A large pizza but also with a large cornicione, I expected the worst but was pleasantly surprised.  Pleasantly thin center and most important great crust flavor, even after cooled.  I'm learning that flavor is the hard part, that's what to look for.
- Very open crumb, more so than any other pizza I've had here.  Crust was a bit chewy, but not so much to be bothersome.
- Imperfect bake with small amount of burning on the bottom.
- Great topping savor.  I credit the oil, which tasted warm, soft, and fulfilling.
- Too much cheese and not bufala, but still good.
- Overall probably a tie with Gorizia.

The Making
- Here it gets a bit interesting.  Ingredients in order added were: sauce, basil, Grana Padano sprinkle, cheese, oil.
- For the first time, the Neapolitan dough shaping technique really become more clear to me as I watched this pizzaiolo do it.  The upper left hand is doing circles simultaneously with the lower right hand, each working on opposite sides of the skin and reaching opposite extremes simultaneously.  By shifting the weight of the skin from one hand to the other, the off-hand's circular motion is able to move forward around the edge of the pizza and catch it so as to bring it back with it and rotate it as it stretches it opposite the other hand.  Most excellent.

The Baking
- Unfloured stainless steel peel used for loading.  No overhang, in fact dressed pizza is drug onto then carefully placed within bounds of peel.  Loading action is a "clean and jerk."  Peel shoved into the oven, placed on edge, then quickly yanked out from under the pizza.
- A much smaller iron disc on a pole is used for manipulating the pizza in the oven.  A good portion of the baking time the pizzaiolo is holding the pizza up off the floor.  He would also take it out, rotate it, and push it back in instead of just rotating it while inside the oven.
- Once again, total bake time about 50 seconds or less.

The Dough Making
- To my delight I got a glimpse of the dough making and made several interesting observations.
- They have a diving arms mixer!  It's a happy looking beast alright with an incredible elliptical motion from the diving arms and rotating bowl.  This may contribute no small amount to the open crumb and good gluten development I observed.
- They definitely use Caputo 00 Pizzeria in quantity given the empty bag evidence.  They also had a bag of Caputo Orange 00 Super Giallo.  I couldn't tell if that was being incorporated in some measure, but I imagine it was.
- First water was poured into the bowl, then something was put into the bottom and hand squished.
- Then the flour was unceremoniously dumped in and the mixer turned on.  None of this add-the-flour-slowly stuff.  Over the next 20 minutes, several large scoops of flour were also added.  Occasionally the dough was tested by feel.
- A ball of old dough was taken, and 6 or 7 chunks turn off and thrown in.
- The mixer was halted and dough rested in the mixer for about 20 minutes before I left.  Not sure what happened after that.

Total cost for the Salvo diving arms pizza experience was €7.

Current pizza ranking:
     Da Michelle
     Pizzeria Salvo
     Pizzeria Gorizia
     Pizzeria Porta'Alba
     Pizzeria Brandi
« Last Edit: January 14, 2007, 11:19:43 AM by scpizza »

Offline scpizza

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2007, 02:14:25 PM »
BTW, there are posters all over town advertising a Corso per Pizzaiolo by the Arte & Mestiere (Art & Trade) school.  They boast an ISO certification. ::)  If anyone wants to investigate, the number is  848-780799.

Offline David

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #18 on: January 14, 2007, 07:31:25 PM »
Hey David
How long are you going to be in Madrid? Pizza in Madrid sucks..but theres a couple of good ones.

I'm here 'till Tuesday,but really not looking for Pizza.I did have an o.k Roman style Margherita last night in the pretty village of Navacerrada.Had some fine Duck breast with fruits today in the very good Restaurant Philippe in the same town.(famous for being frequented by David Beckham).Tonight I went to see Ruud put one in for Real Madrid and experience a league  game with litteraly no visiting supporters!How different from Old Trafford.
                   David
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Offline scott r

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Re: Naples trip report
« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2007, 03:34:35 AM »
Sc, this report is exceptional.  The information you have provided has me dreaming of naples and has really got my juices flowing to make pizzas.  I want to go back right now!  Keep up the good work and enjoy the holy land of pizza.


 

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