I know I don't post here much anymore, but I had something to talk about and thought maybe you guys and gals on the forum would enjoy some Pizza-read if ya catch my drift.
I had lunch at Don Antonio in New York City today.
Beautiful atmosphere and unique seating near the bar area. Friendly staff who claimed "we are an old style/traditional restaurant," as he took our order on an iPad.
We started with an order of Angioletti and Potato croquets. The angioletti was incredible... The tomatoes are soaked all day in olive oil and garlic and it just drips a beautiful juice all over the fried dough pieces. Delicious. The potato croquets were alright, and for $2.50 a pop and only being the size of a glorified mozzarella stick, I think Ill pass on them next time. Although our antipasti was all fried, it wasn't greasy at all and it tasted incredibly fresh. The arugula in the angioletti had a peppery bite that complimented the dish so well.
Now for the pizza...
Well, we ordered margheritas. And note I have had 2 margheritas from Da Michele in Naples, so Im aware of the flavor and texture of real neapolitan pizza. Knowing that Antonio Starita co-owns the restaurant and I actually watched Roberto make my pizza, well to save words, my standards were quite high for this joint. The pizza was out at our table in under 3 minutes, so I can definitely tip my hat the speedy service. Now just to forewarn you and get started with this review I just want you to be aware that Im going to be as honest as possible and try to let you know about the differences and similarities from the pizza I had in naples and the one I had today in NYC from a restaurant that has a trained staff and supervised by a 4th generation pizziaolo.
When the pizza was put in front of me, the first thing I said was "CRISPY!" There was not one soft thing about this pizza at all. It was pre-cut for me in 4 slices and if I picked up a piece of it, it was stiff from the crust to the tip of the slice. Notice how I called it the crust, becuase The "cornicione" was nothing special and quite similar to american pizza, and not to be rude to roberto, but id rather call what I had today a crust rather than a cornicione. The bottom of the pizza and one of the sides of my step fathers pizza was burnt. The char was almost unbearable at some points and I noticed when they slap out the dough they are so gentle and keep it in the flour so much that it almost never gets flour slapped off of it pre-bake. To me, thats a huge issue... I never liked the looks of how Roberto or Starita slap out the dough anyways. The dough had to of been only a couple hours of fermentation, if it was 24 hours or more than they must be using a flour other than caputo because the dough was not fluffy or light or digestible whatsoever and I know they use a really good mixer so I can't blame that. I really couldn't stop thinking about how burnt the underskirt of the pie was while I was eating it. The pie also didn't look appealing at all. It was very circular, which some people like, but in naples they do not care about shape and I know this comment I'm making about the shape of the skin might seem ridiculous, but handling neapolitan dough for an extra 10-20 seconds to make it look more appealing really could ruin the turnout of your final product. Especially when your final product costs $12... The pizza had more basil than I'm used to seeing, and thats a plus for me because I love extra basil on my pizzas. The "cornicione" was slightly pronounced but nothing as high as some people think on the forum it should be. In Naples they almost don't have a real prominent looking cornicione, its rather flat actually (comparable to the pocket inside pita bread). But in Naples, its fluffy, airy, and soft. At Don Antonio, not so much. So, for the overall presentation it would get an F because of the burnt cornicione and side of my step fathers pie which clearly depicts poor oven management and if you have a tough time handling 2 pies at once, than NYC is a terrible place to open a restaurant, especially when you're located within 10 min of time square and you're serving the cities most popular food! By the way, 2 different people made the pies and worked the oven while we were watching them make it, so I was surprised by the similarities in the final product, and those similarities were nothing to call good ones. The flavor is whats most important and we all know that, so Ill talk a little about the flavor now. The sauce was great, tasted just like the sauce I make, you could tell they're using San Marzano tomatoes. They make fresh mozzarella there and you could really taste it. Somewhat of a creamy texture while having a slight saltiness. The mozz had tiny burn spots which is another sign of not handling the pizza well in the oven. If using fresh mozz and a oven well over 800°F, you shouldn't be seeing any brown bubbles forming on your mozz unless you're over cooking it or not handling it properly (doming too long, ect...) The amount of olive oil was good, and I don't recall tasting any parm although it was written in the menu description. The pie wasn't salty at Don Antonio and I was overwhelmed when I first had Neapolitan pizza because it was quite salty. I wonder if Da Michele puts any salt in there sauce? Anywho, I think the ratio of dressing on the pie was excellent. Just enough basil and oil to be able to meld together and form a "basil oil" slathering the top of the pie. Just enough mozz to give it that creamy mouth feel with every bite. And the sauce was what married it all together to sing me to sleep. But, the dough was... How do I say it? A nightmare. Sorry, just being honest. Now lets talk price. If I was ever to go back to Naples, and any restaurant left me with a $40+ bill, id probably be eating my weights worth in pizza because the food there is dirt cheap. My pizza's at Da Michele were like 3.5 euro each and they were larger than any personal pan pizza I had in europe and even the USA, I would go as far as to saying it was comparable in size to some normal pizzerias standard size pies. For $40 I could of left Da Michele with 10 pizzas.. And I'm well aware of the variables when it comes the the Big Apple's taxes, rent, ext... But c'mon now, $12 for a 10-11inch pie is kinda outrageous and the pizza was very mediocre for it to be advertised as VERA PIZZA NAPOLETANA. 2 potato croquets, an order of angioletti, and 2 margheritas came out to $39. The only prices I agreed with were the price for angioletti and some of the other antipasti items. The "Night and day calzone" was $19!!!! Overall, I cannot really compare todays experience with the one I had in Naples. The pizza at Da Michele was soft and pillow-like, it was vibrant in color and flavor. Taking a bite out of the pizza at Da Michele is a true eye opener to the way a food should be crafted, and thats why its the birth place of pizza. The pizza at Don Antonio was dry and had a very hard texture, the slices were stiff and could easily be held and folded (unlike real neapolitan pizza that just falls apart when you try picking it up, even with a knife and fork!), the dressings were good but the vibrance of flavor was not at the same level as the pizza I had in Naples. And lastly, for me it's very important, the pizza was not easily digestible at all. When I had pizza in Naples I was able to eat a whole pizza without any problems, as a matter of fact I had two! Back to back! Not only because it was so delicious, but because it was so easy to eat. The pizza at Don Antonio was smaller and was made with a lesser ounce dough ball and still felt like I had eaten a Thanksgiving dinner in under 20 bites. That to me is an issue. And it really shows how the real deal needs to be experienced in the mother land.
I hope this was helpful for everyone, and as I said I tried to be as honest as possible. If I could go back to Naples and eat at every pizzeria, I would, even if it was the price of the ones in NY. But, if someone GAVE me money to eat at mediocre wanna be neapolitan pizzerias in NY, id probably pass and use the money on some Indian take-out or something. There is nothing more disappointing than seeing the 2 most popular Neapolitan pizza makers (popular due to media obviously) produce or even allow what I had today for the price it was sold at. If I was Roberto and saw 2 pizzas going out with a burnt bottom and over cooked top, stiff to the touch and rough in texture, in a heartbeat those pies would be in the trash and remade, immediately. I suppose the best way to sum it up for my feelings was disappointment.
I know why the pizzas at Don Antonio were the way they are though, and it's to steer free of complaints. The few neapolitan places Ive heard of doing it right get a lot of complaints for the pizza being too soft, or too soupy, not enough cheese, "why can't I fold this slice?" ect.. And in NYC theres no time for the complaints or the money to throw out pizza after pizza because Joey Stromboli cant fold up his slice and talk about the Yankees game without needing a knife and fork and some sense of what food really is. Was that mean? Apologies.
Enjoy the write up, and I know I don't post here much, but if you guys have any comments or questions feel free to ask.
P.S. getting a WFO in my backyard very soon.