Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The New San Francisco Treat: Una Pizza Napoletana

Una Pizza Napoletana is a craftworks as much as a pizza restaurant.  No humble pizza parlor, Una Pizza is the creation of pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri, who makes each 12 inch pie by hand.  The menu is short with only five pizzas (only four of which were available the night I dined there), and there are no substitutions or alterations, so ordering is easy and quick.  The pizzas are available only by the whole pie (no slices) and arrive at your table uncut.  The pizza oven only holds three pizzas at a time, so Mangieri pulls out the dough, three wads at a time and constructs the three pies before placing them one at a time into the custom pizza oven.  Una Pizza Napoletana is open just four evenings per week, Wednesday through Saturday nights, and the restaurant opens at 5 pm and only stays open "til the dough runs out", so if you arrive too late you may literally be out of luck.  The artisan pies are $20 each; making pizza the old fashioned way with top of the line ingredients is not cheap.

The first of the pies to arrive at our table was the Bianca, which had Buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, fresh basil and sea salt on top. This white pizza had no tomatoes or tomato sauce and was completely white.  The crust had a good char on it, burned/blistered in some spots but not overly so.  Without any tomato products, the taste of the Buffalo mozzarella shone through loud and clear.  The sea salt, which is a topping on all of the pies, was noticeable and enhanced the flavor.

Next was the Margherita with San Marzano tomatoes (made into a tomato sauce), buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt.  Margherita pizzas are usually my "tester" pizzas at a new spot as they are deceptively simple with nowhere to hide if it isn't right.  Quality ingredients and a proper ratio of cheese & tomato sauce to crust is essential.  I enjoyed this pizza a lot but I wish the tomato sauce had more flavor.  I would have loved some herbs in the sauce, as opposed to just tomato puree.  The amount of cheese was spot on, enough to get some in every bite, but not so much that it was all you tasted.

Surprisingly enough, my favorite pizza was the Marinara, with San Marzano tomatoes (pureed into a sauce), extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh garlic, fresh basil and sea salt, but no cheese.  The oregano flavor and aroma was strong and as this was the most assertively flavored pie, perhaps that is why I enjoyed it so much. Both the oregano and the garlic worked well with the basil and tomatoes and the charred dough to create an amazing pie.  As someone who loves cheese, I hadn't expected this pie to be in the running for my favorite, but it was wonderful.

The last pie of the night was the Filetti with fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt.  There was no tomato sauce beneath the cheese, as Mangieri felt the halved cherry tomatoes on top were enough.  The texture and sweetness of the tomatoes were a pleasant contrast to the soft melted cheese and the dough.

Mangieri is certainly a minimalist, both in terms of his food and the space.  The short menu, with each pie only having a few ingredients/toppings and presented simply and unsliced.  The physical restaurant itself is spartan, appearing as if it could have been a loading dock or auto garage before he converted it into a small pizzeria with half of the space dominated by the pizza oven and the space in front of it where Mangieri creates his art.  Part of the experience is reminiscent of performance art, with a single artist standing in front of an audience creating their work and only a small percentage of the floor space devoted to seating (with the oven only able to handle three pies at a time, more seating would just increase the wait time from ordering to receiving your food).

In a move that created a ruckus in foodie circles, Mangieri closed his New York pizzeria of the same name to move it to San Francisco.  With only approximately 150 pizza pies per evening available, the restaurant frequently closes before its 10 pm stated time and also often has long wait times.  On Saturday just after 5 pm, there was no wait at all so my party was able to walk right in and sit down.  I don't know if the initial buzz has died down or we were just fortunate.  If you get there too late, you will be confronted with the sign below:

Photo courtesy of Una Pizza Napoletana website
Una Pizza Napoletana: 210 11th Street, off of Howard in SOMA.  No reservations.  Phone: (415) 681-3444.  Website:

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