Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco

Nothing But (Good) Pizza
210 11th St. (at Howard), San Francisco
PH: 415.861.3444
Open Wed. to Sat., from 5 p.m.
No reservations, major credit cards accepted

I’m probably not the first (and most likely not the last) to write that Anthony Mangieri has built himself a temple to pizza in SOMA’s wasteland.

Mangieri, the former New Yorker who created a cult following with his pizzas in the East Village, has built a restaurant on the edge of SOMA. It’s not the edge with the bustling restaurants bordering the Financial District, but the edge close to Van Ness, the Goodwill Store, and a few biker shops.

But that hasn’t stopped the curious and pizza die-hards who have made a pilgrimage to Una Pizza Napoletana, where in the center of the space is the turquoise-blue mosaic tiled wood-burning pizza oven.

Opened since August, Una Pizza Napoletana has been notorious for the long lines and long wait for the freshly made pizzas by Mangieri. The doors open at 5 p.m. and if you don’t get in the first seating, you can expect at least an hour wait before you can get in. (The restaurant closes when Mangieri runs out of dough.)

When I decided to finally check out Mangieri’s pizzas this past Saturday, I arrived early with my friend Ken. We had been exploring the SOMA area earlier in the day, so got there way early. When closed, you wouldn’t know a pizza restaurant was at the address, which with the metal gate down looked like an empty warehouse.

Since we had time to kill, Ken and I went to get some coffee. When we returned a few minutes before 5 p.m., a few people were at the door already going in. There wasn’t a major line that I expected, and the metal gate was up, revealing a contemporary glass front with the tabletop candles flickering in the low light inside.

We were seated right away, and the d├ęcor was sparse but still had some quiet charm. The wall had just a few small paintings or photos and one wall had a large framed mirror with what I could only imagine was an ode to pizza (it was written in Italian).

Mangieri’s wife (they returned from a honeymoon just last month) helped us decide which two pizzas we were going to try. The menu offers only five pizzas, and they all seem to have the basic foundation of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. They were the Marinara, Margherita, Blanca, Filetti, and Ilaria. We ended up getting the Margherita – because it’s a classic – and the Filetti, which is a pizza with no tomato sauce but uses whole cherry tomatoes. (All the pizzas are $20 each.)

Una Pizza Napoletana doesn’t offer any appetizers or salads, but it does sell wine and beer.

The room wasn’t packed while we were there, and I think it was partly because of the rain and partly because of the holidays (when everyone’s going to parties or shopping). Whatever the reason, I enjoyed the calm and was glad not to be caught in a major line.

I checked the time to see when our pizzas would arrive, and our first pizza came to our table exactly 20 minutes after we ordered, much faster than the rumored 45 minute wait.

That first pizza was the Margherita, which if you’re not familiar with this classic is the pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Mangieri makes his with the freshest ingredients and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. His blistered pizza comes uncut, so Ken and I halved the pizza and dug into it with our fork and knife.

Because of the juices of the San Marzano tomatoes, the center of the thin-crust pizza was soft, which requires you to do the Brooklyn fold to eat it just like in New York. And with my first bite, I admit, I was converted to the church of Mangieri.

Just that slice of Margherita made me think I was walking in a field of basil plants. The fresh taste of the key components of basil, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese sung together to make this simple pizza aggressive and loud in flavor. The tomato sauce was light, more like fresh juices of the San Marzano tomatoes. It was slightly orange, revealing more the natural meat of the tomatoes. The slight sprinkle of sea salt was just the icing on the top of this pizza pie.

After we devoured our pizza, I got up to snap some pictures of Mangieri working hard in the center of the room while we waited for our second pizza. When it arrived, I sat down to eat the Filetti, which is pretty much like the Margherita except cherry tomatoes replaced the San Marzano tomatoes, and a douse of minced garlic dominated the pie.

With just a slight change in ingredients (primarily the garlic and cherry tomatoes), the Filetti took on an absolutely different flavor profile than our first pizza. These were two very different pizzas in taste even though they looked almost the same, with the Filetti carrying more a smoky flavor.

I actually preferred the Margherita, but Ken said he liked the Filetti more.

Una Pizza Napoletana is an homage to authentic Naples-style pizzas, and while the toppings may not be as creative as the many other gourmet pizzerias in the city, that’s exactly the point. Mangieri, as you can expect from someone with his reputation, has generated two camps: those who call him a genius and others who want to knock him down.

I wonder if I would think of his pizzas differently if I had to wait two hours for it? Hard to say. I’m glad I didn’t have to, and I’m glad I got a taste of the pizzas without the encircling hype. Good pizza reflects life. You can’t really predict what’s ahead; you just have to live it. And that’s what Mangieri’s doing day in and day out.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Fresh Flavors)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Una Pizza Napoletana on Urbanspoon

More places with pizza pies:
Dopo (Oakland): "Neighborly Italian Gets Sophisticated"
Emilia's Pizzeria (Berkeley): "It's All About the Sauce in this New York-style Pie"
Pizzeria Picco (Larkspur): "Cozy Pies in North Country"


Nate @ House of Annie said...

Keep it simple, keep it fresh. That's all you really need.

How expensive is the place?

Amy said...

:) Your talk of the pizza made me start craving for some, unfortunately most pizza places aren't that good. The Filetti looked so good >.<

Single Guy Ben said...

Nate, the pizzas are $20 each, which actually is maybe $3-$5 more expensive than a few other pizza spots in town. But in a way, not serving anything else keeps your table ticket down because you're just focused on the pizza (and maybe a glass of wine).

Carolyn Jung said...

Oh, I have been so dying to try this place. You're lucky you timed it right so that you didn't have to wait long. Lucky you! The Margherita sounds incredible.

foodhoe said...

that is pretty pricy pizza, but sounds so good... makes me want to go frolic in a field of basil plants!

Kim said...

Darned expensive, but it sounds like it's worth it, no?