Saturday, November 29, 2008

Una Pizza Overrated

I finally got over to Una Pizza Napoletana, after reading four years' worth of hype. I suppose it's hard to live up to the hype when the hype is so hyper, but even after adjusting my expectations for the hype this place was a major disappointment.

The reviews of Una Pizza Napoletana have been almost universally superlative. This is not surprising. In general, the restaurant reviewing profession is extremely conservative. A rave review in a major outlet will almost ensure that a multitude of reviews will follow, and most if not all will be raves. Among restaurant reviewers, as with political journalists, there is a herd mentality and a lack of creativity. Just about the only major food writer with the cojones to differ on Una Pizza Napoletana is Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice.

A selection of bites from among the raves is displayed in a crawl on the pizzeria's website. A writer for Newsday went as far as calling it "one of the best pizzas in the world." To make such a claim requires either incredible hubris or incredible stupidity or a hell of a lot of passport stamps.

According to New York magazine, "Pizza aficionados say it’s as good as—if not better than—any you’d find in Naples, and that’s why it may seem expensive. For authenticity and purity of flavor, no other pizza in town comes close." I wonder, have the reviewers been to Naples? And what exactly do they mean by purity of flavor? At first that sounds like a compliment, but when you parse it, it's meaningless. Purity of flavor? What the hell does that mean?

Much is made of owner/piemaker Anthony Mangieri's devotion to recreating classic Neapolitan pizza. Much is also made of the fact that the pizzeria stays open (only four nights a week) until the dough runs out. Well, Totonno's has him beat on that count for decades. Perhaps the vaunted crust is similar to the "traditional" crust of Naples, but it's not really to my taste. I found it too thick, limp and bready. I prefer a thin, crispy crust, the kind you'll find in most pizzerias all over Italy.

There are only four pizzas on the menu. No variations, no additional toppings or condiments allowed. They're the marinara (no cheese), the Margherita, the bianca (no tomato), and the filetti (with slices of cherry tomato). Each 12" personal pizza costs $21. That's right, $21. I don't care how good the ingredients are; I don't care how much care Mangieri puts into his pies--only an idiot pays $21 more than once for twelve inches of dough (time and attention, I know) topped with some tomatoes (excellent tomatoes, granted), some cheese (mozzarella di bufala, sure), olive oil (extra virgin, all right), and Sicilian sea salt.

At those prices I guess Mangieri can afford to work four days a week and pay the rent at a prime Manhattan storefront. And the crowds keep coming. I think the Una Pizza Napoletana phenomenon is similar to the Momofuku phenomenon: the chef a darling of the press who can do no wrong and the clientele a flock of trendy sheep who delight in being fleeced.

Was the pizza good? Sure. Was it great? Not really. I tried the filetti and the Margherita; the filetti was somewhat the better of the two.

Will I go back? No way.

My first and only visit to Una Pizza Napolitana makes me appreciate Dom DeMarco and Di Fara all the more.

Regular folks, it seems, are less easily taken in than reviewers. Check out some of the user comments on Citysearch and Menupages.

Una Pizza Napoletana, 349 E. 12th St. (between First & Second Ave.)

Una Pizza Napoletana on Urbanspoon


Blogger Heidi said...

I have never agreed with your post more. So overrated.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have never disagreed with a columnist more. I understand the desire to hate this place, but the fact is this pizza is the closest thing in NYC to the real pizza you would get from the city of Napoli. (my credentials?...I lived there in 2007)
Prices are the only argument - but hey thats what you get from NYC nowadays.
If you dont like this place then you dont like pizza the way it was meant to must prefer the recreations that are found on every other street corner throught the 5 burroughs.

12:39 PM  
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