Saturday, April 11, 2009

LaPizza Fresca, NYC

Where do the days go? We had the most wonderful pizza in New York City last Saturday night and here it is a whole week later and I still haven't told you about it. My deepest apologies.

You may remember a blog posting about a month ago telling you of our attempt to have authentic Neapolitan pizza within 20 minutes of home. We were not successful (but not through any fault of our own) on that try. Of course, we had a terrific dinner at this restaurant that night, but the quest for true pizza was still on.

LaPizza Fresca on E. 20th St and Broadway is a pizza lover's dream come true. A small, warm space, packed with a diverse crowd, it is blessed with not only exquisite pizza, but with delicious, handmade pastas, and an outstanding wine list. Be still my heart.

They do not accept reservations for parties of less than five so we were very lucky to score one of the two tables still unoccupied at 7:15pm. The minute we sat down I felt as though I had been beamed back to Italy and I could almost convince myself that I was sitting in beautiful Sorrento.

We ordered pies one at a time, so as not to have them sitting on the table getting cold and soggy. First up, Cime di Rapa (broccoli rabe, sausage, and fresh bufala mozzarella). Next, Monte Bianco (Robiola, Parmigiana and Fontina cheeses with porcini mushrooms and Prosciutto San Daniele). Lastly, we ordered the classic Margherita, the standard by which all pizza must be judged. This pie consists of nothing but tomato sauce, fresh bufala mozzarella, Parmigiana Reggiano, and olive oil.

Our favorite? I can't even begin to relay to you the rich, earthy flavors of the Monte Bianco pie, with its hardy cheeses, woodsy porcinis, and delicate prosciutto. The bufala mozzarella on the Cime di Rapa was so light and airy. But when we had finished the last pie and felt like we needed just one more, it was the Margherita that we re-ordered. This was the ultimate - so pure in flavor; the bufala mozzarella and Parmigiana just lightly layered on top of the famous San Marzano tomatoes, with a sprinkling of EVOO to top it all off. We couldn't stop raving about this particular pie.

LaPizza Fresca is pricey (even by NYC standards) and service is not for the hurried here. In the true sense of Italian dining, they set a leisurely pace.

I think what makes these pies so different than anything else you may know as pizza, is the crust. The dough is hand pressed with Italian flour and a precise amount of water. This comes out of a wood-burning oven ever so crisp and thin. Of course, anyone can combine these ingredients, throw them into a high-temp oven, and pray for pizza. But it takes practiced hands to produce ethereal, Neapolitan pizza. It takes hands that have been certified by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (LaPizza Fresca was the first in New York to receive this certification). This association was created in 1984 to implement a standard protocol for the creation of authentic Neapolitan pizza. VPN is backed by the Italian government and certifies restaurants that produce authentic Neapolitan pizza around the world.

If you are passionate about good pizza, then you must seek a pie that is crafted in the tradition of Naples (check out this guide to find a certified pizza master near you). Once you do, you'll see that all others are pretenders to the throne. The true and rightful heir to the original that was inspired by Italy's Queen Margherita in 1890, is authentic pizza Neapolitan. Don't be fooled by impostors.

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