Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pizzeria Sorbillo (by Margaret)

One of the first pizzas that I ate in Napoli was the pizza Mari. After tasting it I giggled to myself thinking, "oooh boy! Love at first bite!" My dorkish sentimentality was genuine. To me this is an indication of true love. 

Mari is a white pizza. The ingredients are gorgonzola cheese, red or white onions, thinly sliced salame, fior di latte cheese, and burn spots.

I have noticed that the salted espresso lacks any real discussion on the value of burn spots. In telling you about my favorite pizza in the world I must also explain why burn is important. Sorbillo's pizza Mari is an excellent example of how to correctly utilize char. 

The Mari is rich, too rich. Two cheeses, meat, and onions. By the time you've eaten half the pizza you fear that it will soon become too much. However, the char saves the day. Burn flavor cuts the richness of the cheeses and the meat. The pizza toes the line of too much flavor, too much creamy oily cheesiness, but char seizes the fragile flavor balance before it goes to far, suspending it just at the line. The char saves it, dangling it at the edge of perfection and too much.

As you work your way through this pizza you are in crisis. Can I finish this pie? Surprisingly, your stomach remains settled after each piece. The char eliminates the overpowering flavor that cheese and oil leave in the mouth in such a way sos to prevent you from ever feeling sick of it. It allows for the ingredients to show off their most delicious aspects while cutting down on the undesirable traits. The contrast between the sharp gorgonzola, the mellow gooey fior di latte, the salame so thin it becomes crunchy in the oven, and the sweet onions all dance around the mouth deliciously, but momentarily. The char keeps it all together, not letting one flavor overpower the others. The char maintains balance in a pizza dangerously close to the edge. 

With each slice the crisis renews, but is always defeated by the char. As you finish the pie you do not feel too full or gross as you might with other rich foods. You feel good. The burn spots have been working in a third, invisible way. The following from should explain what I mean.

"The porosity of charcoal accounts for its ability to readily absorb gases and liquids; charcoal is often used to filter water and absorb odors. Its pharmacological action depends on the same property; it absorbs the gases of the stomach and intestines, and also liquids and solids (hence its use in the treatments of certain poisonings)."

When I say 'char' of course I mean charcoal. The pizza Mari will not upset your stomach. Despite its rich toppings, the burn spots keep your belly settled, not only stopping the less than desireable flavor aspects from going too far in your mouth -the char sops up the extras in your belly so you don't get sick. Sweet. 

These burn spots are the unsung heroes of Neopolitan pizza.  

Friday, December 5, 2008

Trattoria Pizzeria Cilea

Most of the pizzerias I review on this blog are already fairly well-known, at least in Naples. It's for that reason that I'm particularly pleased to review Trattoria Pizzeria Cilea, a small, 8-table pizzeria located  in Vomero. We happened upon Cilea the first day I went searching for my pizza school. It was late in the afternoon, the place was empty, and I had eaten only two hours before. But I decided to give it a shot. I knew after the first few bites of my margherita that I was eating something special. For the rest of the afternoon,  I couldn't stop talking about how surprisingly distinct the tomato sauce was. Now I've been going there for over two months and I'm convinced that Cilea has the best red sauce in Naples. 
Margherita at Cilea
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with the dough. A few days ago, Margaret and I tried to compare the excellent dough at Cilea with the equally excellent dough at Pizzeria Sorbillo (a review is soon to follow). In my mind, these are two top notch pizzerias that occupy the opposite ends of the dough spectrum. Here is a list of adjectives we came up with to describe the two doughs:

Cilea: dense, moist, bold, chewy, airy, succinct, whimsical, doughy.  
Sorbillo: crisp, resilient, pliable, resourceful, doughy.
(New York Times here I come!)

As for the cheese: The fior di latte was remarkably creamy without causing the same soupy effect that mozzarella di bufala causes (I've got to say "soupy" at least once in each review). 
The sauce: What can I really say except that I'll have another thing to weep over once I leave Italy. It was distinctly salty without going overboard. I've noticed, even in Naples, that tomato sauce is often used as a filler. But this stuff took command of the pizza and everything else was a delightful aftertaste. 
Pizza bianca at Cilea
At first, I was afraid the pizza bianca would pale in comparison to its red brethren. But I was quickly proven wrong. The arugula was fresh. The parmigiana was strong, and the red sauce was replaced with extra virgin olive oil and seasalt. If you want the best white pizza in the world,  go to Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ. If Bianco's is closed, hop on a plane towards Naples, go to Vomero, and try the pie at Cilea.
  End Note: Cilea also takes the award for having the most bang for its euro. At 2.60 euros for a margherita to-go, you might as well order four. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pizzeria Vesi

Margaret and I have dubbed Via Tribunali, a crooked crowded street in centro historico district of Naples, "Pizza Alley". Between the speeding vespas, ancient churches, and begging gypsies, there is some fantastic pizza. There's Di Matteo- a staple among Neapolitans, there's Il Presidente - the spot Bill Clinton went while visiting Naples, and there's, of course, Sorbillo- the favorite pizzeria of italian actress Sophia Loren. Just down the street from  these giants in the pizza world is Vesi, a lesser known but equally deserving pizzeria. After living here for two months, Vesi has easily become one of my most frequented pizzerias in all of Naples. The pizza here can hold its own against Sorbillo and Il Presidente, and if you pick the right pie, even surpass them. 
  The D.O.C. at Vesi
Try the D.O.C. Fresh mozzarella di buffala and pomodorini (small, sweet tomatoes) from the base of Mount. Vesuvius itself. Throw on a little extra virgin olive oil and that's it. This pie speaks directly to the neapolitan pizza philosophy that excellence is achieved through simplicity. If you are going to use ingredients of the highest quality, you don't need more than a few of them. In fact, I'd say that any additional topping might ruin the very delicate, almost perfect balance between the pomodorini and mozzarella. The first time I ordered this pie, I could smell the cooked pomodorini before the waiter had put it on the table. The juices of the pomodorini become infused with the cream of the mozzarella. You find yourself mopping on the oil and cheese directly from the plate. I've already made a few posts about soupy neapolitan pizzas and how, generally, I like a drier pie. But the D.O.C at Vesi is one of the few exceptions.
A "ripieno" styled pie at Vesi
Vesi has a wonderful outdoor patio on Via Tribunali. If you can ignore the honking of the passing cars (something you've got to do pretty much everywhere in Naples), you'll enjoy a wonder pie in a great location. The staff is friendly and very dedicated to making quality pizza. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fake it til you make it

My italian is not very good. In fact, I'd say that most of the time I barely squeak out more than two or three sentences in a row. But after three weeks in a pizzeria and another one at a language school, my comprehension has finally started to increase. As a result, I can understand more while remaining pretty frustrated with my ability to speak back. That all changed last friday when a Brazilian TV crew came to Pizzeria La Notizie and filmed a special program about Neapolitan pizza.
Enzo, the master pizzaiolo, had been in a bad mood all morning long. He was waiting for a call to tell him exactly when the TV crew was supposed to show up. He nervously peeled the stems from the fiori di zucca (zucchini flours) while barking off orders to me and Sam, the other canadian student. When they did arrive, Enzo's anxiety was lifted but in its place came a new problem. "Do you speak english?" asked the cameraman as he shook Enzo's hand, "we don't speak italian." A light must have gone off in Enzo's head because he immediately turned to me and said in italian, "I don't speak an english. But he does. He's from the US and speaks very good italian." This came as a shock to me. Not because Enzo was lying about my italian. He knew as well I did that my level of communication is on par with a 3 year old.  But rather,this came as a shock because he was entrusting me as the information guru, the almighty  translator. 
My first few translations were easy enough. It was mostly stuff I'd heard Enzo say two or three times before. 
"I run a pizza school here in the morning. That's why the pizzeria is closed for lunch. Every night we open up for the general public." 
When Enzo was finished he turned to me and aggressively nodded (which is something I've noticed only italians can do without making it look like a neck spasm). I went ahead and translated into english. A few Brazilian heads bobbed up and down in understanding. That was easy enough, I thought. Enzo continued.
"School goes for 4 hours every day and the students help out in the afternoon, preparing the food for the evening. I've taught students from all over the world"
Again I translated, this time even using a few of Enzo's hand gestures to illuminate his point. Again, more nodding. This translation thing is a piece of cake, I thought.  
"Italian italian italian italian italian italian italian italian italian il mare italian italian italian italian.
Enzo finished and turned towards me. The Brazilians turned towards me. It's true that comprehension follows comprehension. But what follows incomprehension? 
"Il mare?" I asked tentatively. Enzo stared at me.
"Si, il mare."
Il mare meant the sea. This much I knew. My problem was all the other italian words that came before and after. Why would Enzo be mentioning the sea? A half a dozen possibilities raced through my mind. None of which were very good. Crap. Better just say something.
I turned towards the cameraman and said "The sea is just up the road. You might want to go get a shot of it for the program. It's a beautiful view. And afterwards you can start filming." 
The cameraman looked at me. I somehow managed to smile back.  "Okay," the cameraman said, "we'll go have a look". I turned to Enzo and said, in very broken italian, "They are going to film outside first and come film in here afterwards." Enzo stared at me, the kind of stare that said if I could call you out on your shit I would but lucky for you I can't. After that things went relatively smoothly. As it turns out, Portuguese and Italian are quite similar, similar enough that an english translator is not really needed. I mostly stayed behind the counter and watched the filming, only occasionally answering specific questions. Like they say, fake it til you make it. 

Here's a video of Enzo making the dough "traditionally" in a big wooden box. What makes it traditional? My guess: the box was very, very old. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For your reading enjoyment

That's my city!
I apologize in advance for the lack of posts. Margaret and I recently moved into a  new apartment, a cave really, and we just discovered that our cave will not be able to get internet. So I'm sitting in the only wireless cafe in Naples in order to write this. A brief summary of the last few weeks: I've finished my course with Enzo "Mad dawg" Coccia and have been attending language classes in the city center. Tomorrow, however, old Mad dawg himself has invited me back to work on my pizza making skills again. I'll be at Pizzeria La Notizie for the rest of the week and will actually start working at a pizzeria in another two weeks. 
Stay tuned for: a review on the pizza that wasn't called a pizza diavola but still was the best pizza diavola I've ever had, a short history on the origins of Italian Sticky Finger Syndrome (also called I.S.F.S.), and photos of street garbage! 
For now, enjoy these videos:
The flame at Pizzeria La Notizie

In this video, Enzo explains how if you are not careful, a Neapolitan oven can eat your arm. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One Pizzaiolo, two cups: Spatula practice with Enzo Coccia

So my pizzas still aren't round. How do I know this? Because Enzo, the master-pizzaiolo at La Notizia, screams "non va bene!" in my ear every time I make an egg shaped dough. "Making the dough is not like massaging a woman, Gustavo" he says standing behind me. "You need more force. Piu forte! PIU FORTE!" How do my fingertips, the only part of my hands that should be applying pressure, gain more strength? Finger push-ups against the wall, of course. 
Besides finger push-ups we started another exercise today; working with the pizza spatula. Twenty minutes after working on proper foot stance, arm placement, and wrist flicking, Enzo brings us two plastic cups filled to the brim with water. Thinking that he has rewarded us for our hard work, I say "grazie". He gives me a look that says we are far from be finished. Check out this video to see our new exercise:
We worked in rotations of tens. Each of us had to slide the pizza in between the cups at a perfect angle. If a drop was spilled, we'd have to start over. Tomorrow, Enzo says we get to stick the spatula in the actual oven. 

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Working at Pizzeria la Notizia

Yesterday I was scalded pretty bad for cutting  my sausage too thick. In italian. In the small back kitchen of Pizzeria La Notizia. I can't say I wasn't excepting something like this to happen. But when I saw Enrico, my short squat boss, look at my pile of half-cooked sausage links, I knew I was in for it. He came in screaming, making gestures that I've only read about in books. This went on for a few minutes while I stood there dumbfounded- being both slightly frustrated and slightly relieved that my lack of italian prevented me from explaining myself. At one point two waiters came in to see what the commotion was about. They saw Enrico waving his open palms towards the sky and quickly left the way they had entered. Ten minutes later he was patting me on the back and apologizing. Five minutes after that, we enjoyed our break by splitting a coke. "I'll do better tomorrow," I told him in italian. He flashed me a grin and responded, "no, tomorrow you just won't do the sausages."
It's strange being an immigrant dishwasher (I'm working at La Notizia through a course program in Naples). My seven weeks at Middlebury's intensive language program hasn't done me much good when it comes to communicating in the kitchen- a place where its less important to know the conditional and more important to know the word for ladle, dustpan, and lettuce. By the time its taken me to formulate a grammatically correct response they either a) have told someone else to do it or b) have grabbed me by the arm and attempted to show me my task through a rough pantomime. Either way, my responses of si or capito are rarely trusted. In fact, I'd say that over the last week of working under Enrico, I've learned less italian from him than I have italian gestures; the finger point below the eye, the palms pointed towards the sky, and my favorite, the italian wink. The italian wink should not be confused with the american wink- with is usually expressed as a sign of congenial complicity. No, the italian wink is used far more liberally and is generally directed towards speechless american dishwashers who are actually paying to dry pots and chop half-cooked sausages. On second thought, maybe the italian wink has the same meaning as the american one. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pizzafest 2008

Okay. This was it. Every year Naples puts on the world's biggest pizza celebration. For ten days straight, over two dozen pizzerias from all over the planet compete for bragging rights when it comes to true Neapolitan pizza. Before lthe night began, I had a vague concept of what "true" meant when it came to Neapolitans and their pizza. But now I've been set straight. Neapolitans are purists when it comes to culinary tradition and Pizzafest-which felt as much like a laboratory experiment as it did a food festival- might best exemplify their idiosyncratic, almost stringent nature . "Fair is fair," seemed to be the underlining motto of the night. The creators of Pizzafest set out to create a controlled environment where each pizzeria had to work against the norm to come up with something special. Each pizzaiolo was given the same space and same tools and told to make the same pizza (only margherita and marinara)The theory here being, that the only thing differeniating one pie from another is the talent and hardship gone into the creative process.  To help level the playing field, each pizzeria, I counted 25 in total, had to use a special wood burning oven that was no different than their fellow competitors . That's right, someone paid for 25 wood burning pizza ovens to be brought into the Mostra d'Oltremare fairgrounds.  I don't want to give the impression that all these pizzas were the same. They weren't. But for Neapolitans, true greatness in the pizza arena is found in the most
 minute differences. For them, the scrutiny in dissecting every aspect of a pie is almost as fun as the actual eating. 
Margaret and I showed up around 7:30, a half an hour after the fest was
 supposed to begin. We found ourselves waiting in a long line full of angry, pacing italians. Twenty minutes later that pacing had turned into shouting and banging on the ticket booth window. If I've learned one thing so far it is this: don't keep italians from their pizza. Despite the excruciatingly long wait (I had been purposely starving myself all day), we eventually were able to buy tickets. I was pleasantly surprised to find that for ten euros, you get a ticket for a pizza, coffee, beer, and desert limoncello
Last year's Champion 
In a fairgrounds dedicated to the art of pizza filled with 25 of the best pizzerias around, where do you start? Last year's winner, of course, Makoto Onishi from Salvatore Cuomo's Japanese pizzeria. By the time we had arrived at Cuomo's tent, a military band was already there to greet last year's champion. Margaret and I both split one margherita and one marinara.  What can I say other than it was delicious pizza? I preferred the margherita over the marinara but I think that will almost always be the case. The dough was especially thin, even by neapolitan standards but held everything together remarkably well. It was pliable, chewy, and the bottom was crunchy. The charred spots on the dough were more than just a sign of a good oven . Each spot was really baked into the dough, adding a completely new taste that helped the pizza as a whole. Each ingredient was fresh and distinctive, but nothing dominated the overall flavor. Everything worked together symbiotically sort of like Live Aid or a phish concert. Okay, maybe not a phish concert. 

    Pizza from Salvatore Cuomo

I wanted to show how pliable the crust was, 
but instead, it just looks like I'm holding up a slice of pizza...
Our next stop was at the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) tent. Margaret and I debated our margherita. She claimed that the overall flavor was better than the Cuomo pizza while I said that there was too much oil and mozzarella. After a slow digestive walk around the fair, we tackled our fourth and final pizza at L'antico Molo. We were both pretty stuffed and decided to go with a marinara. I can't say that I'm able to give this pie a fair description. I was too full. But I will say that there was a nice spicy kick to the tomato sauce. 

For your viewing pleasure...

Pizza tossing with the VPN guys

Me (dumb tourist) and them (pizzaioli)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ristorante "Ciro a Mergellina"

Located across from the bay, Ristorante Ciro a Mergellina is stuck between a row of fish vendors and parked vespas. After first glancing at the menu posted, I thought this might be another done-up tourist trap (The menu was, after all, written in english as well as Italian, good english). But after seeing the fast moving, white-jacketed waiters, I began to see a certain old worldly, almost anachronistic charm to Ciro's that I haven't seen in Naples, yet. Finally a place where people could see me for what I truly am; a top-hat wearing, ivory cane twirling gentleman. I lacked the hat and cane, but it was no matter. They gave us a table anyways.  In actuality, the only reason we ended up at Ciro's was because we were completely lost (looking for neapolitan tombs or something). I saw the pizza di Ciro through the big glass window and decided to give it a shot. 

What I ate: a Margherita 
What Margaret ate: nothing. She sat there, drinking a coffee and complaining about stomach problems
The Crust:
A very thin, incredibly chewy crust that reminded me of flat bread in some strange way. There was also something pleasantly sweet to the dough. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the flavor was, and I doubt very much there was any sugar added. That is, after all, a big no-no in Naples. But still, I enjoyed having to work through each bite. Whatever made the crust so chewy also made it very flimsy. This pie was an unabashedly soupy pizza. If you still don't know what I mean by soupy have a look at this photo:

A fork and knife kind of pizza. Scratch that. A spoon and straw kind of pizza.

I was both excited and little bit terrified to cut into this pizza. I watched my knife go through first, a level of oil on top, then a creamy thickness of buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce, and finally another layer of oil that "separated" the sauce from the crust. In reality, I couldn't tell where the toppings stopped and the dough began. This pizza was a swamp of flavor. 
In fact, I'll go so far as to say this was the definition of a soupy pizza. Sitting next to the Mediterranean sea, staring at the large aquarium filled with fish that would surely soon be someone's meal, I got the impression that "soupy" might have been exactly what they were going for. Maybe "oceanic" is a better word. Naples is known to have world class sea food and perhaps this pizza is a tribute to the sea without making you eat anything from it. Wait, so its possible that someone actually tried to make a soupy pizza? It's not just the result of using fresh tomatoes and creamy cheese? Maybe. This realization came as a little bit of a shock to me, considering  my own philosophy on crust, which states that cardboard thin pizza is good, but only as good  as the toppings it can literally,  support. 
So did the pie at Ciro a Mergellina win me over to the soupy side? Not really. Most days, I'm still going to prefer a slice with structural integrity over one lacking a backbone. But that's just me. If you want to try a good soupy pizza, and I mean a really good soupy pizza (and I think you do), go down to the metro, hop on the blue line, and get off at the stop labeled " The marshlands of pizza: Ciro a Mergellina". If you can't find that stop, and the woman at the information desk stares at you, just get off at the "Mergellina" stop instead.      

 The toppings:
I've briefly mentioned the mozzarella already. But its worth saying again; an abundant amount of an overly creamy cheese. Some of richest I've had so far. At the risk of offending cheese lovers, I might even say there was a little bit too much. No, wait, that's impossible. The most renegade and, perhaps, my favorite part of this margherita pizza was its inclusion of parmesan. Neapolitans are very strict about what constitutes a margherita pizza (mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil. that's it). Parmesan definitely can't be thrown on as an afterthought. In fact, since my arrival two weeks ago, I've almost entirely forgotten about parmesan (the mozzarella has been that good).  But this pie brought it back to me in a very refreshing way. The sharp, aged flavor of the parmesan helped balance the richness of the mozzarella and also complimented the chewy sweetness of the dough. Throw in the tanginess of the tomato sauce and bam! you've got yourself a very complex, very tasty pie.

I would recommend grabbing a pie at Ciro's to anyone, just so long as they know what they are getting. This is a very creamy, very rich pizza. Just make sure that your stomach can handle it because I promise your taste buds won't be disappointed. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba

Antica Pizzeria Port'alba:

     Antica Port'alba claims to be Naples' (and the world's) oldest pizzeria. Opening its doors in 1830, this unassuming restaurant can be off of Piazza Dante. Stuck between a number of used book stores, you don't see it the first time you walk by. We didn't at least. In fact, I was hesitant that I had even found the right place. Sitting outside was the restaurant's pizzaiolo, a somber sad eyed man who motioned for us to sit down in a shaded patio area. 
What I ate: Pizza diavola (a "deviled" pizza)
What Margaret ate: Pizza margherita 

The Crust:
     This was arguable the best part of both pizzas. Even as I watched our waiter carry our pizzas across the alleyway, I could see a golden brown crust that almost glowed in contrast to the white buffalo mozzarella. Before I even took a bite, I knew I was in for something exceptional. How did I know this? Well, for one, I could hold the slice in my hand. After being in Naples for about a week, and eating at least one pizza a day, I've already had my fair share of what food critic Ed Levine calls "soupy" neapolitan pizzas. These are hot, freshly cooked pizzas that don't have the structural integrity that most American pizza eaters take for granted.  In many neapolitan pizzerias, often the amazingly creamy buffalo mozzarella and the locally grown tomatoes, once cooked, liquify into a deliciously white and red puddle that forms at the center of the pizza. This puddle, while delicious, is also difficult to eat.  Most crusts are too thin to support the center of the pie, and as a result, become soggy and hard to pick up. The pie loses its crust, it's texture. It's something special. 
     This, however, was not the case at Antica Pizzeria Port'Abla. The crust here was slightly thicker than its other neapolitan brethren and singed to a lightly golden color. It was a comfort to eat a pizza with my hands again. But at the same time, I didn't find many dark, charred spots on the edges and bottom of the crust (a neapolitan signature and also one of my favorite parts of a good pizza). 

The Cheese (Mozzarella di buffala): 
     Both the margherita and the diavola were topped with mozzarella di buffala. This cheese was creamy, fresh, and by american standards, exceptionally good. But in the city that claims to have invented pizza, nothing made this mozzarella memorable. Since I've arrived, I have tried better mozzarella (on worse pizza) in other pizzerias around Naples. I will say, however, that the cheese seemed to work better on the margherita than it did on the diavola. To be honest, I think this is probably more of a reflection on the salumi on my pizza than it is on the mozzarella itself. 

The Sauce: 
The sauce on both our pizzas seemed to fit into the same camp as the mozzarella. In America, I would probably be quick to rave about it as being above par. But graded on a neapolitan scale, this sauce was good enough not be noticed, really. Not too sweet. Not too tangy. It seemed to hover in that spot where mediocrity and blandness meet (did I really just use mediocrity to describe a pizza sauce?). 

The toppings:
Perhaps the most disappointing element of the pizza at Antica Port' Alba was the basil. For me, adding basil to a pie is as much a symbol as it is a culinary choice. A freshly cut leaf of basil represents the freshness of a pie's ingredients and the labor of love that has gone into bringing those ingredients together. All that amazing flavor and aroma packed into one small leaf. Biting into that leaf should be a punch to your taste buds (Sometimes when I'm feeling really sinister, I'll plan how I'm going to eat my pie according to the placement of the basil and rearrange the leafs to better suit each bite). But at Antica Port' Alba the basil was dry, flavorless, and burnt. This was particularly frustrating considering the fact that good basil could have really helped draw out the flavor of the mozzarella and sauce. Why was the pizzaiolo so sad looking when we approached? Perhaps he was lamenting his herb selection. 
As for the salumi on the pizza diavola, each slice was cut into awkwardly shaped squares that drew attention away from its flavor, which was actually pretty good. Keep 'em thin and flat, I say. 
      One more thing I'd like to mention about the actual pizza at Antica Port'Alba: one of my biggest pet peeves about eating a pizza diavola is the fact that often there is nothing spicy or "deviled" about the pizza. My pizza here was no exception to this. Sure, I occasionally found  small pepper flecks. But what's the fun if I have to look for them? A good pizza diavola is very much like a good strip show (sorry mom, but the metaphor sort of works. I mean, I imagine it works, seeing that I've never been to a strip show myself but have only heard about them): the excitement is in what isn't seen, or, in our case, tasted. The pepper flecks and spicy salumi have to stimulate (what other verb could I use?) your taste buds to the breaking point of being too spicy, to a point where the flavor becomes distracting and starts to eclipse the other flavors of the pizza. But a good pizza diavola (maybe I should say a great pizza diavola) takes you to that breaking point without crossing over. In short, its an amazing tease. The diavola at Antica Port'Alba went the opposite direction into a complete absence of spice. There was nothing alluring or tantalizing about the taste. It was like trying to watch a strip show where the dancer wears a full-body jump suit and refuses to show you any skin. 
    The equivalent of a terrible pizza diavola

The Atmosphere: 
Located in a nice shaded side street full of american tourists and students (like the one writing this review). A margherita pizza will run you about five euros, which seems reasonable, but there is a coperto, or cover charge, for a few euros more. Also, our waiter, a very nice elderly italian man, knew how to squeeze money out of every situation. After we had paid and he came back with our change, he looked me in the eyes and said "For me?".  

     After reading this review to Margaret for feedback she candidly told me that I was giving Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba, one of the world's oldest and most famous pizzerias, a terrible review. I tried to protest. But upon remembering that Margaret is about twice as smart as me, I realized that she is probably right. Bashing Port'Alba was never the point of this review. In fact, I really enjoyed eating there and will surely go back at a later date (I just won't probably get the diavola again). In general, I do spend a little too much time fixated on the negative aspects of a pizza. The reason being; if something is good it is good and there usually isn't much more you can say beyond that. But if something is bad it can usually be better.  So why not try to fix it?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Finally, I am here

   Ciao tutti,
    One kosher meal, two security checkpoints, and fourteen hours of travel later, we have arrived in Naples. Margaret and I stumble through the customs line and watch as the agent carelessly waves through everyone with a red passport. Then he gets to us. We wait awkwardly as he enters our information into a computer. A minute later he ushers us through. Just like that, we are allowed to enter Italy. 
     It takes us ten minutes to figure out how to use the pay phone. The whole time we are trying desperately not to look desperate. Finally we get ahold of Federico, the only person we "know" in Naples. Through Craig's list, we will be renting two rooms from him for one month. On the phone, he seems nice. Standing outside waiting for the taxi, I wonder how many serial killers in the history of serial killers have seemed nice. I wonder how fast I can run with my luggage. I wonder if Margaret still remembers the judo she learned in elementary school.
     In the cab, the driver motions for us to roll down our windows. A photo of Pope John Paul II hangs from his rear-view window, and I see him flash me a smile. He says, very slowly, " Perche siete a Napoli?". Margaret and I both attempt to answer; its the first time either of us have had to use Italian since our arrival. After two or three tries I finally say, "Studero alla scuola di pizza." Taking his hands from the steering wheel, he gestures to me, "bravissimo!" he says. I smile back at him, my mind still on the mysterious Federico. Who trusts Craig's list anyways?
      So now I am here on the fourth floor of a very historic apartment  (okay, it seems very historic to me). We have two high-ceilinged, red tiled bedrooms that each have balconies that overlook the city. Last night around four in the morning, Margaret dragged me from my bed to watch an impromptu fireworks party on the roof of a building catty-corner us. Federico, who turned out not to be a serial killer and is instead a twenty something year old italian sculptor, gives us our first lesson on neapolitan culture. "Some member of the Camorra got out of jail, most likely. Some parents are probably celebrating the release of their son. It happens most nights." he says nonchalantly. 

     So far, not too much trash. There are small piles and heaps up and down the street; a mattress or two here. A toilet seat there. Nothing too worrisome. Compared to what I have been reading about for months, Naples appears to be little more than your typical, dirty city. In case you didn't know, Naples has been the center of European news lately due to a huge trash crisis or "la emergenza dei rifiuti". For more info, check out this.
     As of now, I'm less worried about who's going to pick up my trash and more worried about the crime. Federico warns us about going out at night (and during the day). "It is Naples, afterall" he says. "Some students who rented the apartment before you had troubles" he tells us, but doesn't go into what those "troubles" actually were. If we are to go out with more than twenty euro on us, he says, we should stick it in our shoes. Listening to him talk about the crime, I can't help but notice a smile appear on Federico's face. It's not so much that he is proud of the purse snatching and the pit-pocketing, but it's as if he understands that Naples' worst attributes are intricately tied with its best attributes. 
      Enough of the city. Onto the food. Last night Margaret and I made salami and buffalo mozzarella sandwiches, our first official italian meals. The mozzarella, which the man at the cheese store poured directly from what looked like a huge vase, came to us in a sack filled with water. The cheese wasn't creamy. It was really just milk, slightly tart milk, in sold form. Spread out over freshly made dough and cooked for sixty seconds in a 900 degree oven, this cheese will literally melt in your mouth. Last night we ate it raw. But that didn't stop us from having seconds and thirds. 
      I can't wait to start blogging about all the different types of pizza I am going to eat and (hopefully) create while I'm staying here in Naples. My school doesn't start for another two weeks- the perfect amount of time to explore the city and all pizzerias it has to offer. I will carry a small notebook and a camera  with me wherever I go and take notes and photos of each pie I eat. If anyone out there has any advice on where to eat and what to do, I'd love to hear from you. This week I'll start writing reviews on some of Naples' more famous pizzerias, and after that, I'll probably move on to some its lesser known spots. Until then,
Ci vediamo