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Chow Report: Napoli / Naples


Restaurants & Bars 11

Chow Report: Napoli / Naples

SteveG | Jan 27, 2009 11:51 AM

Best pizza: Da Michele; all other DOC pizzas made with inferior tasting ingredients, and too much of them.

We were thrilled to get to eat pizza in Napoli, but when the rubber met the road just being a certified "Vera Pizza Napolitana" joint was almost meaningless. Yes, the ingredients and method are roughly correct, but that has no bearing on whether the mozzarella was fit for a king or fit for dogs, and the ultimate pizzas varied accordingly. Maybe things are better during summer months with fresh tomatoes, but during our visit in January I was generally struck by how simple and vaguely unpleasant the tomato sauce was in flavor structure.

The best by far was at the venerable Da Michele, Via Cesare Sersale 3, Napoli. They only make 2 or 3 types, the pizzas weren't oversized, the prices slightly higher than elsewhere. The smaller pizza, fewer toppings, and marginally higher prices seemed to translate directly into increased ingredient quality, and it really helped matters. For the record, most of the places that disappointed us with cheaper pies of dubious ingredient quality were on either Via dei Tribunali or Via San Biagio dei Librai, west of Via Duomo.

Sadly, none of the pizzas compared well to what Zuni restaurant turns out in San Francisco during the lunch service, but then again Zuni's pizza is twice the price...yet the ingredient quality is what edges it above what we found in Naples. In trying to find Da Michele's location after the fact, I came across this web page, which perfectly captures my feelings on pizza in Napoli:

We had an excellent and expensive lunch at Ristorante President in Pompei. Among other things, we each had a different Paccheri pasta dish, which is like a large rigatoni. Frankly, it's a tube of dried pasta and the sauce makes or breaks the dish; I'd take fresh pasta any time over paccheri, but it's the local specialty so we gave it a go. Our first choice restaurants were closed for the season, and a tip for anyone visiting the ruins: there is no in and out, so you can't spend the morning in the ruins, go have lunch, and then come back without paying a second time. Welcome to Italy.

For dinner in Napoli, we ended up at Ristorante Bellini. General frustration with the slow food guide's slim pickings, lack of research, tiredness, and the day of the week (Sunday) found us seated upstairs at Ristorante Bellini. On the way in, we noticed a great display of fresh seafood, primarily clams (vongole), larger clams, and mega clams with a red-orange "tongue" lazing out of the shells. My spaghetti with vongole was pretty good, though it didn't have any of the other shellfish I had attempted to try with my order, so I bugged the waiters with my bad Italian until they understood I was asking about the other shellfish. That produced an utterly amazing cooked frutti di mare containing vongole, the larger clams called taratufi, and the largest clams, perhaps 1.5-2" across with the red-orange filter which are called fasolari. They were swimming in savory sauce with perfect fresh croutons to provide a crispy/savory/oily counterpoint to the gently cooked bivalves. Sadly, one of the staff at the restaurant stole my credit card info and racked up fraudulent charges the following day until my card hit the limit. Lesson to learn: always pay in cash in Napoli. Always.

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