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pizzazz



The search for great pizza, particularly in Tokyo, can be a perilous journey. Undaunted, Stuart Braun hunts down the perfect pie.


Since Raffaele Esposito of Naples created a pizza for Queen Margherita in 1889, what started as a simple peasant meal has turned into a global dietary staple. But while the simple mushroom or anchovy pizza is still sold on the streets of Naples for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it has undergone significant reinvention elsewhere.

Caviar and goats cheese???
When fusion virtuoso Wolfgang Puck started slapping goats cheese, capers, salmon caviar and sun-dried tomatoes on his thin crust bases at LA’s Spago restaurant, the gourmet pizza phenomena was unleashed-forthwith few remain content with a pastoral pepperoni and mozzarella. Likewise in Tokyo, Spago has spearheaded a pizza renaissance that has seen the humble Neapolitan dish emerge with four cheeses and cherry tomatoes from wood-fired ovens the city over.

Savoy- "pizza and jazz"

What sells as authentic Italian pizza in Tokyo will most often have a hint of gourmet flare. Napule, in Aoyama, with its warm, rustic ambiance, wood-fired oven and exposed kitchen combines contemporary flavors (the seafood pizza is a must) with traditional technique-the oven was built by a Neapolitan master craftsmen with stones from Mount Vesuvia! In a similar vein, La Befana pizzeria in Shimokitazawa cooks up some of Tokyo’s favorite traditional pizzas-Neapolitan, marinara, prosciutto, rucola-with interesting deviations-try the “covaccino” pizza dough flavored with pepper, garlic and Parmesan cheese and topped with raw ham (reasonably priced from JY1500-JY1800).

Contemporary California-style gourmet pie is becoming de rigueur at a number of pizza restaurants around Tokyo. Not surprisingly, Spago Tokyo in Roppongi is, if only conceptually, leading the way. Regular main menu pizza items include the calzone (stuffed pizza) with mushrooms, bell pepper, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese (JY1900); and pizza with asparagus, squash, sun dried tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil (JY1900). Current specials include pizza with lamb sausage, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, celery and okra (JY1900), or with home smoked salmon, dill sour cream, and black Caviar (JY2100). Satisfaction is guaranteed.

Spago- spiritual home of the pizza

The renowned and well-patronized Brendan’s Pizzakaya is another mainstay of the emerging gourmet pizza scene. Here, the pizze has been unashamedly Americanized-for example, the BLT (crisp bacon, lettuce and fresh tomato on a homemade crust, JY2900) or Santa Fe (Southwest flavors of lime chicken, caramelized onions and fresh guacamole, JY3000). These aren’t tame hybrid pizzas, and Brendan employs an old-fashioned dough recipe utilizing five kinds of flour-whole wheat, semolina, rye and two kinds of white-and that takes two days to prepare. Other standouts including a Vegetarian Delight (tomato, mushroom, olive, garlic, green pepper and onion, JY3000), Tangy BBQ Chicken (cheese, chicken, onions and tangy BBQ sauce, JY2900) and Taco Grande (Mexican taco meat, onions and tomatoes topped with Cheddar cheese and jalapeńos, JY3000). Those living around the Minato ward can also take advantage of Brendan’s delivery service.

Authentico
A truly great pizza is hinged on the consistency of the dough, and at Savoy, the salubrious soft crust underpins one of the most authentic and mesmerizing pizzas this side of Naples. With only two choices-marinara or margarita (both for JY1500)-it might seem like the pizza at Savoy is an afterthought to the jazz music and fine selection of red wines. But here simplicity is the key, and one has the feeling that the chef spent years in the back streets of Napoli perfecting his art. The soft, slightly crunchy dough, the rich tomato sauce, chunks of creamy mozzarella, whole basil leaves and splash of extra virgin olive oil come together to make a sensational pizza, cooked in literally three minutes in Savoy’s rustic, raging wood-fired oven.

Elsewhere, upmarket Italian restaurant chain Salvatore, with venues in Aoyama, Roppongi, Azabu and the new Atago Green Hills complex, offer up a Neapolitan pie with a gourmet twist. Witness the hand-tossed, basil-packed margarita (JY2200) cook on the lava rock grill and savor the flavor of one the cities best pizzas. A more sedate, though none-the-less spectacular, pizza experience can be had at Isola in Shirogane (near Ebisu). While the accent is on authenticity, Isola remains a step above your peasant pizze, offering inventively prepared-in the wood oven, of course-pies including the Sarcia e brocoli (mozzarella, homemade sausage, broccoli, JY2500) and Siciliana (tomato, sardine, caper, olive, JY2300). Another of Tokyo’s hidden pizza Mecca’s, Isola proves that the quest for the perfect pizza might soon be over.


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ISSUES 349-
ISSUES 299-
Pizza haven’s

Savoy
2-7-10 Kamimeguro Meguro-ku. Tel: 03-3g714-5160. Open: 6-10pm. Nearest stn: Nakameguro.

Brendan’s Pizzakaya
3-1-9 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3479-8383.Open: 6-11pm daily. Nearest stn: Roppongi.

Spago
5-7-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3423-4025. Open: 11:30am-2pm Mon-Sat, 6-10pm Mon-Fri, 6-9:30pm Sat, Sun and holidays. Nearest stn: Roppongi.

Isola Pizzeria
6-17-2 Shirogane, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5447-2733. Nearest stn: Roppongi.

La Befana
5-31-3 Daita, Setagaya-ku. Tel: 03-3411-9500. Open: 12-2pm,
5:30-10:30pm daily.

Salvatore Cuomo Bros.
Towa Igreg B1, 2-23-14 Higashi Azabu, Minato-ku
Tel: 3582-3680. Atago Green Hills, Kamiyacho. Open Mon-Fri 6pm-12am, Sat, Sun and Holidays 11:30am-12am. Tel: 03-3476-5688.

Sabatini Pizzeria Romana
Suncrest Building, 2-13-5 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3402-2027. Open

Napule
5-6-24 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3797-3790.
Open: 11:30-2am.

Bellini's Pizza Kitchen
3-14-12 Roppongi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3470-5650. Open: 11:30am-10pm (last order) Mon-Fri, 11:30am-3am Sat-Sun.

La Cantinella
Horibe Bldg. B1F, 4-25-12 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3407-7043. Open: 11:30am-4:30pm, 6pm-10:30pm.
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