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Una Pizza Napoletana (very long) review

I joined the crowd tonight at the opening week of Anthony Mangieri's new pizza shop in SOMA.

We arrived at 5:40 and the food didn't hit our table until quarter of 8; I would expect if you pop in for dinner on a weekend, this might be the case for a while. Perhaps it's more reasonable on weekdays?

We stood in line out on the sidewalk with about 20 people in front of us--a 20-30 person line was standard from the time we arrived until the time we left, but with only 30-something seats, it takes a while to get people moving. Unlike Pizzeria Delfina, we weren't offered wine while we waited outside, so we just hung out on the bleak block at 11th and Harrison, but had the pleasure of overhearing conversations with people who had followed the Mangieri news blotter and wanted to discuss allegations (flying in water from italy) and rumors (he was into field hockey players [pixies joke, ignore]) that grease the wheel of conversation for strangers standing together for 1+hours

When you near the front of the line, you get a view of the action: Mangieri in front of the gorgeous blue tiled pizza oven, which presides over the room like a monarch on a throne. Anthony and the oven are behind a metal fence that servers enter to drop off orders; the chef himself put together each pie; his wife and a friend were servers.

When we sat down after an hour in line, the server mentioned that the orders were backed up, so ours wouldn't be taken for some time so that Anthony wouldn't be stressed out by all the waiting tickets--we ended up waiting another 30 minutes for our order to be taken, then 30 for the food to arrive. The menu includes four pizzas, a fifth pizza that wasn't available that evening, and beers, wines and beverages. No starters, and a warning on the menu that pizzas were not to be altered in any way: no substitutions, no added or deleted oil or hot pepper.

Probably because I had read just a little bit about the place, I expected the "soup nazi" treatment, but the servers and hosts were terribly nice, and Anthony himself seemed good natured about diners walking up to snap his picture without asking as if he were an orangutan at a zoo. People waiting in line drifted in to chat with him, say hello if they knew him already or introduce themselves if they didn't.

Our hostess explained that the dough is raised without yeasts, and the process takes 48 hours, hence the 150 pie limit--once they're out, they simply can't whip up more.

We ordered two 12 inch pies, and I would recommend a pie per person. By the time we were served at the 2 hours point, we were starving, and ate everything within 15 minutes.

Pizzas are $20 each--we had the Filletti (cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozz, oil, basil, salt) and the Margherita (San Marzano sauce, buffalo mozz, oil, basil, salt). The two other options available that night were Bianca (minus tomatoes/sauce) and Marinara (minus cheese).

The pizza arrived scalding hot, the cheese still bubbling in molten pools. I knew the roof of my mouth would sear into curtains, but I was hungry enough to start eating after an insufficient cool-down anyhow. Everything about the flavor was in the crust: the sauce on the Margherita was minimal, and the Filletti cherry tomatoes added a bit of interest, but really you are here for the crust.

I don't think I've thought about crust except when chewing on the frame of a pizza, but the flavor of this was so robust and insistent it blew the doors off the thin skin of oil, cheese and tomato on top. Deep, earthy and quite chewy. My only style comparison is Frank Pepe's pizza place, which was near where I grew up--Pepe's is less flavorful, but I like Frank's slightly crispier texture better.

We were happy to visit and see the master in action--I happen to love a chef who is a little bit crazy, someone who wakes up in the morning burning to create something specific, beautiful and true. I'd probably wait a while to return until the calm settles in somewhat, and I'd be happy to see what Anthony is cooking up then.

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Una Pizza Napoletana
200 11th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. It sounds really good but i'm not sure I'd wait that long.... planning on going this Thursday... Have you been to Tony's in North Beach yet? I haven't, but I'm wondering how the two compare, and thinking I'll try Tony's first and wait til the rush dies down at Una Pizza...

    http://www.tonyspizzanapoletana.com/

    3 Replies
    1. re: mariacarmen

      I haven't been to Tony's, and I wouldn't wait that long again either. A few people with us in line left when they figured out that they wouldn't be eating in an hour.

      1. re: mariacarmen

        Tony's is as maximalist as UPN is minimalist. I counted three ovens, five different doughs, four different tomato sauces, and eleven styles of pizza on the menu. Or are you asking for a comparison of their Napoletana with UPN's?

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/632240

      2. If you were in line at 5:40 with 20 people ahead of you, then you were the second party seated at that table? At that rate, assuming he wasn't having problems and having to throw pies away, it seems like the last of the 150 would come out of the oven around 2am.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Sounds like one of professor Copi's problems circa 1957, if A then B.
          http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Lo...

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            My dining partner was trying to do the same math. My area of expertise is more Amis than algebra, so I have no idea--but I'd guess that yes, we were in the second seating.

          2. I've enjoyed Anthony's work at UPN in the East Village and I've enjoyed Tony's work in North Beach. As an aside, I gave Motorino, the outfit that took over Anthony's place in Manhattan, a visit a few weeks ago. The Bay Area may be winning the pizza wars. I'll update next month.

            1. We managed to leave our SF vacation the day before opening, but as New Yorkers didn't think we missed much--except the predictable theater surrounding wait times, prices, and minimal (if not nasty) service. Such were the conditions of the East Village place, and Mangieri began to wear out his welcome--however intense and skilled he might be, his place never seemed to want to please customers. There are other similarly skilled pizzaioli in the world, and certainly in NY. We've enjoyed superb margheritas at Keste and Motorino, both in the $12 range, and at Motorino (Brooklyn), a lovely space, quick Saturday seating, good salumi app,, great pizze, and good wines. Can't wait to stand for 2 hours on 11th and Harrison.

              17 Replies
              1. re: bob96

                While Mangieri may not make conventional efforts to please customers, any chef who consistently has a line down the block, as UPN in NYC did until the end, clearly is doing so somehow.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I've eaten at Anthony's shop in Manhattan many times. Some folk like him, some absolutely hate him. He is what he is. I'm a fan of his talent and dedication. Never ran into callous behavior at his old place. The Bay Area is mighty fortunate to have so many great pizza options.

                  1. re: steve h.

                    No one's doubting or diminishing his skill and dedication. And the lines were testimony to his gifts (and his small place). But for the lines he had, he also lost customers. For me (who grew up with Totonno's and other now long gone superb Brooklyn coal oven nabe joints), no pizza, no matter how authentic, was worth the price, the absurd wait, and the chance I'd run into poor service. Sorry, not with the choices.

                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Hype? It doesn't take very many people to form a line down the block for a place that only seats 20-30 people.

                    I think steve h. hit the nail on the head: with so many great pizza options in SF, I wonder how long the crowds will last.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      It's not like NYC has any shortage of great pizza, and before his fans were lining up in the East Village they were schlepping out to Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

                      I expect he'll do fine here. Only a few places in SF attempt hardcore Neapolitan-style pizza and nowhere else is as narrowly focused on it. Plus he's world-famous and will surely get a fair amount of fanatical tourists making pizza pilgrimages.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Tourists will line up for anything. I'm not saying he won't be successful, but I think the pizza culture in SF is close to saturation. I'll refrain from making any judgments about the degree to which SF and NY have different attitudes toward things fashionable and famous.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          My take is you can never have enough good pizza options. Having said that, it will be interesting to track Tony's populist approach in North Beach and Anthony's minimalist (purist?) style. I like both of these guys.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Just "close to saturation?" I'd say we have enough pizza joints to give David Chang a new punch line the next time he's in town.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              I think the trend toward better pies made using top-quality ingredients and by following specific regional traditions has a long way to go, and those places are competing less with each other than with the 300 or so places that turn out average pizza.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                You're right, especially as the "Vera Napoletana" brand gets commercialized, as all things do and as it has already with corner pizza margherita-style slices in NY. Not a bad thing, and in more than a few cases a boon to the quality level of those 300 other places. But there are only so many specific regional traditions in Italy for pizza (Neapolitan, of course, in perhaps no more than 4-5 styles, including vegetable pies made with pizza dough; Roman flats; Ligurian foccaccia; Sicilian schiacchiata.) The rest are, to my knowledge, mostly variants.
                                This is certainly a big enough list for me (and I imagine most folks), and I support creative use of traditional methods and best quality ingredients. Never been a better time for an American pizzavore.

                                1. re: bob96

                                  There are at least three types of pizza specific to Rome, and a number of significant types have evolved outside of Italy, e.g. Chicago deep-dish, New York coal-oven, New Haven, stromboli, Old Forge ...

                                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizza_in...

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Anyone who would bring a great Detroit-style pizza to the San Francisco Bay Area could do very well, I think, especially combined with a good wine and beer selection. I'm available for consulting and research trips back to the Detroit area :).

                                    Looking forward to trying Una Pizza Napoletana once things settle down.

                                    Michael

                                    1. re: mdg

                                      I've got the take-out menu for Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House. On the pizza side of the menu it lists:
                                      "Detroit (square) (when available)
                                      red top . . . $3.75"
                                      I have no idea Detroit pizza or red top might be, but thought you'd like to know.

                                      -----
                                      Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza and Slice House
                                      1556 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        According to wikipedia, Detroit-style is a square pizza with a thick, deep-dish crust and comes with marinara sauce on top (thus, red top) rather than under the toppings.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          From Melanie's link not much of a red top. I guess I left Detroit too soon, the pizza's I made and delivered from Rocky's , 7 Mile and Wyoming, in the 50's were regular.
                                          http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives...

                                        2. re: Melanie Wong

                                          This was a rave for Detroit pizza from a Detroit native, now moved to the new topic that Melanie refers to below.

                                          Michael

                                          1. re: mdg

                                            Mr. Lauriston started a new topic for the Detroit slice here,
                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/755205
                                            Hope we get some reports, please check in there.

                      2. "Our hostess explained that the dough is raised without yeasts, and the process takes 48 hours"

                        Dough won't rise without yeast. If he doesn't add it from a jar, it settles in from the air in the kitchen. But I think this bit is BS.

                        Letting it rise for 48 hours is good practice. Dough that has risen in a relatively cool environment for a long time tastes much better than anything that has been rushed. It's a silly reason for the limit though, as they can always start out with more dough at the beginning. If there's any left over it will be even better the next day.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: Euonymous

                          the hostess was probably noting that the dough is made with a starter rather than adding yeast. Possibly with wild yeast starter. Yes technically yeast, but different than what the average person thinks of as yeast.

                          1. re: Euonymous

                            "Nobody makes dough like I do. It’s just flour–it’s got no yeast in it. I make a starter the day before, and then I let it rise naturally. That builds a depth of flavor that’s key. It’s kind of like a sourdough in that respect. Once I make it, I keep it going for about two days, never in a refrigerator."

                            http://blog.zagat.com/anthony-mangier...

                            I'm not sure why he says "kind of like a sourdough," sounds like that's precisely what it is.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              It is. I speak both New Jersey and New York.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Maybe because most people, especially in San Francisco, associate "sourdough" with a very specific type of bread product and he doesn't want people to get the wrong impression.

                              2. re: Euonymous

                                This 2009 article says he uses old dough for the starter, so it's classic sourdough in the European tradition:

                                http://nymag.com/restaurants/cheapeat...

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Which has yeast in it. My point exactly. Just because the yeast isn't spooned in from a jar doesn't mean there's none in there.

                                2. re: Euonymous

                                  Dear Euonymous, Yeast is in the air, all it takes to form a biga/starter is four and water and a few days of sitting. FYI

                                  1. re: shelley195814

                                    That's what she said: "Dough won't rise without yeast. If he doesn't add it from a jar, it settles in from the air in the kitchen." Might want to read carefully before you start calling people out.

                                    Thus, it's BS to say that he doesn't use yeast. He does use yeast, just not *commercial* yeast.

                                    1. re: shelley195814

                                      Yup, I know that. As Ruth pointed out (thanks, Ruth), that's what I said just a bit upthread. I've been baking many types of bread for a long time now and know how the processes work.

                                      1. re: Euonymous

                                        Hey RL and E give the newbie a break. I'm sure shelley will be more circumspect before she is so quik(sic) with her next FYI.

                                        1. re: wolfe

                                          Is this thread really what comes from Neapolitan pizza? Why the agita--and yes, I know it's important to hold folks to their claims. Would it matter much at all how the dough rose as long as it tasted as it should? Does it matter if we even know? Just asking.

                                          1. re: bob96

                                            I can't help myself. I have a post in General Chowhound about Neapolitan pizza. I hope it makes people think.

                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7447...