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Restaurants | Critic's Notebook

If You're Not in Naples, Antica Pizzeria Is the Next Best Thing

November 02, 2000|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

Pizza is basically just a piece of bread dough with a tomato topping. But what adifference in the details. Nowhere else on earth does it as well as Naples, the southern Italian city that sprawls in the shadow of Vesuvius.

Maybe like San Francisco's sourdough, the quality of Neapolitan pizza is due to some fortunate synergy of yeasts and climate. The crust has the misshapen, handcrafted look of raku pottery and emerges blistered from the oven, the rim a fat coil just high enough to keep the topping from overflowing. The secret is the quality of the ingredients: the pear-shaped San Marzano tomatoes grown on the region's volcanic soil and the extraordinary bufala mozzarella made in the nearby countryside.

If I'm anywhere near Naples, I can never resist driving into the city for a pizza. One restaurant there makes what I consider the ideal Margherita. Just off the municipal square, Pulcinella is an upscale pizzeria and restaurant with a contemporary design aesthetic. No red-checked tablecloths here. Ask for "la bufalina."

Instead of tomato sauce, it's made with quartered pomodorini (fresh cherry tomatoes) and bufala so fresh it weeps milk. The ferocious heat of the wood-burning oven cooks the pizza in just a few minutes. It emerges a molten pool of bufala and tomatoes garnished with a few lone sweet basil leaves, sitting on a crunchy, fragrant bread crust. Stupendously delicious.

In Los Angeles the best place to find Naples-style pizza is at Antica Pizzeria on 3rd Street, and also at its second location in Marina del Rey. Not only does owner Peppe Miele hail from the Naples area, he's also one of the few U.S. members (actually the first) to be a member of Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.

That means pizzas must be baked on the brick floor of an oven fired only with wood; that the dough must be made only with flour, natural yeast and water; that a Margherita, for example, must be topped only with good quality tomatoes, real mozzarella, Parmesan and fresh basil.

His Margherita is artful in its simplicity--just loosely chopped tomatoes, little pools of melted mozzarella (though not bufala) and a few whole basil leaves. That's it. Try it.

BE THERE

Pulcinella a Santa Brigida, via Santa Brigida, 40, Napoli; tel 011-39-081-551.7117. Pizza Margherita 13,000 lire, about $6.

Antica Pizzeria, 8022 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles; (323) 658-7607; and Villa Marina Marketplace, 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey; (310) 577-8182. Pizza margherita $8.95.

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