Loading...
Pizza

A Peek Into Sotto's Hand-Built Neapolitan Pizza Oven; Will Soft-Open Feb. 25

Comments (0)

By

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Sotto: Pizza Oven Being Built

Great pizza begins with a great oven, which is why Steve Samson and Zach Pollack of Sotto, the Italian restaurant opening in the bottom floor of the Test Kitchen space, went straight to Naples for theirs, importing 15,000 pounds of materials and even the oven designer himself. It's a massive investment, especially for a restaurant where pizza will comprise only a quarter to a third of the menu.

Sotto, which should soft-open February 25, will feature a pizza oven designed and hand-built by Stefano Ferrara, a third-generation Neapolitan oven-builder who learned the trade from his father and grandfather.

Sotto: Pizza Oven Being Built

Ferrara's ovens grace some of the country's most celebrated pizzerias including Mario Batali's Eataly (New York), Via Tribunali (Seattle and Portland) and Crostatas (Cleveland), but oftentimes, his customers buy one of his ovens and hire a local builder to install it. Ferrara himself has built fewer than 10 ovens in the United States. When Sotto opens, it will have the first Ferrara-built oven in Southern California. (Caffe Calabria in San Diego is getting a Ferrara oven soon.)

The key to a top-notch pizza oven is the slab on which the pizza sits. Too thin and it'll lose heat. Too thick and it will take too much energy to heat while burning the pizza bottoms.

The shape and height of the dome is also crucial. "You don't want a dome that's too high or the heat will escape and float around at the top," Pollack says. The mouth of Sotto's oven is ~8.66 inches (22 cm). "It's not easy to maneuver with that," Pollack says, "but it makes better pizzas."

At its full height, the oven is nearly 7 feet high, but Ferrara won't reveal the dome's internal height. "Trade secret," he says.

Sotto: Pizza Oven Being Built

Per Ferrara's instructions, Samson and Pollack shipped everything from Naples: the thick slabs for the base of the oven, the bricks, the specialized refractory cement, the Vesuvian sand, the tools. It required seven massive palettes, and the truck nearly tipped over in Sotto's parking lot when delivering its payload.

Building the oven usually takes Ferrara, working with his assistant, Vincenzo, seven days from start to finish. He does almost everything by hand: cutting the bricks down to size, carefully placing layer after layer of brick pasted together with cement, packing in Vesuvian soil and earth for insulation. When we caught up with him this week on his third day of work, he said he expects to have the oven finished this Sunday.

In the final step of the process, the rough-hewn oven made of hardened gray cement and brown bricks is covered in a layer of decorative tiles, often spelling out the restaurant's name. Samson and Pollack aren't yet sure what their oven will read.

Sotto: Pizza Oven Being Built

After the building is done, the oven must be dried before usage. Samson and Pollack will have to keep a fire burning in the oven 15 hours a day for 10 straight days. To make sure the oven isn't damaged, the fire starts low and slow, gradually increasing to 900º (F). After this initial phase, regular use can begin, though it takes another 20 days for the the oven to completely dry. For the next three weeks, steam and water will drip from the opening whenever the oven is in use.

Samson and Pollack plan to put 6-8 pizzas on Sotto's menu, cooking them with a combination of oak (for a consistent heat) and beech (for the flare-ups that cause those delicious little blisters on the crust).

Sotto: Pizza Oven Being Built

Related Location

Related Content

Now Trending

Slideshows

  • Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar
    Malibu Pier Restaurant and Bar, with chef Jason Fullilove at the helm, is in the two buildings at the pier’s entrance that used to be Beachcomber Cafe and Ruby’s Diner. Those buildings, which have been overhauled completely, reflect both the pier’s 109-year-old history and the cultural import of Malibu itself.
  • The Tasting Menu Trend
    In Los Angeles especially, but increasingly across the country, restaurants are either switching to tasting menus, putting a greater focus on a tasting-menu option (while offering à la carte items as well), or opening as tasting-menu operations from day one. The format that used to be the calling card of only the fanciest of restaurants is becoming ubiquitous, even at places where the waiter calls you “dude” and there isn’t a white tablecloth in sight.
  • Milo's Kitchen: A Treat Truck for Dogs
    Milo's Kitchen, a part of California-based Big Heart Pet Brands, is taking its homestyle dog treats on the road this summer with the "Treat Truck." The dogified food truck is making stops all over the country, ending up in New York early September. The truck stopped at Redondo Beach Dog Park Friday morning entertaining the pups with treats, a photo-booth and play zone. Milo's Kitchen Treat Truck offered samples of the line's six flavors, all with chicken or beef as the first ingredient, and all made in the U.S.A. with no artificial colors or preservatives. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.