“The chef's favorite is the margherita,” our server told us. Pressed for pizza recommendations, she offered hers, the guanciale, ricotta and scallion, and his, the tomato, mozzarella and olive oil, unadorned save a few blistered basil leaves.
“But isn't that always the case?” we thought. Chefs often treat their pizzas with a kind of unmitigated love usually reserved for one's children, and the simple margherita is the ultimate manifestation of the mom-propagated belief that all we need to be is ourselves.
Thankfully in the case of Sotto, which occupies the former Test Kitchen space and is open for lunch as of today, bare bones is good.
The margherita achieves all the textures that Neapolitan style strives to achieve. A fluffy crust without a harsh chew, not a hint of overworked gluten. A wet center, the makeshift altar for olive oil, cheese and dough to enter holy matrimony and become one. Crispy bits here. Soft bits there.
The pizza falls victim to an unfortunate trend among new wave Neapolitan pizza makers, the occasional black spots that marked pizzas from the old country have become a black epidemic in the new world, covering the pizza's circumference. Unless you're a smoker, you might want just a little less char.
But sitting on the patio at Sotto, a protected enclave of calm separated from the symphonic main dining room by a thick glass door, the pizza is a symbol of the simplicity we enjoyed through the meal. When you have the soft tang of mozzarella, pliant even after the pizza has cooled, and that gentle crust, you don't need a sprinkling or dusting of anything.
It focuses our attention on the sensuality of the experience, the smooth grain of the handsome wood table and the whiff of marjoram that arrives with each sip of our Tipico Italiano. After the sun sets and and the table has been cleared of its pizza crumbs, darkness eventually gathers around our candlelit table, telling us that it's time to go home.