The best pizza I’ve experienced was at a perfectly unassuming, quietly dedicated neighbourhood restaurant in the back streets of Torino, Italy, by the name of Totò (being a nickname for people named Salvatore, but also the name of one of Italy’s most lauded actors from Naples: Totò [Antonio Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno De Curtis di Bisanzio Gagliardi], better known as Antonio De Curtis, or so I’m reliably informed).
Back in the day, at Totò
Totò’s pizza was so utterly divine that I’ve ever since worried that I may forever more owe a debt of deepest gratitude to those most dearest of men and sparkly of dining partners by whom I was introduced to the delights of truly authentic Italian pizza.
Thankfully, having at last dined at da Isa, the highly regarded and much frequented Nakameguro establishment of world-class pizza chef and Presidente, Yamamoto Hisanori, I feel at least partially confident in my ability to return an introductory favor.
Yamamoto-sensei won the World Pizza Cup – in Naples, the spiritual home of pizza – three years in row, so he’s pretty good at his trade; knocking out mind blowing pizza for hoards of ravenous diners.
Not far from Nakameguro station (about 8 minutes walk down Yamate Dori toward Ikejiri), da Isa is hardly one of the neighbourhood’s best kept secrets. Packed most of the time, queues are to be expected, and evening reservations (if you can) are advised. Weekday lunches can be had for ¥1,000 which, considering the quality of pizza, is a bargain.
The shop interior and pavement dining area look and feels pretty much like the real deal, nothing fancy and (thankfully) not overly adorned with faux-Italian decoration. A team of busy floor staff wait the dining area with great efficiency, and do a competent job of turning tables without ever making you feel rushed.
As @izakayasanpo had pointed out, the drinks err on the small side, although my dining partner (rather sparkly, too) thought they were fine. Drink volume aside, we were in complete accord when it came to the perfection of the pizza.
The menu offers a comprehensive selection of pies, none of which will break the bank, along with a handful of antipasti and sundries. Best of all, all the pizza are cooked by Yamamoto-sensei himself, with the open kitchen providing the opportunity to watch the master work his oven and wooden paddle.
Having placed an order, the pizzas were turned out briskly, and without theatrics – no tossing the dough around or other such party tricks – he simply pummels it into shape, slaps it on the paddle and flings the topping on before shoving it into the oven. Although no expert, I assume the extreme heat and speed with which the pizza is cooked are the secret behind the incredible flavour and to-die-for chewy base that results.
After giving the menu due consideration, we eventually went for the Margherita Alla Roman (pomodoro, mozzarella, basilica and anchovies) and 4 Formaggi (mozzarella, gorgonzola, teleggio and parmiggiano), both of which were unquestionably superb. Moist and gooey without being too sloppy, the cheeses pungent, the base chewy but not too heavy; in sum, totally moreish.
The size of each pizza was more than adequate, leaving us feeling stuffed by time we were done, although they were so delicious that a second round didn’t seem such a bad idea…
Repeat visits have proven enjoyable, with da Isa currently remaining my favourite Tokyo pizza restaurant to date, with a few caveats.
Following Woodster's advice, an evening at nearby Seirinkan revealed a tastier pizza base. da Isa's is gorgeous, but more bitter, and less salty/ doughy than those Seirinkan offers. Overall, however, da Isa wins the contest in terms of topping flavours and varities.
Similarly, although the much feted L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele (Ebisu) is indeed worthy of great praise (providing the lengthy queue doesn't summon forth the urge to kill) it's neither as magical in terms of taste or atmosphere. On this point - atmosphere - da Isa is way ahead of the pack. Great locale, lively, down to earth interior (authentic feeling, at least) and the pavement dining area is wonderful fun.
Indeed, although it's worth taking a table inside da Isa at least once, if only to view the various trophies and awards bestowed upon chef Yamamoto, it's actually very cramped, noisy, and nearly impossible to get served. After waiting 20 minutes from the time of being seated to catch the attention of a waiter, and then being told to "hold on just a moment" three more times by three more staff over the course of about another 20 minutes, tempers can start to fray, especially when you've not even been served a drink, let alone ordered any pizza.
To be fair, the place was packed, and the staff are clearly overwhelmed. That said, the experience when seated outside is much smoother, more timely and certainly more relaxing.
The antipasti, in this case the Marinata di Pesce, seems to offer somewhat less cost performance than the pizzas do. And while we are on the subject of pizza, the Margherita al Prosciutto was fabulous, once it arrived -- this particular order was forgotten and only after last orders were called and this transgression discovered, was it set aright, albiet in a timely and apologetic manner.
Worth the wait, though...