Friday, 22 August 2008
An in-depth report of pizza from an expert in Washington, D.C. and in N.Y.
People ask me what is my favorite food. I love foie gras, caviar, langoustines, soufflés, all things dark chocolate--but my all time favorite food is PIZZA. I have been on a quest to find a handful of the best pizza restaurants in Italy and in the states (namely New York and Washington, D.C. because their pizzerias excel). For many many years, my friend Ann and I try a different pizza place every time I go to NY. We have been all over Brooklyn and Manhattan at this point. We are pizza pals.
My absolute favorite US-based pizza place is in Washington, D.C. It is called Two Amys and is situated in a small (what looks like suburban) mall in the city. They have authentic Neapolitan pizza--which means that their restaurant has passed the test of ingredients and technique so as to be recognized by the pizza gurus of Naples. Personally, I like a crisp crust with a chewy exterior. I tend not to go for designer pizzas: save me the Margherita please.
In NY, there are many excellent pizzerias and New Yorkers pride themselves in being pizza afficionadoes living in a pizza metropolis just as important as Naples. After the Patsy wars (when many restaurants took the name of Patsy and hoped to gain notoriety and customers that way) the famous Patsy's under the Brooklyn Bridge changed its name to Grimaldi's. This, along one other pizzeria in NYC, is a favorite of mine. Count on waiting on line and a raucous environment inside, AND absolutely exquisite pizzas. There is a list of the choices and the menu is limited to pizza, wine and beer, and a few other Italian delicacies. Rumor has it (and it is a true rumor) that Frank Sinatra was a loyal customer of Grimaldi's (formerly Patsy's) and ordered their pizzas to be delivered to him at his hotel.
The second delicious NY pizzeria that gets my seal of approval is Una Pizza Napoletana on East 12th Street. I have been there a few times without my friend Ann. It is open from 5pm until the time that the pizza dough runs out. Every pie is made to order by Anthony (Antonio)--a young pizza chef obsessed with perfection. He has paid millions to install an authentic woodburning stove from Naples! This is his pride and joy. The restaurant is small and I find that it is best to get there at 5--otherwise, there is a long wait both on the sidewalk and again once you are in the restaurant and have ordered, as each pizza is lovingly prepared by Anthony. It is definitely worth the trip. There is a choice of three traditional pizzas and wine or beer--that's it. His Marguerita has the authentic Neapolitan label, of course. I can't wait to show Ann how terrific this place is.
Berlin: a foody town with excellent Asian restaurants and some German places too
Last summer, after a short trip to Berlin, two of my cousins were completely blown away with pleasure. "A foodie town!!!" they insisted; youthful and full of positive energy. I just had to go, so as soon as I could free up some time, I was on my way.
It is true that not only does Berlin have zillions of great restaurants and food stands, the euro goes much farther. We don't understand it here in Paris, but things are so inexpensive there that it brought tears to my eyes. Mainly, I dined in Asian restaurants, but the one evening that I did choose a nouvelle German and upscale restaurant, my full dinner with wine came to about 34 euros!!
Although I didn't find the spectacular pizza place that other friends have told me about (see above for my pizza entries), I had the pleasure of lunching at Monsieur Vuong, where for about 8 euros, I got a fantastic glass noodle salad either with chicken or tofu and a beverage; and at Mao Thai which has beautiful and delicious Thai dishes; and at Kuchi which was one of the best sushi restaurants I have ever had the pleasure to dine in. Monsieur Vuong and Kuchi are in the Mitte section which one of the coolest and trendiest areas in the city. Mao Thai is in nearby Prenzlauer Berg which is a bit more chic and quieter. Unlike many "trendy" restaurants, all of these places serve delicious food.
The night I opted for traditional German food (sauerkraut and sausages and dark beer) at Restaurant Kugelhopf (named after one of my favorite pastries), I was sorely disappointed. The service was so excruciatingly slow that it became an ordeal to sit in that restaurant. A simple dinner took hours to serve. I don't recommend it.
I ate in a number of Asian restaurants which were very good. The Japanese place I found, Kuchi, reminded me of the restaurants in LA or San Francisco. They had a large variety of exotic rolls on the menu with many types of fish and garnishes. They also serve Japanese rice dishes (donburi), sashimi and sushi. Everything is well prepared and delicious and the service is quite good. This is a popular place, so reservations are a must.
On everyone's "Best Thai restaurants in the world" list is Mao Thai in the very hip Prenzlauer Berg. This is an excellent restaurant with dishes that are lovingly prepared and beautifully presented . Mao Thai has two other branches in Berlin: one near the Brandenburg Gate and the other not far from the zoo. Each of the restaurants has a different name, but they all have approximately the same menu.
The big specialty to get in Berlin is Currywurst--horrible (in my humble opinion)!! It is a cheap hotdog covered with ketchup with plain curry powder sprinkled on top. This is another delicacy I would not recommend!! Don't miss the food floor at KaDaWe--one of the largest and chicest department stores in Europe. It is a large area full of all German specialties. I also had cocktails there at one of the many bars, and was astonished by how inexpensive the drinks are.
In general, prices are quite low compared to other European city restaurants. In fact, at lunch, I always thought I was just getting an appetizer when the prices quoted were for full main courses. It was a pleasure to discover the gastonomic jewels of Berlin.