Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pizza Plus

A Mano: whispers and purrs from Naples By Joel Levin Strategically sited on Ridgewood's Restaurant Row, A Mano is one of only three American restaurants with certification for authenticity from both Neapolitan rating agencies, such a big deal that their PR folk treated us to dinner to learn what it's all about. Two eight-foot-diameter igloo-red-tiled ovens dominate the handsome, clean open space seating 120 on two levels. 22-foot ceilings and clerestory windows complete this culinary cure for claustrophobia. In this pizza-plus place, discard any ideas you've had about pizzas and southern Italian cuisine; there's no gloppy red sauce. The motif here is subtlety -- seasonings that whisper and tastes that purr. A Mano means "by hand." It's comforting to know and taste that the mozzarella, the pies, and everything on the menu is made from scratch as you watch. The fruitwood-fueled 1000-degree ovens produce 20+ varieties of pizza in 60-90 seconds. Imported 00 Caputo flour, water, yeast, salt, incendiary heat, and careful attention are the sole ingredients in the heavenly crust. Start with mozzarella/grilled vegetables/prosciutto pinwheels and the best-ever arancia (fried riceballs), crispy greaseless wonders stuffed with pasta and squash. Can't decide? Choose a hot sampler. Then devour a pie fragrant with smoke and order a special like chicken cacciatore or tilapia/tomato/onions en papillote. Mama mia, the meatballs are a must! Until the fall menu, content yourself with a meatball pizza. Beef, eggs, Parmiggiano, and garlic combine for an Olympian "10" score. Our only questions about our experience are: how can foods as minimalist as grilled artichokes with Parmiggiano shaved over arugula, and gnocchi in marinara taste so good? Of the homemade gelati, our favorites were coconut and amarena (cherry). Nutella pizza (the nutty chocolate topping on sugar-dusted dough) was elemental and fabulous, just one of many house-baked desserts. Those serious about casual dining (including us) will make return visits to try more of old Napoli from the more than 50 menu entries. Autentico is the reason A Mano was built. Autentico is why you'll be back. A Mano 24 Franklin Avenue, Ridgewood 201.493.2000 lunch and dinner served seven days.

JOEL LEVIN's reviews of food and wine, entertainment, automobiles, and travel are distributed through New Jersey Newspaper Group. He can be reached at

No comments:

Post a Comment