Pizza Strada – The Best in Tokyo (according to some)

Sources close to the writer (a very pizza-knowledgeable 12-year-old who I adore, but is not my child) insist that the best pizza in the city is at Pizza Strada in Azabu Juban.  He might very well be right.  The crust is thin and alternately soft and crunchy in the right spots.  The sauce has a touch of sweetness but not overly so.  The best part is the place itself.  It has a beautiful terrace and inside the atmosphere is cozy and warm.  The pizza chef makes each pizza to order and apparently loves to chat as he shifts the yummy goodness in and out of the stone pizza ovens.  There are only four pizzas on the menu and the ingredients in them are very specific.  If you want cheese on the marinara pizza, it’s 500 yen extra.  If you want sauce on the Tamaki or pepperoni, it’s 500 yen extra.  Like most menu items in Japan, there are no substitutions.  The way it’s written is the way it comes, and asking for it otherwise is generally quite an ordeal.  In fact, the night I went with my favorite pizza-buff, I ordered the Tamaki pizza, which is an interesting mix of smoked mozzarella, peccorino cheese and cherry tomatoes.  As I mentioned, it does not come with sauce.  When I asked to add sauce, the waitress went to ask the pizza chef if that was possible.  I felt terrible, as if I was insulting the chef.  But the waitress came back and replied in the affirmative that it would be okay to add the sauce – for the extra charge.  Of course.

Pizza Strada has a few wines, a few beers and a great sangria.  The menu in general is not extensive, but each item is made to perfection with a fair price to boot. Be sure to look at the menu pictures carefully – they’re very specific.  And then look at the rules – only in Japan could a joint post rules like that and expect them to be followed.  Almost anywhere else, they’d be laughed at – really – let’s not drink too much??  Who ever heard of pizza without a few beers?  Well, perhaps my twelve-year-old, but he’ll learn in time.  Enjoy!

 

Pizza, Tokyo Style

What's left of a Partenope Pizza after lunch - it's huge!

Anyone worth his salt knows that a pizza is not simply a pizza.  Wars have been started over this stuff, for heaven’s sake!  And why should Tokyo, as a major player on the global food stage, be any different?

I grew up near New Haven, home of “New Haven Style” pizza.  When I found out that our new Rabbi, Rabbi Antonio DeGesu, here in Tokyo is from a small village in Sicily, and a pizza fanatic, I resolved to do some pizza exploring.

New Haven Style pizza, originating at Pepe’s Pizza on Wooster Street, has oregano in the crust – and Romano cheese on top.  One must ask for mozzarella if he wants it. It has a thin crust and that crust is crispy outside and chewy inside from being cooked in a brick oven.  Neapolitan Pizza, from Naples, on the other hand, has mozzarella and most notably, fresh buffalo mozzarella preferably.  Pizza from Naples also has a thin crust, but in order to be authentic, it has to be made by hand, never, never rolled with a rolling pin.  A rolling pin apparently crushes air bubbles that add texture and some extra flavor.

Then we come to Tokyo.

The rabbi’s and my first stop was Savoy, in the area where Azabu Juban meets Roppongi, about which I have been hearing for years now, and have not yet been until recently.  They have basically two types of pizza there – marghareta with tomato and basil, and pepperoni.   The crust is perfectly formed with a hint of crunch on the outside and doughy on the inside.  The sauce was slightly sweet, but not overly so.  The basil on top of the mozzarella was incredibly fragrant and fresh.  But the rabbi found the crust to be a little too salty for his taste.  The ambiance is great – intimate.  The whole thing is a bar with a dozen seats.  The pizza is more than filling and served steaming hot out of a brick oven.

The rabbi’s first choice for pizza is Partenope, a proper Italian restaurant in Hiroo.  He finds the pizza to be familiar to him – homey.  I acknowledge that the dough is definitely less salty.  Also, though, it’s cooked a little longer, and browner on the bottom.  The cheese and sauce tasted similar to those at Savoy and the ingredients were definitely fresh.  On an atmosphere scale, there’s no comparison.  Partenope is a proper restaurant with a proper menu and servers.  At Savoy there are two choices of what to eat, and patrons sit at a bar.  Pasta and other delights are available at Partenope, which are not at Savoy.

I have a feeling that my pizza excursions with the rabbi are just beginning.  We’re going to hunt around Tokyo for the very best pizza, as rated by a native Italian.  Tokyo, the city with more Michelin stars than Paris, has a living and growing food culture that I enjoy every day.

If you have experience with a great pizza joint in Tokyo, please let me know and we’ll try it – and report back!