Dumpling Man – 100 St. Mark’s Pl.,
Steamed Shrimp Dumplings in “brave” Red Monster sauce with peanuts (6), Teany Herbal Citrus Cooler
I was at Dumpling Man on the day it opened in July and it’s been interesting to watch it evolve since. I saw it sadly lose its calamari dumplings to later be replaced by the more generic but tasty shrimp. I saw the addition of the Marco Polo option (a homemade tomato sauce option – their response to ravioli), the appearance of desserts like mango shaved ice, green tea flan and the red bean latte, the introduction of beef dumplings with black sesame seeds, and finally, the newest innovation: Red Monster sauce, in gradations of mild, brave and crazy. Because I live so very close to Dumpling Man, and because I do genuinely enjoy their food, I’ve essentially tried the entire menu. I discovered that I like the steamed shrimp dumplings the best (although the mix and match option is a good opportunity to sample some of each), but finding the Marco Polo sauce ill-fitting, I’d settled for eating the dumplings plain. With Red Monster sauce, that may be (like my much-lamented calamari) a thing of the past.
Spicy sauces often fail when their only concern is bringing the heat. If there’s no nuance or complexity to the sauce, I don’t see the point of using it. I might as well chew down on a chili pepper and save time. But the brave sauce, while unsparing of kick, is also nuanced, with a hint of sweetness. It goes well with the optional peanut topping and the corn and white pepper in the dumpling. In fact, I found it so tasty that I couldn’t help dragging my chopstick through the empty container to try a little more of the sauce on its own. We all have our private shames, I suppose…
As for my beverage, I decided on a whim to finally try a Teany tea. Teany is a tea shop on Rivington co-owned by Moby, and its cold bottled drinks have been popping up in stores around the city. I guess I got it because the Herbal Citrus Cooler sounded like an interesting flavor and probably a good coolant in case the brave overstepped into crazy territory. But also, I felt a little sorry for Moby after his last unimpressive albums. The tea itself (it can be so hard to ignore packaging and context) was tasty and refreshing, but I couldn’t help think of the vast profit margins selling a bottled tea would bring. And ultimately, bringing the packaging and image of the company back into the discussion, Teany is reminiscent of Moby’s music of late: its preciousness feels a little too market-tested. 7/10
Una Pizza Napoletana –
Margherita Pizza, San Pellegrino Aranciata
If Domenic DeMarco of DiFara's fame (see Jan. 1) was about forty years younger and lived in the East Village, he might have turned out to be Anthony Mangieri. Both show intense commitment to their ingredients, their artistry, and their finished products, and both most likely have tomato sauce running through their veins.
Mangieri, with his neck, back and arms coated with tattoos, and young enough to make me jealous, isn’t what you expect a serious pizzaiolo to look like, and his plain restaurant, decorated with drawings of Jesus and saints in agony or ecstasy may not fit what a serious pizzeria should look like. But, again like DeMarco, Mangieri doesn’t care what you think. He believes in his work strongly and isn’t shy about making it known. On the very involved menu, he speaks his mind freely: “Pizza… is a word used to describe many products; deep-dish, cracker thin, stuffed crust, etc… [A]ll the square, round, thick, stuffed and over-topped pieces of dough may be to your liking, but don't call it pizza.” And if you think those are fighting words, he even added in an interview that he thinks there’s no good pizza left in New York.
With mozzarella balls that big, he’d have to put up a pretty amazing pie to back up the bravado. I hesitate to say it, because it may come off a tad hyperbolic, but here it is regardless: Una Pizza Napoletana is the best pizza I’ve eaten in this country. There -- it's been said.
Part of the beauty is the simplicity. There are only four kinds of pizza available: marinara, margherita, bianca and filetti, and each one contains some permutation of eight possible ingredients: San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, sea salt, buffalo mozzarella, oregano, fresh cherry tomatoes, and fresh garlic. Want pepperoni on there? Go try Pizza Hut, the menu seems to suggest. The dough too is unique, made by hand every day with Mangieri grinding wheat berries into flour by stone. If he runs out of fresh dough, he closes up shop for the day, and if he has leftover dough, he throws it out.
I opted for the Margherita (the other three all had fresh garlic) which was topped with San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and sea salt. It was a pleasure to watch to watch Mangieri preparing the pie and sliding it into the wood-burning oven. The oven, prominently displayed because he was clearly proud of this other authentic element, glowed a phosphorescent orange as he stoked it with more wood chips.
But all of that of course is tangential. In the end, it must come down to the food. At twelve inches, and presented without fanfare on a white plate with knife and fork, the pie looks just big enough to fill you up. It also looks quite appetizing, with the red, white and green aesthetic (mixed in with yellow swirls of olive oil) that distinguishes Neapolitan pizza vividly present. After all this anticipation, I was nervous to slice into such a high-pedigree meal (at $16.95, may strike many as way too exorbitant a price), but I dug in with an excitement I haven’t felt foodwise in too long. From the first bite, I was won over, transported back to that summer afternoon in Capri when I had the best pizza I’ll probably ever have. Una Pizza Napoletana’s mozzarella was so soft it nearly evaporated. The sweet tomatoes and slightly charred wood-allusive crust provided a perfect juxtaposition of flavors of textures. The sea salt added an elusive tang of sodium to the mix and the oil was as pure as promised.
Enjoying my transcendent slice, I studied the sketches of saints above me and understood that I must've somehow ascended to pizza heaven. And when I saw that Mangieri had also written in his menu, "Nothing more pure or honestly wholesome can be bought at any price," I now knew it wasn't hype or arrogance talking, but the gospel truth. 10/10