Pizza is a fundamentally simple dish: just dough, sauce and toppings baked in an oven. In the right hands, however, the formula yields more than the sum of its parts. At The Pizza Bar on 38th, chef Daniele Cason elevates the humble dish — which started out as street food in Naples — to new heights of refinement.
Located inside the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo hotel, Pizza Bar takes a fine-dining approach inspired by high-end sushi and kaiseki (Japanese multicourse haute cuisine), both of which express the changing of the seasons through the careful selection of fresh ingredients. This attention to detail shows: This year, for the second year running, the eight-seat restaurant received Tre Spicchi (“three slices”) in Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso’s guide to pizza specialists around the world — its highest accolade.
“I’d always been interested in pizza, but I wanted to give guests the kind of experience they’d find at a sushi bar, where the chef serves each item directly,” Cason says.
A native of Rome, Cason served as the sous chef at three-Michelin-starred La Pergola and worked around the world. Prior to launching Pizza Bar in 2016, he studied under some of Italy’s most esteemed pizzaiolos in order to come up with the recipe for his pies’ distinctive bases. The fluffy, pillow-like dough is made with an 80-20 ratio of water to flour and fermented for two days, resulting in an exceedingly crisp and airy crust when baked. Lighter dough made with a blend of organic flour is used for tomato-based pizzas, while toasty whole-wheat flour dough complements his savory cheese varieties.
The discs provide fittingly versatile canvases for seasonal produce. In spring, for example, housemade, soft stracciatella cheese adds creamy depth to a subtle and elegant composition of verdant sansai mountain vegetables. A summer pie features zucchini flowers and homemade salsiccia sausage, while an early autumn pizza layered with fragrant sliced porcini mushrooms evokes the Tuscan countryside.
“In every dish, I try to bring something from Italy together with elements from Japan — either locally produced ingredients, or ideas from the culture,” Cason says.
Eager to further explore the connection between the two countries, Cason hit upon the idea of pairing seasonal pizzas with craft beers and wine from Japanese producers. Starting Nov. 3, Pizza Bar now offers three-course prix-fixe menus alongside a seasonal selection of Japanese brews and wine. Originally intended as a short-term promotional event, it’s now an ongoing dining option.
To create the pairing menus, the kitchen staff, together with the Mandarin Oriental’s team of sommeliers, embarked on a crash course in the Japanese craft beer world, tasting more than 35 varieties from the Japanese capital alone.
“We wanted to start with microbreweries in our own backyard. I was so impressed by the range and quality of the beers made in Tokyo,” Cason explains, adding that the restaurant plans to include brews from other prefectures in the future.
November’s beer menu will showcase Distant Shores Brewing Co., located in Tokyo’s western city of Higashimurayama, as well as wines from Yamanashi, Hokkaido and Nagano prefectures. To pair with an appetizer of pumpkin from Okinawa — baked in the pizza oven, finished with a crumble of goat’s cheese and draped with San Daniele prosciutto — head sommelier Akihiko Nosaka recommends Konnichiwa Michael Desu Ver. 12, a West Coast-style IPA named after Distant Shores’ head brewer Michael Ashikawa. The beer’s aromas of marmalade and pine nuts complement the pumpkin, while its bitter hoppy notes enhance the savoriness of the ham and cheese.
Meanwhile, Yamazaki Winery Pinot Noir Dark Green Label 2019 from Hokkaido is a match for radicchio and guanciale pizza with aged fontina cheese and speckled Castelfranco (the radicchio family’s frilly “tulip of winter”).
“The gentle tannins of the pinot noir bring out the guanciale’s umami, and the flavor of the radicchio reacts with the wine’s delicate bitterness, leading to a multilayered finish,” Nosaka says.
The launch of the new pairing menu feels particularly celebratory, after months of postponement due to state-of-emergency restrictions prohibiting alcohol at Tokyo’s restaurants and bars.
“The state of emergency is over, and we’re serving pizza and beer. What’s not to be happy about?” Cason laughs.
Pizza Bar’s pairing set includes your choice of a bottle of craft beer and a glass of Japanese wine, along with a starter, savory pizza and dessert pizza, for ¥11,090. For more information, visit bit.ly/pizzabar38th.
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