Roberto Caporuscio and Antonio Starita
Roberto Caporuscio (left) says he's thrilled to be partnering with his mentor, Antonio Starita (right) on Don Antonio. "I learned from him and then dreamed for years about opening a pizzeria with him. Now it's happening."
Those of you familiar with Kesté will see there's a similar aesthetic, but Don Antonio, on 50th Street just off Eighth Avenue, is bigger. Not shown is a bar (with cocktail program) and more counter seating near the entryway.
Frying the Montanara Starita
OK, OK, I know you want me to get to the food photos. So let's take you quickly through the montanara-making process. The dough is first stretched carefully so as to keep air in the rim of the round. After that, the pizzamaker pokes some holes in it, to keep it from getting too puffy in the fryer. Here, Antonio Starita uses the skimmer to make a depression in the center (also to keep it from puffing up) so the tomato sauce has somewhere to sit nicely.
Draining the Oil
The shell gets about a minute in the oil. Here, Mr. Starita drains as much oil as he can from it before transferring it to a small, black metal pan for finishing in the oven. (Though you won't see any dough acrobatics in this pizzeria, Mr. Starita did flip the fried montanara shell repeatedly— like a pancake—to shed as much oil as possible.)
Baking the Montanara
The montanara shell is topped with a special tomato sauce different from the regular pizzas—"It's a secret," says Caporuscio. "Don Antonio won't reveal it to you." ... Hmmph. So much for special access for Slice. ... Anyway, the baking does three things: finishes cooking the dough all the way through (it's still a little underdone after frying), heats the tomatoes and melts the cheese, and burns off the remaining oil.
The Montanara Starita
According to the menu, "lightly fried pizza dough, topped with signature Starita tomato sauce and imported smoked buffalo mozzarella." The smoked mozzarella really works well on this pizza. Priced at $12, this is a bargain for Midtown.
Starita threw this botched montanara shell in the oven to burn. As Paulie Gee says, the most important tool in a pizza kitchen is the trash can. Starita takes that sentiment to the next level. (Why was it botched, you ask? The fryer's gas went out halfway through, and the dough didn't cook properly.)
Pistacchio e Salsiccia
More pie porn for you! The Pistacchio e Salsiccia ($21) is exclusive to Don Antonio—for now. Caporuscio says he may eventually start making it at Kesté. From the menu: "fresh pistachio pesto, sausage, homemade mozzarella, pecorino Romano, basil, extra-virgin olive oil."
Time to Make the ... Angioletti
You thought the fryer was only good for the montanara? Starita and Caporuscio are maxing it out. Here, Starita fries up strips of pizza dough to make angioletti ("little angels"), to be used in ...
... this angioletti salad. The fried puffs are finger sized and topped with marinated grape tomatoes and baby arugula. From just the short time under the tomatoes the dough takes on the garlicky flavor of the marinade. Think of it as salad for people who don't like salad ($7).
You can even finish your meal with the angioletti—here, covered with Nutella. This is a great option if you don't want to commit to an entire Nutella pizza for dessert.
More Fried Things!
Here, a trio of classic Italian fried antipasti: arancini (foreground), potato croquets (background), and fritattine (the puck-shape things to the left and right).
The classic Neapolitan rice ball, stuffed with mozzarella ($2.50). What's that? You want to know more about the fritattine I mentioned in the previous slide?
... Fine. Here's the cross-section of the fritattine appetizer. And it is ... um ... YES! ... a DEEP-FRIED SPAGHETTI CAKE. But, wait, there's more. It's stuffed with bits of prosciutto cotto and a creamy bechamel sauce. I've found a new favorite antipasto.
This Don Antonio exclusive is so named because of its racket-like shape, the handle of which is stuffed with cheese. From the menu: "Raquet-shaped made with fresh ricotta, mushrooms, imported buffalo mozzarella, mixed vegetables, pecorino Romano, basil, extra-virgin olive oil." At $23, it is one of the most expensive pies on the menu (the Vesuvio stuffed pizza and the Noci and Porcini are both $23 as well).
All in the Family
Like father, like daughter. Helping out at Don Antonio during our sneak peek was Roberto's daughter, Georgia (left), who made an appetizer of rosette, the Racchetta pizza you just peeped, and the Pistacchio e Salsiccia from a few slides ago. Here, she gets some pointers from Starita, with whom she staged for a few months in Naples.
I'm calling it ... mozzaroulade
Can you guess what this crazy thing is? That's freakin' house-made mozzarella rolled with arugula and prosciutto cotto. What the hell would you use this for? Wait for it ... wait for it. (Um, actually, click the NEXT arrow, wouldya...)
You slice that shit and put it on a damn pizza is what! The Girella ($21) is topped with the mozzarella-arugula-prosciutto roll as well as grape tomatoes and fresh ricotta.
"Little montanara" is what the montanarine ($1 each) are all about. Fried dough topped with a special bolognese with two types of onions and pancetta.
It's served with a tomato wedge, balsamic vinegar, and prosciutto ($16).
For all you oven nerds, Don Antonio is using an Acunto oven that was built in Naples and shipped over in pieces. It's slightly bigger than the one at Kesté, but only by a little bit.