As his (maybe not so) final post on Slice, I asked outgoing Slice intern Aaron Mattis to do a postmortem roundup of thoughts from the Di Fara first-timers I escorted to the Midwood pizzeria yesterday. Take it away, Aaron! —Adam
Aaron Mattis, Slice Intern
My first visit to Di Fara was bittersweet, timed as it was to mark my last day at Slice/Serious Eats World Headquarters. Still, what a way to go out. From reading Slice commentary, I expected the pizza to be delicious but possibly burned or greasy. The golden-crusted pies we got, however, were perfectly executed, the ideal New York pizza.
The round slice was a study in balance; I could taste every premium ingredient, and their flavors were enhanced, not masked, by the premium olive oil. I love square pies, and this was the gold standard: rich and decadent, its light crust fried to a crisp.
[After the jump, an awesome new specialty pizza topping at Di Fara!]
Best of all was a newly introduced topping, "semi-dried" cherry tomatoes, which I suspect had been roasted at low heat for an hour or so. Imagine a burst of fresh tomato juice in addition to the superlative flavor of a Di Fara plain slice. Then stop imagining it and go buy it. As much as I liked the pies, the restaurant's greatest pleasure was watching Dom work, stretching and topping the dough with Zen-like serenity, devotional and profound. An offering to the oven.
Lingbo Li, Serious Eats Intern
The cruelest thing a parent could do to a child, I declared, would be making their kid's first slice be Di Fara. [See The Pizza Cognition Theory —The Mgmt.]
And yes, after tasting my first slice, I found my jaded heartstrings tugged in unexpected ways. I didn't know such a pizza experience was possible. It's rediscovering the humble foodstuff all over again—and being dumbstruck by its poetic brilliance.
Crust, sauce, cheese. Dom's languidly cup strips of bright, peppery basil. The heightened anticipation of the wait, watching his languorous dance of stretching the crust, a few twirls of olive oil, doling out heart-stopping clumps of fresh mozz.
Part of it is maddening, this wait. Everything seems to go much too slow for the spectators, and there are many. You get the feeling people want to jump in and start ladling sauce themselves—except no one but Dom forms the pies, and that's part of the myth that's risen up around Di Fara's creations. The vets gently leading the first-timers is tribute to how fondly they remember their First Slice.
And the bad, well, let's just say that the sheer, joyous intensity of the flavors can't erase a fact—a terrible kind of knowing—that this may be one of the best pies you've ever eaten, and will ever eat. It might haunt you. Everyone else knows it, too.
Having tasted Di Fara's new semidried cherry tomato, I know I've been ruined. But honestly, I'm too happy to care.
Leah Douglas, Serious Eats Intern
As much as I am surrounded by pizza enthusiasts, I must sadly admit that my pizza experience in our great city has been relatively limited. Sure, I've had a few cruddy slices here and there—but my only taste of truly great pizza was at Motorino (an unforgettable experience). So I had no idea what to expect before walking into Di Fara, a true pizza mecca. Did Dom really have too heavy of a hand with the oil? Would the wait drive me to hunger-induced insanity? Do I even have the palate to appreciate truly great pizza?
The restaurant—something of a generous term for the very, very cozy spot—was not as crowded as I'd expected. I had a clear view of Dom himself, whose presence before the oven was at once dominating and serene. His motions appeared haphazard to me, an uneducated viewer, but I could soon deduce that he had a clear system in mind. The whole operation, from pizza production to payment, seemed perfectly orchestrated and required few words from the various family members behind the counter.
As we happily suffered the hour-long wait, and my stomach growled louder and louder, we watched pizza after pizza enter the hands of ecstatic customers, all of whom had traveled from near and far for the masterwork of the New York slice. Then I took my first nibbling bites, avoiding a mouth-scalding chomp, finding sugary sweet semidried cherry tomatoes and basil with my tongue, a crusty bottom layer holding surprisingly sturdy even as the steaming toppings cooled off. Di Fara was a new pizza experience, which employed all my taste buds and left me grinning for a solid hour. My post-pizza coma was a warm reminder of an unforgettable lunch—and luckily we could tuck into the leftovers as soon as we returned to the office.
Alison J. Herzog, Serious Eats Community Intern
I find the greatest difficulty with being exposed to greatness is that you can no longer tolerate mediocrity following said exposure. My concern in schlepping out to Di Fara was not that it would fall in the mediocre bracket but that instead it would make my pizza eating elsewhere increasingly difficult. It's fair to say that is what in fact occurred.
The restaurant front of Di Fara is unassuming and in no way indicative of what lies inside. If you were walking along the street, you would most likely continue to walk, never realizing the live art gallery you had just passed. Fortunately, I was with a veteran pizza eater who knew better. Bless you, Adam.
I watched Dom work his magic for over an hour, and can I just say that I did not mind the wait? I definitely was dying to bite into one of the glorious-looking pies, but watching Dom was like watching Michelangelo sculpt using Carrara marble. Dom takes the resources of the earth and creates something unforgettable. His experienced fingers formed the dough, lovingly swirled olive oil, and tossed a ball's worth of freshly sliced mozzarella and Grana Padano on each canvas of dough. Literally, fresh sliced and grated for each pie. I marvelled that Dom put so much care and attention into each order. No vat of premade dough balls, sliced mozzarella, grated Grana Padano, or cut basil would do. Which is why I am more than happy to pay $25 for a plain pizza here. Not only is the quality amazing but the workmanship and artistry is all part of the value.
My conclusion? Fantastic pizza. I don't even like whole tomatoes but I absolutely loved the roasted cherry tomatoes. They softly burst in my mouth with a savory wash of tomato juice and pulp. What put it over the top was the basil that unleashed its clean aromatic scent as it was snipped and tossed on a brown bubbling pizza. If you are in the New York City area, please go. You won't be sorry. And its much friendlier to the pocket than a trip to Naples when the craving hits.