400 S. Maple Avenue, Falls Church VA 22046; 703-226-3460; pizzeriaorso.com
Pizza style: Neapolitan
Oven type: wood-fired
Price: 12-inch pizza, $7 to $18
Getting there by Metro: Orange Line to East Falls Church, then a very short cab ride
After much anticipation, Pizzeria Orso, with Edan MacQuaid as executive chef, is up and running in the close-in Washington suburb of Falls Church, Virginia. MacQuaid made his name as head pizzaiolo at 2 Amys in Northwest D.C., now one of the most popular restaurants — of any kind — in the nation's capital, and was a pioneer in bringing true Neapolitan pizza to the U.S. After 18 years in the pizza business, the still-young MacQuaid is now running his own show, ably assisted by general manager, and wife, Thea MacQuaid.
Enthusiasts will not be disappointed. MacQuaid has created an exquisite pizzeria that is respectful but not slavish to the ancient traditions. Here the dough reigns supreme (as it should), and intense attention to its preparation and firing pays off in a perfectly blistered crust that's at once crisp, supple and flavorful.
Orso's cavernous space seats 117 in a bright and airy setting, with the impressive Forno Napoletano oven, custom-built in Italy, prominently positioned.
The menu has significant depth for a pizzeria — the antipasti include a delightful seafood and arugula salad with octopus, squid and mussels; a caprese salad (in season) starring heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala; and suppli al telefono, golden-fried risotto balls with molten mozzarella centers. All are excellent and suggest that maybe Orso is a terrific Italian restaurant that just doesn't happen to serve pasta.
The pizza itself is stellar. The iconic Margherita showcases MacQuaid's splendid sourdough-infused crust and is presented with a light wash of tomato, dabs of fine buffalo mozzarella and a post-bake drizzle of olive oil. This is the pie by which a Neapolitan pizzaiolo is judged, and the jury's verdict is a big thumbs-up.
The crudo (above) also shines, topped with translucent sheets of prosciutto, a generous handful of fresh arugula, and curls of shaved grana padano.
The giamette (above) is a meat-lover's pizza for the discriminating palate — artfully strewn with the finest examples of pepperoni, sausage, salami, and ham
The filetto (not pictured) is another standout — just mozzarella, basil, oil and salt, studded with juicy crescents of cherry tomato.
With more than 20 pizzas on the menu, there's something for everyone, but when top-quality seasonal ingredients are available, specials are offered as well. The day we visited, brilliant chanterelle mushrooms were plentiful, and were used to great advantage on a pie garnished simply with grated reggiano and minced parsley (above).
There's also a compact but thorough list of Italian wines, and beer, bottled or on tap. For dessert, of course there's gelato, but don't miss the marvelous cannoli, made with house-made shells still warm from the fryer.
As wood-fired pizzerias (the hot concept of the moment) pop up across the Washington landscape, Pizzeria Orso stands out. This is serious Neapolitan pizza-making -- a labor of love -- and the devotion reveals itself in every meal. DC pizza aficionados owe it to themselves to make the surprisingly quick trip. Out-of-town visitors are also well-advised to include Orso as a worthy destination. —Dave Konstantin