San Francisco: Topping Wizardry at Ragazza
311 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117 (map); 415-255.1133; ragazzasf.com
Pizza Style: Neapolitan-inspired California-style
Getting there: Bus #24
Oven Type: Gas
The skinny: Good crust and stellar toppings. It's only the Margherita that doesn't deliver.
Price: Margherita, $12.50; topped pies, $14 to $18; add-ons include an egg, Calabrian chilies, pepperoni, etc., $1 to $3
The critics descended quickly on the new Lower Haight pizzeria Ragazza, which isn't that surprising given that the chef-owner, Sharon Ardiana, is also the one behind local favorite Gialina (Slice review). The decor at Ragazza is similar to that of Ardiana's first restaurant, with old-timey black-and-white photos of her family lining the walls. The pizza aesthetic is similar too: the offerings are decidedly topping-centric.
The crust at Ragazza deviates somewhat from what's served at Gialina. The cornicione at Gialina tends to cross over from crisp to crunchy. At Ragazza, it was softer, puffing quite high in most places. The outer skin was crispy, but thicker than on many of the Neapolitan-style pies I've eaten.
These pies are cooked in a gas-fired Wood Stone oven which burns hot enough to put some blisters on the ends and singes underneath. I found the crust at Ragazza highly satisfying and wondered what went into the mix. Ardiana isn't telling: she'll cop to some zero-zero flour in the dough, but the rest is a trade secret.
The Margherita arrived at our table with the end-crust that I had admired so much, but a center that had gone sodden. Sure, a little softness, even soupiness, is expected at the heart of a pizza with Neapolitan leanings, but I would describe what we were served as soggy and spongy. The fresh mozzarella was sparsely applied and cut too thick, so that it came off in a single globular piece when one bit into it. The sauce was thick and just a touch sweet. Despite the tasty cornicione, this was a Margherita that didn't sing to me.
Thankfully, Ardiana is an absolute whiz with the toppings. The Moto (pictured at top) came with Calabrian chilies, mushrooms, red onion, sausage, and mozzarella. The wonder here was that no one flavor was overwhelming. The pleasantly spicy chilies and deliciously porky sausage were the dominant players, but every ingredient showed through in each mouthful, from the judiciously applied raw red onion to the sprinkling of parsley on top. This was a really well-composed pizza.
We also tried the potato pizza, which you could rename the Bacon-Blue. Topped with bacon, gorgonzola, red onion, and thyme, the ultra-thin slices of potato were nearly hidden, while the pungent cured pork and blue cheese were front and center. It was the epitome of funky-delicious, with a hint of thyme shining through. We ordered it with an egg in the center, which was a tasty addition, though this pie has plenty to offer without it.
We pizza-obsessives tend to gravitate towards the Margherita to make our baseline evaluation of a pizza place. At Ragazza, I'd say skip it and make room for a little more of Sharon Ardiana's topping magic.