TOUR DE FEAST — A pizza oven forged from the sands of Mt. Vesuvius, hand pressed in Salerno, shipped to Los Angeles, and hoisted via crane into it’s second floor home, is more than just a wood burning behemoth, it’s also a spare-no-expense approach to making Neapolitan pizza. Along with a cheese connection with Angelo and Franco, artisan cheese makers based out of Hawthorn, imported meats, and a pizza maker steadfast on tradition, all the pieces of the pie are coming together nicely for Settebello in Marina Del Rey.
From the ph level of the water to the oven temperature and a dozen factors in-between, there are certain specifications how the pizzas are cooked. Out of the oven, the pies have the fragrance of subtly charred dough and scorched basil. The rim is baked just enough to brown with minimal leopard spotting. The result, a tender chewy crust with a soft center. The tomatoes yield acidity, the mozzarella adds richness with subtle sour notes, and the dough is delicious sans any discernible crunch.
A soft pizza may not sound appealing especially if you are used to some of the great pizza places around Santa Monica like Milo & Olive or Stella Barra. Picking up a piece from Milo almost defies gravity. The super thin crust holds its integrity. Conversely, a Settebello slice is not exactly structurally sound but the pizza is still able to rise to the occasion of overall enjoyment. After all, that’s the way a Neapolitan pizza is supposed to be. It’s a fork and knife pie. The meld of buffalo mozzarella, marinara, and flash fired dough lends itself to a seat at the table with some wine and conversation. It’s not meant as a slice on the go.
“The majority of the complaints I get are the pizza being too soft. Some customers want to get the pizza well done.” head pizza maker Donald McWhirter laments. “Neapolitan pizza is not supposed to be crispy!”
McWhirter was trained at the Cordon Bleu but gained his pie making chops in house from his mentor Carmine d’Amato. For an American born who has never been to Naples, McWhirter is a serious man on the unwritten rules of making a true Neapolitan pizza.
“You’ll never see me put chicken on a pizza. That’s sacrilegious”, McWhirter decrees.
Jalape√±os or pineapple are a couple other forbidden toppings too. The ingredients that you will find on the menu are traditional Italian cured meats and soft mozzarella cheeses. No ranch dressing, although McWhirter did admit it would be good.
Deviations can be done. They have stuffed the crust with cheese and they make a pie called the Mount Vesuvius, a pizza dough topped by another pizza dough topped in sauce with a hole in the center. When it bakes, it bubbles up and billows steam out the center. Secret menu stuff, but as long as it’s done in the old country, it’s cool with McWhirter.
Settebello’s menu is made up of antipasto, salad, crostini, salumi, and pizza. One page and to the point. There’s no burger, no steak, not even pasta. The focus is pizza and everything they make or bake for the most part revolves around their wood fired oven. The one forged from Mt. Vesuvius.
The wines are no surprise mostly Italian, and there’s over a dozen amaro’s for afterwards as well.
For a slice I recommend Joe’s on Broadway. Milo & Olive is a favorite if you can handle the line. But for an authentic Neapolitan pizza Settebello is the closest thing I have had since a trip to the Amalfi Coast a few years back. Just take a bite, close your eyes, and you will find yourself on the streets of Naples. Open up your eyes because you just got pit pocketed. But close them again because you are experiencing Neapolitan pizza the way it was meant to be.