Monday, March 19, 2012

Restaurant Review: Dough Pizzeria Napoletana

San Antonio is generally the type of place that I try to avoid. I tend not to favor enormously spread out, industrial, and vastly boring cities, and when forced to be in such a place, I'd like to think that I'd seek out the cultural centers, the people at the heart of the history. San Antonio being what it is, a largely Hispanic, over-industrialized, money hub, I figured I'd be hard-pressed to find a delicious, authentic Italian pizzeria in the midst of all the mess. But after experiencing the luscious flavor that is Dough Pizzeria, I have to admit that I'd consider making the numbing hour and a half drive to eat that food again! And again, and again...and again.

At first glance, I was unsure of the place. The patio, where I ultimately ended up planting myself, faces an atmosphere-killing concrete parking lot and a Denny's that left me wishing more than ever for one of those quaint Italian streets I've seen only on television. And yet all of my fears were calmed the moment I walked into the restaurant itself. To my left stood a wall covered in fine wines, accompanied by a young, aproned man on a ladder, searching for the perfect bottle for the couple below. Directly in front of me burned the magnificent wood-fired pizza oven and its 3 or 4 skilled operators. I could not have been more assured at that moment that I was about to experience one of the best Italian meals possible in the States.

My meal began better than I could have ever imagined. The service was impeccable and the waiter, extensively knowledgeable about the product he was pushing. The first course consisted of a dish I would devour every single day were I afforded the opportunity. The flavors were mild, and yet insanely intimate.  This appetizer of cheese and tomatoes seemed so simple, but I am aware of the skill required to prepare it. My taste buds were fortunate enough to enjoy for this course a water-stretched mozzarella, encasing a ball of what seemed to be mozzarella curds. On top of the stretched mozzarella was spread an indescribably delicious, house-made basil pesto. The magnificent ball was surrounded by a sea of perfectly ripened baby heirloom tomatoes, and the whole display was drizzled with a divine balsamic reduction that really drew the whole course together for me. Of course the dish wouldn't be complete without the garlicky, herb-spiked flat bread, used as a vehicle to enjoy all of the components in a single explosive bite. Had I been in the privacy of my own home, I probably would have licked the plate clean, but under the circumstances I just sat patiently awaiting the 2 pizzas that were headed my way. 

The pizzas at Dough have won awards in the past, and the pizzeria has been featured on the Food Network so I knew I'd be pleased, but I never could have anticipated the intense flavor ecstasy I was about to experience. The flat-bread like crust is hand-tossed and cooked in less than 90 seconds in an authentic wood-fired oven that was shipped directly from Italy. Only the finest ingredients are used to top these perfect pizzas, and many of them are imported from the motherland as well. The tomato sauce is simply seasoned and clearly crafted by someone who respects the integrity of traditional Italian marinara. At employee recommendation, I ordered the Margherita STG and the Pork Love with oak-roasted mushrooms added. I am a spice fiend, so to half of the STG, I added some rare imported Calabrian chiles, which by the way, I haven't been able to find anything about in all of my research! I must find them, seeing as they are absolutely one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted! I dug into the Pork Love first and immediately fell head over heels for this pork smothered pizza. I was pleased to have the earthy tones from the mushrooms to help break up the richness of the meats as well. You can truly taste the superiority of these ingredients with every wonderful bite. 

Now the Margherita STG was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The "STG" (specialità tradizionale garantita) signifies that the pizza has been certified authentic, in its ingredients and preparation, according to EU regulations. These people do not mess around with their pizza, and it certainly shows. I was afraid that I would offend when I bit into the simple pizza. Normally I enjoy foods with more complex flavor profiles and fail to appreciate foods with just a few ingredients, but as soon as I sunk my teeth into lady Margherita, I knew it was because I had never experienced food like this before. As I've already noted, the sauce was perfectly simplistic and clearly honored the beauty and freshness of the tomatoes themselves. Melted beautifully over the sauce was mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo), and resting delicately on top were startlingly fresh leaves of lightly wilted basil. This pizza hit me in the mouth with an immediate understanding of what it meant to let great ingredients speak for themselves. I was in heaven and found myself completely amazed when I devoured a slice with those Calabrian chiles and found my experience heightened even further. I have to find a way to get my hands on these things! Up front they hit you with the sort of sweet heat you'd expect from any good pepper, and they finish with that delicious saltiness that comes from expert pickling. That pizza simply could not have been better for me, and I am already making plans to get back to San Antonio just to make my taste buds dance like that again. 

My perfect meal here closed with a super sweet panna cotta, surrounded by rehydrated raisins and topped with a drizzle of liquidy caramel. When I was through with this incredible meal, I sat with a huge smile on my face just taking it all in. I believe this has to be the first meal I've had that has caused me to reflect on what had transpired in my mouth, my stomach, and my heart. Dough Pizzeria served me a meal that has changed my expectations and raised the bar for the food in my life. I can't wait to go back!

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