WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS at Figidini.
Wood-fire grilling has become so popular in recent years that we can expect it soon in Chinese restaurants. In 1980, our own Al Forno started the trend with the pizza preparation they discovered in Italy, and before long smoke was wafting appetizingly beneath the nostrils of foodies across the country. Figidini Wood Fire Eatery takes the technique more seriously than most restaurants. Their specialty is pizza, and they’re hoping for official recognition by the Verace Pizza Napoletana association in Naples, which has them under review.
It’s an informal place, with the blackboard detailing in colored chalk as beers on tap and the soup of the day. Owners are Frankie and Kara Cecchinelli, he in the kitchen she out front, and they apparently are as concerned about what you get to drink as well as eat. On tap was Meantime Smoked Bock and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, two interesting choices not readily available. And their signature margarita is made with cactus pear, for another unusual opportunity.
Neapolitan pizza is not the extra-thin-crust kind that’s popular in New York and New Haven, nor the deep-dish Chicago version, and certainly far from the California varieties topped with pineapple and beluga. No, Figidini pizzas (11 inches, $12-$18) do wander as far as sweet potato and arugula for toppings, but heading the list are simple marinara and Margherita versions with San Marzano tomatoes, the latter with buffalo mozzarella. The “Fresh Ricotta” one has soppressata and “local spicy oregano.”
The one I enjoyed had no red sauce but rather plenty of smoked mozzarella and sliced crimini mushrooms, with pieces of cured olives and drizzled with truffle oil, its outer crust thick and tasty. The investigators from Naples checking out their authenticity are bound to appreciate that I couldn’t buy a pizza to go. Our server explained that pizza just isn’t as good after a trip in a cardboard box. Impressive restraint, turning down sales. (In another sign of independence, they won’t serve bread, even upon request, and serve dessert only after 6.)
The menu is small, with just eight starters ($4-$10) and 10 small plates ($5-$9) in addition to the pizzas. You may begin with a kale salad ($9) sweetly complemented with cubes of golden beet, a fan of apple slices, and toasted pistachios, beefed up with a Gorgonzola cream — my neighbor loved it. Or you could nibble from a plate of Marcona almonds and sunflower seeds, which is sprinkled with smoked paprika. Available every day is buttermilk bisque ($8) with goat cheese and chili-ginger oil.
I began with a bowl of vegetable soup ($9), its bitter kale sweetly contrasted with fruit and squash, a bit of crispy prosciutto and salted cheese on top. A lovely carnival of flavors. The next time I might start with saganaki ($6), which is brined cheese baked and seasoned with cracked pepper, lemon, and an anise accent of Pernod.