There are only four NoVA restaurants in the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN). It’s kind of a big deal among pizzaioli to be allowed into that rare club. It means a serious investment in quality in the form of a wood-burning oven and association-approved mixers and other tools. What it doesn’t mean is assurances of a great—or even authentically Neapolitan—pizza. I went to Ciao Osteria yesterday well aware of its potential limitations, especially in its first week of reopening for outdoor service.
My first impression was that Ciao is going out of its way to adhere to safety guidelines. My menus were paper and my napkin and utensils came wrapped in plastic along with a mini envelope of hand sanitizer.
But really, this Casual Friday is all about the pizza. Spoiler alert: It made me very happy. But not because it was what I expect of a Neapolitan pie. That soft crust pock-marked and blistered by the hot oven? It was full of flavor, but crisp and not speckled with char in the least. Those socially distanced rounds of buffalo mozzarella? Nope, the salty, creamy cheese thinly blanketed the tangy tomato sauce almost completely.
That molten center, a slurry of tomato and cheese that was neither wholly liquid nor solid, reminded me of another part of Italy: Calabria. The flavors and textures I was experiencing were closely akin to a delicious dive at which I ate numerous times in the tiny town of Gagliato in the hills of Catanzaro, Ristorante Galatos.
Did I love it even more than a typical Neapolitan pie? Certainly not less, but who’s to say? When it comes to pizza, it can be hard to pick favorites. But this was one round of dough and dairy that defied expectations. // 14115 Saint Germain Drive, Centreville
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