Molten tomatoes and mozzarella, a splash of oil, and clipped basil leaves forge enough layers to warm your loins most nights, but as the winter chill deepens, two restaurants are firing up their ovens, and businesses, by liquifying unorthodox ingredients into their pizza dough. In Jersey City, bread whisperer Dan Richer layers his pie with jellied wedges of pork stock harvested from Mangalitsa pig feet, while Ribalta chef Pasquale Cozzolino adds the most obvious of seasonal ingredients — ice — to the season’s most buzzed-about new pie, Prova’s $29 seascape Urcina.
Razza’s Pork Pie started as a daily special just over a year ago before earning its current seasonal status. Richer would boil down a Mangalitsa pig head with just a touch of salt, but as the heads became trendy and prices increased, he turned to the more collagen-rich feet. He cooks them down for eight hours, drawing out the fat and marrow, skimming the former and straining the appendages, then leaving the stock to gel. Sliced up, the pig jello decorates the bare dough with a toss of half-rendered bacon pieces, shaved onion, and a handful of Parmigiano that all together form a sauce that cooks into the crust.
Another crumble of Parmigiano decorates the finished product, which Richer lifts by a pinch of crust to ensure there’s no sag, before dishing out what amounts to an unctuous and crusty soup dumpling.
For years, Richer’s experimented with saucing his pies with unconventional liquids, but never ice. That’s Cozzolino’s preferred method for weighing down the dough at the latest incarnation of Donatella Arpaia’s former Heartwood (which was also previously Donatella). This time, the kitchen also has the confidence of Sushi Nakazawa partner Maurizio de Rosa.
Unfortunately, that confidence is misplaced. While the high-priced Urcina, doused with squid ink and studded with zesty uni, may be a nod in both cost and luxury to the precious flavors of Nakazawa, there’s nothing simple or subtle about the cold hot mess of ingredients we experienced on a recent lunchtime visit to the large, and largely empty, dining room.
Yes, the Urcina is hearty, but it’s no more appropriate for a winter day than nearby Morimoto’s tortilla tuna pizza, which likewise is a misuse of the kitchen’s once-gilded hand-built Stefano Ferrara oven. Here, the water pools atop the dough in the oven, preemptively sagging the tip of each slice before the pizza wheel cuts through the gloppy, refrigerated squid ink used to paint the petals of a flower atop the pie only after it’s baked. But unabsorbed by the fast-cooling and moist dough, the ink reveals a more nefarious side effect than masking the tangy sea urchin’s citrus notes: If you’re not paying careful attention it will stain your blouse or sleeves. Even if you are careful, your fingers and lips are doomed.
If you have to experience the city’s latest overpriced pizza, roll up your sleeves and play Operator, plucking the studs of sea urchin free as prelude to the restaurant’s effectively hearty, eponymous ham salad pie. Cold winter days are perfect for board games.