By Nick Anis, Jr. and Patty Anis
You can’t be born and raised in New York without having an advanced degree in pizzaology. I’m not sure if my degree is a MS or PhD, but I can tell you this, I have made an enormous and delicious life-long investment in research. While I don’t claim to have unlocked all the secrets to the world’s greatest pizza, I can reduce what makes a pizza a GREAT pizza into three vital components: the dough, the sauce, and the cheese.
So where would you expect to find a contender for the world’s greatest pizza? New York (of course), Italy (obviously), other outstanding epicurean venues like Chicago, South Beach, Paris (sure). But that’s not one of the venues I found the most delightful, delicious, and amazing pizza I’ve had in years.
While wandering around Shanghai in the spring – in between the Shanghai Grand Prix (hip hip hooray for Fernando Alonso – Ferrari – 25 points – 1:36:26.945 average lap time – 189.778 average mph), the Fashion Show, and a frantic quest for the world’s greatest dumplings (Xiao Yang Sheng Jain – over by People’s Square), I took a detour to the Xintiandi area (a dining hot spot in Shanghai) overlooking Taipingqiao Park. Amidst the charming historic Shikumen buildings, I stumbled across Pizza Marzano – arguably Shanghai’s best pizzeria and Italian restaurant, also serving an impressive selection of fresh pastas, salads, and Italian inspired appetizers. Also on the menu is a collection of specially selected Italian wines to complement the authentic Italian flavors, and an assortment of tasty desserts.
Pizza Marzano is the flagship brand of UK based PizzaExpress that was founded in London in 1965 by Peter Boizot, and expanded internationally in 1997. The name comes from one of its most noteworthy ingredients, the San Marzano tomato grown in the Valle del Sarno (Valley of the Sarno) in Italy. The San Marzano vines are indeterminate and have a somewhat longer season than other paste tomato varieties, making them particularly suitable for warmer climates, but institutional sized quantities are almost exclusively grown and certified in Italy.
These glorious San Marzano tomatoes are so prized, they sell for a premium, and they are sometimes counterfeited. The real tomatoes require certification from the Italian government. Compared to the Roma tomato, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and more pointed. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is stronger, sweeter and less acidic. Many people describe the taste as bittersweet, but actually the taste is not bitter and not sweet; it’s somewhere in between – just perfect for great pizza sauce – especially when it’s vine ripened and processed into sauce within hours of being harvested the way Pizza Marzano does it.
Bottom line, this munificent tomato, blended with an assortment of Italian seasonings and then slowly simmered into a highly flavorful sauce, is why Pizza Marzano has a pizza sauce to die for.
Pizza Marzano’s traditional thin-crust pizza is cooked in 5 minutes at 375 degrees centigrade. Pizza Marzano also offers an extra-thin Roman which cooks in only 3 minutes at 325 degrees centigrade.
The secret to a great pizza crust is great pizza dough.
Pizza Marzano’s authentic pizza dough is made from scratch on the premises, mixed, kneaded, and proofed for 12 hours. Once the dough is ready to be worked, it is flattened and thinned with rolling pins and hand tossed with acrobatic procession in an open kitchen. Once the dough is cooked, the resulting thin crispy Neapolitan crust is absolutely delicious.
Pizza Marzano must like the number 12 because there are 12 stripes on the pizza-maker’s shirt, and employees must train for 12 weeks before they can join the staff.
The final component is a cornucopia of cheese toppings such as Mozzarella, Fior di latte mozzarella, Romano, Parmesan, ricotta, gorgonzola, cheddar, Emmental, and creamy mascarpone cheese along with an assortment of other ingredients including sausage, pepperoni, spiced beef, chicken, ham, Prosciutto, smoked salmon, shrimp, green peppers, roasted peppers, onions, jalapenos, mushrooms, dill, lemon, olives, pesto Genovese, mushroom sauce, rosemary, polenta, asparagus, roasted artichokes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and pesto.
In Pizza Marzano’s kitchens there are no fryers, no microwaves – just a gas range, and a top notch pizza oven. In fact, in the mornings while warming up the oven for its busy day of pizza baking, delicious (and aromatic) made-from-scratch fudge cake is baked, fresh vegetables are chopped, and dough is mixed, kneaded, and proofed.
When I visited with two Shanghainese friends for dinner, I started with pumpkin soup and my two dining companions had the tomato basil. These delightful soups were made from scratch, served in heaping bowlfuls, piping hot, and quite delicious.
There are quite a few appetizers to choose from. My friend Jesse had Polpette (homemade Italian meatballs baked in a spiced Bolognese sauce), finished with parsley and served with fresh Ciabatta bread. My friend Ricky had the Rosemary Flat Bread (made from the signature pizza crust with fresh rosemary, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, chili flakes, Maldon sea salt). I had baked pizza dough balls served piping hot, fresh out of the oven, with a garlic and tomato dipping sauce. And as you would expect, we each tried one another’s appetizers.
Next we shared a large Summer Salad with plump vine ripened cherry tomatoes, fava beans, green beans, rocket, baby spinach, onions, capers, egg, and lemon oil dressing. And after some deliberations, we also had them add Fior di latte mozzarella, green olives, and cucumbers. What’s nice about all of Pizza Marzano’s salads is that the ingredients are crispy, fresh, chilled, and carefully washed in purified water. If you’d rather not share, you can choose from an assortment of tasty side salads.
The pizzas are served on white porcelain dishes, and at your option, the server will sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and pepper to suit your personal taste. Although the pizzas we ordered, American Special (Pepperoni) and Alba Pizza (Pizza Marzano’s Signature Dish consisting of spicy sausage, mascarpone Cream, fennel seeds, and Parmesan Cheese) were spectacular and quite satisfying, we decided to order some entrees, too.
Jesse ordered Spaghetti Aglio Olio (Spaghetti with sautéed fresh garlic, chili, parsley, extra virgin olive oil and served in a deep plate so it holds the temperature while you enjoy every delightful bite). To my surprise, Jesse found it to be delicious but a little spicy. Ben, aka Mr. Hotpot, switched his Rigatoni Bolognese (Rigatoni in a rich, slow cooked, meaty Bolognese sauce) with Jesse’s Spaghetti Aglio Olio, and for the most part, I just kept chomping away at the pizzas.
The name “Alba” is not derived from a town in Italy, but refers to the Italian word for “dawn.” So the colors of the pizza – orange, red with spots of white breaking through – are reminiscent of dawn, which is the period of the day when sunlight starts to appear on the horizon and the sky turns golden with spots of white clouds. The sunrises are considered to be particularly more red and golden in color at the southern tip of Italy around Calabria and Sicily, which faces the Mediterranean Sea and benefits from the hot Mediterranean weather.
Next came dessert, which (in some parts of China) is usually a fruit soup or some watermelon, but as luck would have it, Pizza Marzano also has quite an impressive lineup of desserts. Besides their signature dessert, Chocolate Fudge Cake which is served with your choice of XTC vanilla gelato, cream or mascarpone, Pizza Marzano serves homemade Tiramisu (Espresso coffee, cocoa, rich cream, mascarpone and marsala-sponge fingers), and Cheesecake baked on a crumbly base served with strawberry coulis and your choice of XTC vanilla gelato, cream or mascarpone. You can get a sampler assortment of desserts, too, but my all-time favorite is the Gelato which they serve a generous scoop of with a butter biscuit straw.
There are several Pizza Marzano restaurants in Shanghai; the one we visited was two stories, bright and cheery, with contemporary décor. The décor, ambiance, and music at all their locations are very nice. The service was exceptional; the courteous servers know the menu and are fluent in Chinese and English, and the clean cut and energetic manager, Samuel’s people skills, professionalism and work ethics are a rarity in today’s world. The patrons are a mix of Shanghainese, expats, and Western visitors, although the Shanghainese tend to eat dinner from 5-7 pm and the westerners tend to eat dinner later. But at lunch, the clientele is quite an interesting mix of people from all backgrounds, talking, laughing, enjoying the green views, and noshing on the scrumptious cuisine.
Pizza Marzano is very distinctive; I suppose what sticks out most in my mind is the thin crispy crust, the delicious sauce, and the generous use of sauce and cheese (no skimping on ingredients) as well as the cool, crisp, and FRESH salads – setting Pizza Marzano apart from the competition. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and yes, Nick, there is GREAT pizza in Shanghai – Bravo Peter Boizot and Bravo Pizza Marzano!
1376 Nanjing Xi Lu
Tel: +86(21) 6289 8733
Follow Pizza Marzano / Pizza Express
Author Bio: Nick Anis is a food, wine, travel and technology writer with 24 books in print. Nick’s beats include snow and water sports, and vacation destinations. Publications include Travel-Watch, Where and What in the World, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Nick is a member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Nick can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Bio: Patty Anis is a freelance travel writer/photographer who has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Europe. Previously, Patty worked in the field of editorial, editing, and graphics design for 14 years and for a Southern California multi-city newspaper and public relations firm for seven years. Patty enjoys the opportunity to discover new destinations and cultures, both domestic and international, and shares these experiences through her articles.
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