Ghibellina, 14UP

(See the July 20, 2014, Review here.)

What’s interesting if that I have some very knowledgeable diners agreeing with me about the pizza, and others basically saying that I’m crazy – that it’s okay, but not even close to being the best in DC. When I made this call about Comet Ping Pong, and then Pupatella, I didn’t get this type of resistance – this tells me that there may well be consistency problems, and in a restaurant this size, that wouldn’t surprise me.

One diner (who knows what he’s doing) mentioned a “soggy undercrust,” and that’s the antithesis of how I would describe the pizzas I’ve seen here; if anything, the pizzas I’ve praised have had almost *too* much char.

Consistency is everything at a restaurant of this size, especially if someone like me is claiming that they’re doing something at a certain level. Disagreements duly noted and recorded (and, to complicate things further, go to this July 25th Pupatella post … there’s no inconsistency, as Pupatella is in Virginia – they’re not competitors at all, and I feel we’re lucky to have both).

When someone tells me that a restaurant serves the best pizza in town, and when I agree with that, and tell it to the world, then I must hold that restaurant to a higher standard.

I went to Ghibellina last night, on Labor Day – probably Jonathan’s night off, but there was a packed bar area nevertheless due to their outstanding happy hour bar specials from 4-6:30. If you haven’t taken advantage of these, you really need to.

Starting off as I did once before, I ordered and sipped on a Frizzante ($6, all prices here are happy hour prices), prosecco, gin, strawberry simple syrup, and lemon. I can’t be certain, but I don’t think they’re using Damrak gin any longer – their online menu, if I’m not mistaken, is not quite current. Regardless, for $6, this was nearly as refreshing and well-made as before, but it didn’t wow me.

I then switched to a glass of Prosecco ($5) which was well above the norm in quality. A very good prosecco, served in a high-quality champagne flute, for $5? Yes, you should take advantage of Ghibellina’s happy hour at your earliest possible opportunity (select 20-ounce draft beers are only $4, including the Atlas Rowdy Rye PA).

Dinnertime! Diners can now choose from numerous pizzas during happy hour, and I chose the Salsicce e Cipolla (a ridiculous $8.50), sausage, provolone, wood-roasted onions, oregano, peperoncino, and grana. I ended up eating only one-quarter of the pizza (which diners cut themselves with a pair of scissors – I love this), and took the rest home, having half later that evening, and the final quarter for lunch the next day. So I got to try it at three different times – the half pizza was well-heated and crisped in a good, hot oven, and the final quarter was eaten at room temperature, so I got to really examine this pie in three very different ways.

When claims are made as to The Best at something, scrutiny needs to be tightened. Consistency means a lot, and in some sense, you’re only as good as your worst pizza on your worst day. I have to say that I liked, but did not love, this Salsicce e Cipolla. It was extremely well-charred on top, but had very little char on the bottom (an odd combination), the tomato sauce was sweet, and perceived as even sweeter by the wood-roasted onions which were sweet to a fault. While the sausage was very good and interesting, albeit somewhat pink (from nitrates?), the grana did not seem to be of the highest quality, but that could have also been the overall combination of flavors which just didn’t pan out. The flavor and texture of the crust was delicious, and was the high point of the pie.

Having now had several pizzas at Ghibellina, I can comfortably say that this was my least favorite. Was it because it was Labor Day, and the first shift was taking a break before busy season starts up? Are they offering too many different pizzas at happy hour instead of only serving a couple and executing those to perfection? I had this pizza on my first visit to Ghibellina, and loved it then, so why didn’t I love this? Primarily, it was the overall flavor which was less than the sum of its parts. Have the ingredients changed? Was an inexperienced pizzaiolo at the station? I don’t know.

All I can say is that to claim a restaurant “has the best pizza in town,” especially in this pizza-soaked city, the pizzas have to be both magnificent *and* consistent, and it’s the consistency that was lost on this visit. This was a good pizza, and for the money, was an amazing pizza, but taken on absolute terms, it was not a great pizza. Right now, I don’t feel comfortable saying Ghibellina has the best pizza in the DC area – I think it has the *potential* to serve some of the greatest pies, and rest assured that if Jonathan is overseeing things, it will, but this is a high-volume restaurant, talented cooks need days off, and the diner has no way of knowing what is going on. Jonathan will be cursing at me when he reads this – especially because I’m writing this about a Labor Day visit – but I’d be remiss if I reported on anything other than the actual experience. Honestly, I’ve had some fantastic restaurant meals on Labor Day proper in years past – crowds are thin, and if the chef is working, it’s like you unearthed buried treasure.

Above all, everyone please keep in mind: This is not a bad review by any means; it’s merely expressing doubt about Ghibellina’s pizza being “The Best.”

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