Last Thursday evening I was fortunate enough to attend a preview of Donatella Arpaia's latest restaurant venture. Donatella, an Italian restaurant with a big focus on authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, opens Friday, September 24, in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC. It's her first venture here below 50th Street; she also owns Mia Dona, a rustic Puglian trattoria; Anthos, high-end Greek; Kefi, a Greek taverna; and in Miami's Viceroy Hotel, Eos, for modern Greek cuisine.
Arpaia hosted the event and, beyond being super friendly, you could easily see the enthusiasm and dedication she has for this new spot. Her ingredients are beyond fresh; the techniques authentic; and chefs total experts. All of her pizzaioli—as well as Arpaia—were trained in Italy with pie whiz Enzo Coccia, who then came here to continue to oversee the project during its early stages.
When you first walk into Donatella, it's like being embraced by a big warm hug. The source of that warmth? The giant, 11,000-pound pizza oven, built from Mt. Vesuvius volcanic rock. To boot, it was constructed on-site by renowned oven-builder Stefano Ferrara. (After being built, the oven was covered in shiny gold tiles, making it an extravagant and impossible feature to miss.) Once fired up, the intense heat cooks the pies in just 60 to 90 seconds, producing a crust that is simultaneously crispy and chewy.
We sampled several items from the menu—like the Margherita, Capellacio (charred and marinated mushrooms, mozzarella, fecorino, and basil, pictured), signature Donatella pies (tomatoes, stracciatella, rocket, and basil), and the mache salad, topped with irresistibly crispy pork belly bites known as ciccioli. Not one dish failed to deliver. But my favorite was the Mas'nicola, Donatella's take on a calzone. It's made with pecorino, basil, oregano and—wait for it—strutto (lard). I insist you order it. Just trust me. Then thank me. (And the chef.)
Your best bet is to go with a group, order several pies (they're all personal size) and sides, and sample everything, family-style. And you must save room for the sfogliatella (pictured below), a warm flaky pastry stuffed with ricotta, orange blossom, and honey syrup. It's as good as you'll get in Naples. Even better, if you ask Arpaia's father.
And the best part? The restaurant is very affordable. Nearly every item costs less than $20. I have a strong feeling Donatella will be a force to be reckoned with, even in a city as devoted to its pizza as New York—and even against contenders like Co., Motorino, and Paulie Gee's.
Joshua Pramis is an online associate editor and resident tech-guru at Travel + Leisure.