It’s not the kind of ambiance that can be built into a restaurant. No architect could design the warm buzz of a crowded restaurant on a cool Wednesday night, or put in the amazing scents, not just from the oven but from people bringing in the aroma of night and rain with them. Or, supply the hint of cedar in a just-served glass of Italian wine, or even the scent of a baby floating by in a carrier, secure on its mother’s arm.
It was crowded last night, and seemed so much to me like a restaurant in, forgive me, New York where people go out at night, congregating for good food and company in a restaurant or bistro or trattoria — anyplace as long as its proprietors know what they are doing. And, at just about any hour. It has that kind of sophistication, along with a sense of intimacy, the kind that makes you expect to see a friend at any moment.
Doug Horn and his wife, Lori, opened the pizzeria a few years ago. The heart of the small restaurant, just behind the dining bar that wraps around an open kitchen area, is the oven. It came from Naples, burns wood at temperatures around 800 degrees and higher. While it’s lovely to behold, it is also what allows the Horns their certification, “Specialita Traditionale Garantita.” This certifies that Italians (who in fact taught Horn the proper way to make this pizza) is making the true pizza Napoletana.
I haven’t been to Italy to have the pizza Napoletana. I will do this someday and I won’t be surprised if the pizza there is pretty much like what Dough serves. I am an aficionado of New York pizza and this isn’t quite the same. The crust of a wedge of the former is generally crisp right down to the pointy end. Dough’s pizza is moister than this, and you generally have to support the end with a fork.
This is not a big deal. When the toppings are simple perfection, like the halves of tiny tomatoes on my four-cheese pizza, with thin shavings of sopressata, red onions and Parmigiano-Reggiano, I have nothing but a smile on my face as I reach for a second piece. On another visit, a friend who ordered a sausage pizza thought it was just fine, in fact there was a look almost of reverence on his face as he consumer it.
Salads at Dough can be exquisite. They are never overdressed, in my experience. My favorite also happened to be a special on the blackboard one day: Roasted Beets with Field Greens. Or maybe it was arugula. I did eat the greens, but it was the earthy, natural sweetness of the small mountain of room temperature beets that made the salad remarkable.
A ramekin of sausage and peppers during lunch one day was less than satisfactory. The sausage was nearly black; the peppers looked as though they’d been cooked, then reheated, then put away for the night, then reheated again. I decided it might have been a fluke, bad luck for me that day. But, on another visit I peered at a tray traveling past my table to see the same order – and it looked much the same. I like a little more life and color to my roasted peppers, and sausage really isn’t better blackened.
The burrata bar at Dough is putting out some purely wonderful cheese. I ordered the house-made burrata. Creamy ricotta and mascarpone provide a silky filling wrapped in firmer fresh mozzarella. This prize, about the size of a softball, is centered on a plate surrounded by half-slices of heirloom tomato. The plate is polished with green-hued extra-virgin olive oil and some drops of balsamic vinegar. A treat for anyone, but no cheese lover in San Antonio should miss it. If the house burrata is too tame, Dough was offering a Burrata de Bufala (water buffalo) from the Puglia region of Italy, from where the cheese originated. This cheese has just a little more oomph, my server told me.
Check out the all-Italian wine list. Then, if Carla’s Panna Cotta is on the blackboard as dessert, get it. Panna Cotta is an almost impossibly good thing. It might resemble a lightly jelled crème Anglaise, or crème brûlee, just solid enough to stand up on the plate. But barely. It is just sweet enough, flavored with vanilla, and garnished with caramel drizzled around the plate. It sound rich and it is. Share it with friends, if you need to, but just try it.
One night, dining alone, I ran up a bill of more than $60. This was for a cheese plate, a pizza and a glass of wine, tax and tip. I wasn’t surprised – I’d seen the prices on the menu. But, it did occur to me that San Antonians will, contrary to what we hear, frequent a restaurant with prices in this range for a casual meal. But, the food has to be top notch, and at Dough, it is.
Dough Pizzeria Napoletana
6989 Blanco Road
Lunch, Dinner: Tues.-Sat.