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Thin Crusts in Glen Park

These days, every San Francisco neighborhood seems to have a boutique pizzeria. With Gialina, Glen Park has one of the best. Until a couple years ago, getting your teeth around a good Neapolitan-style pizza in the Bay Area required reservations at Zuni, A16, or Chez Panisse Café (or the patience to wait for a table at Pizzetta 211.) That changed in 2005, when Pizzeria Picco and Pizzeria Delfina opened. Each combined San Francisco's obsession with sourcing perfect ingredients with an artisan's attention to technique. The result: traditional Neapolitan-style pies with local ingredients, and the beginning of a new trend.

As you travel south in San Francisco, from the Mission to Glen Park, tight Japanese denim and checkered Vans give way to mom jeans and Reeboks. This unintimidating Glen Park style works at Gialina. The narrow dining space, lined with huge vintage Italian family photos, is relaxed and convivial. Children scream and share their toys with neighboring tables; adults break the invisible barrier between tables to chat about how good the pizza is. On a recent visit, a neighboring table, noticing us ogling their margherita pizza, insisted that we each take a slice. We did.

The salads and antipasti here can be delightful. A combination of heirloom tomatoes, farro, arugula, and mozzarella was poetic. Fresh, salty, nutty and juicy, it was the perfect pre-pizza starter. The salumi plate, sourced from Paul Bertolli's Fra'Mani, is also impeccable.

Now to the pizza. The concept of Neapolitan pizza is simple: extremely thin crust topped with a few ingredients (traditionally a combination of tomato, mozzarella, oil, and herbs) and baked for a couple minutes in a very hot oven.

In reality, crafting an excellent Neapolitan pizza is complicated, requiring the skills of a trained pizzaiolo (pizza maker). These skills are evident at Gialina -- the pizzas have character. The crust is alternately chewy and charred. It's aromatic, slightly sweet, slightly sour. What's keeping it from perfection are the lack of ridges and blisters -- the topography of a classic Neapolitan crust.

Traditional Neapolitan offerings (margherita and marinara) share the menu with pizzas topped with handcrafted meats and seasonal vegetables. A recent winner included artichokes, caramelized onions, pancetta, and Perlagrigia cheese. Minimalists will find some of the toppings overbearing.

The desserts, such as Bi-Rite ice cream and, recently, a house-made lemon-verbena ice, are mostly first rate. The dessert pizza, which has received a good deal of positive buzz, is the exception. Topped with Nutella, mascarpone, and crumbled amaretti cookies, it’s spongy and gooey -- an irredeemable mess.

Gialina, like Dogpatch's Piccino, has quickly become a delicious new force in the evolution of the Neopolitan/San Franciscan hybrid pizzas. It’s a place where the food cognoscenti can discuss the locally sourced ingredients while their kids scream and smash pizza into their faces.

Glen Park

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