Assaggi Osteria Opens a Pizzeria in McLean
The early verdict on the Neapolitan-style pies? Two thumbs up.
McLean residents Ken and Madge Gazzola loved their neighborhood restaurant, Assaggi Osteria, so much that they decided to lend money to chef/owner Domenico Cornacchia when he wanted to add a Neapolitan pizzeria next door. Little did the Gazzolas know that by March 2017 they would be majority owners after Cornacchia ran into financial difficulties and took a chef job in Pittsburgh. (Two other McLean couples are silent partners.)
Since then, the Gazzolas—Ken is a consultant to the aviation industry; Madge a retired chief operating officer for a financial regulatory agency—have managed the renovation of the original osteria, which was shuttered for eight months, as well as the build-out of its sister pizzeria, which opened in April. Madge oversees operations, working closely with general manager Massimo Papetti, formerly of Café Milano in Washington, whom she hired in June 2017.
It seems they’ve hit their stride. Assaggi Pizzeria, which seats 40 inside and 15 on the patio, is a charmer, with galvanized metal tables, industrial pendant lamps and a cool palette of turquoise, gray and midnight-blue. The star of the show is a $20,000 wood-burning pizza oven built by Marra Forni, a supplier of handcrafted brick ovens based in Beltsville, Maryland. It’s manned by pizzaiolo Luis “Necco” Lopez, who hails from the acclaimed 2Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria in the District.
For pizza to be considered truly Neapolitan, it must be cooked within 90 seconds in an 800- to 900-degree wood-burning oven, using specific types of wheat flour, yeast, tomatoes, cheese, salt and olive oil. Assaggi is working toward accreditation from the international Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, but as of this printing had not applied for it.
Certification or no, the pizzas (12 inches in diameter and priced $11 to $16) are superlative. The crust is thin, faintly sweet, perfectly salted and slightly tangy from a long, slow rise. Each pie emerges from the oven beautifully puffed around the outside, with the charred leopard-spots that are a hallmark of true Neapolitan pizza. I can recommend the margherita (San Marzano tomato sauce, Italian buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil); the funghi misti (cremini mushrooms, fontina cheese, Grana Padano, basil pesto); and the cime di rape, dotted with broccoli rabe, mild Italian sausage and mozzarella.
The starters and desserts also shine. My faith in Brussels sprouts was restored upon discovering that the kitchen painstakingly separates all the leaves and fries them to a wispy, delicate crunch. Tiny oven-baked meatballs and rice balls stuffed with mozzarella (arancini) are also winners.
Pastry chef Chiara Bogni, a fellow Café Milano alum, almost steals the show with her creamy coffee panna cotta with chocolate sauce, cookie crumble and hazelnuts—not to mention a chunky, homemade peach pie à la mode that could do battle with any Georgia grandmother’s.
Assaggi Osteria Pizzeria, 6641 Old Dominion Drive, McLean, 703-918-0080, assaggiosteria.com