Why Pizza Chefs Are Embracing the Tasting Menu

It’s time to open your mind—and your stomach—to the idea of a pizza tasting menu.

In what may be the ultimate example of a high/low mix, pizzerias across the United States are offering a more luxurious way to enjoy a slice. Occasionally dubbed “pizza omakase,” the idea isn’t completely new—check out what Small’s in Singapore was doing back in 2020, or what a handful of Naples shops have been offering for the past few years—but it’s seemingly catching on in the States for the first time.

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“There’s been a renaissance of pizza in the last 10 years,” Tony Gemignani, the chef-owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, told Robb Report. “Sometimes people don’t think that pizza can be fine dining. And now it’s changed; it’s evolved.”

A Grandma the Hippie pie from Tony's Pizza Napoletana
A Grandma the Hippie pie from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

Consistently called one of the best pizzerias in the U.S., Tony’s has started serving a tasting menu after 15 years in business. Over the course of two and a half hours, seven pizzas offer a tour of America’s regional specialities, although you’ll begin with Tony’s raison d’etre, a Neapolitan Margherita pie, of which the shop makes just 73 a day. From there, the journey has you crisscrossing St. Louis, New Haven, Detroit—it’s a veritable gastronomic road trip.

“We’ve always been on the higher end when it comes to pizza, but this is beyond that,” Gemignani said. “If you are in love with pizza and you want an experience, that’s what we’re able to do. And there’s not a lot of places where you could sit and have all these styles, regional styles, correct styles.”

Over at Pizzeria Sei in Los Angeles, William Joo is taking a different tack. He’s still tinkering with his pizza omakase, set to debut this summer, but rather than whole pies, Joo is planning for each tasting at Pizzeria Sei to feature eight different slices, a mix of what’s currently on offer to all customers and off-menu combinations. That’ll finally give his friends and family the chance to try more than just one of his pizzas.

At a recent Pizzeria Sei test tasting, toppings ranged from California-roll-inspired to decadent potato and caviar to silky Wagyu beef tongue. (Joo still cooks up Margherita and marinara pies, but his tasting may be best suited to the adventurous gastronomes among us.) “The beauty of the tasting is that in one sitting, you taste the different flavors of the pizzas,” Joo told Robb Report. “Something [that I want] all people to say is ‘Oh, pizza omakase, you can only get it from here in the United States’ … That’s my ultimate goal.”

Potato and caviar pizza from Pizzeria Sei
Potato and caviar pizza from Pizzeria Sei

Joo faces stiff competition from pizzaiolos like Gemignani and Dan Richer of Jersey City’s Razza, though. While neither of them bills their offering as pizza omakase, they’re changing the landscape of what a tasting menu can be. At Razza, for example, Richer’s tasting experience is so elusive, it’s not actually on the menu. But the chef has been known to whip up a multicourse feast for large groups and special occasions.

Given the personalized nature of how he creates the menu, no one experience will be the same, but the general formula Richer follows is: bread and butter tasting with three house-made butters, meatballs, vegetable dishes and salad, plus several pizzas, usually involving a few different versions of the standby Margherita.

“A lot of it is conversational and on the fly and everyone always leaves very, very happy,” Richer told Robb Report. “Hopefully they learned something in the process, or they’re inspired to dig deep into something as simple as pizza.”

That sense of discovery is a common thread throughout the pizza tasting menus. Gemignani mentioned how some diners have come in for his tasting experience, tried a type of pizza they’d never had before, and left with that as their new favorite style. “You’re kind of showing people, ‘Hey, these are the pizzas that I love. These are the pizzas that you may have not had. And you may fall in love with them too.’”

At a time when restaurants are facing criticism for high prices and service fees, and when many fine-dining establishments are starting to offer a la carte dishes alongside their tasting menus or rebranding as an overall more casual eatery, pizza is bucking the trend and moving in the opposite direction. The elevated offerings of these pizzerias come with the higher price tag to match: Tony’s has a minimum table spend of $500, plus $45 per person for an introductory wine pairing or $60 for a more elevated version. Joo, meanwhile, is thinking of pricing his offering in the $120 range, although it’ll depend on which ingredients he’s using at any given time. And for Robb Report’s Ultimate Gift Guide, Richer was giving a pizza-making class for six people followed by the tasting for $8,400.

But as with anything in the luxury realm, there are always people willing to splash out for the best of the best. Just ask Gemignani: Right off the bat, Tony’s experience received 80 reservations, causing it to already be booked up through June when we spoke in mid-March.

“It’s not for everybody,” Gemignani said about the tasting-menu format. “Some people say, ‘At a time right now—the economy’s volatile. Is this something that you should do? It seems like prices are going up. Don’t you want to go back?’ I said, ‘There are foodies out there. There are people that love pizza; there are people that grew up with their favorite pizzas.’ And I knew that there was an opportunity there to showcase an elevated dining pizza experience. And I went that route and it worked and it’s crazy.”

Jeremy Repanich contributed reporting.

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