Da Isa


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2010

Photos by James Hadfield

Hisanori Yamamoto makes the best pizza in Tokyo. Don’t just take our word for it: he picked up trophies three years running at the international World Pizza Cup in Naples. After working at Omotesando’s Napule for the past few years, in February he finally opened his own restaurant in Nakameguro. A wall of photographs at Da Isa shows Yamamoto with everyone from Jackson Browne to Junichiro Koizumi, yet the man himself is no preening celebrity chef: he’s far too busy working the oven.

The pace at Da Isa is never less than hectic. When we visit on a rainy Thursday evening, it’s full to capacity, though the food keeps coming at a speed that ensures a rapid turnover of customers—aided by briskly efficient waiters who whip plates away barely after you’ve finished the last mouthful. This isn’t a spot for languid, romantic dates: it’s too clamorous, too bright, and the decor errs on the side of tacky. A true pizza connoisseur, of course, wouldn’t have it any other way.

We start with a warm antipasti of melanzane alla parmigiana (¥1,000), smoky eggplant in tomato sauce topped with parmesan, fresh basil and a great clod of mozzarella. Choosing a pizza takes longer: there are nearly 40 varieties on offer, including a range of margherita bases and familiar staples like quattro formaggi, plus some bianca and deep-fried fritta. Yamamoto makes compact arrangements of toppings on dough that he then stretches out roughly over a wooden paddle before thrusting them into the oven. They’re cooked in about half a minute, and the results are sublime—if occasionally a bit misshapen.

The pizzas look enormous when they first arrive at the table, but don’t worry: you’ll make space. The margherita alla cocca (¥1,800), served with a half-cooked egg in the center, is good, sloppy fun, and impossible to eat while retaining any semblance of dignity. However, we really hit the jackpot with the ripieno al forno con funghi (¥2,250), a bastardized calzone with mozzarella, ham, tomato and mushroom on the outside, and ricotta stuffed in the middle. To be honest, we could’ve just had the crust and gone home happy. It’s that good.

House wine costs ¥500 by the glass and ¥3,200 per bottle, but we opt instead for a bottle of Sicilian Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Bianco (¥4,200), which is crisp and pairs well with the food. The menu also includes a limited selection of pastas starting at ¥1,650, plus a few deep-fried offerings, the smell of which accompanies us all the way home. The dessert selection is a tad underwhelming by comparison: we get a panna cotta that’s all but indistinguishable from crème caramel (¥650). Next time we’ll probably just skip straight to the grappa (¥700).

Da Isa also does takeaways, and pizzas are just ¥1,000 on weekday lunchtimes. We’d normally consider cycling to Nakameguro for lunch to be a bit indulgent, but in this case we’re happy to make an exception.