Tonari is not Japanese-Italian fusion food, but instead pasta and pizza wafu, meaning "in the Japanese way." Although the pizza was the draw, we made a point to sample the appetizers and two of the pasta dishes.
We had two appetizers, both of them simple, fresh, and uncomplicated. We enjoyed a small dish of warm olives that were adorned with a few cloves of roasted garlic and some mild peppers. Even better was a plate of roasted shishito peppers, enhanced only with salt and olive oil. These small greens served as a backdrop for the complex flavors and textures to follow.
|Uni (sea urchin) pasta|
All of the pizza here is - deliberately or coincidentally - Detroit style. Each pie is baked in a deep pan greased with rice oil that yields a thick, square crust made from Hokkaido wheat flour. The edges are dark brown, crunchy, and caramelized but in the dim light we weren't sure if the edges were brown with overflowing cheese or just the oiled dough.
Despite that formidable crunchy crust, the interior of the dough is white, soft, and pillowy. Texturally, while it resembles some of the best thick and airy pizzas like the ones at Rize in West Chester PA and Via 313 in Austin TX, it was distinctly different from any pizza crust I've ever eaten. The dough is fermented for up to three days to develop a structure that is common to Japanese white bread. Beyond its delectable silky interior and crunchy edges, it had a wonderfully complex flavor even without the toppings.
Like our pasta strategy, we also sought out the "most Japanese" pizza, opting for the Mentaiko & Corn pie that included brick cheese, mentaiko (cod roe) cream, Kewpie (Japanese mayonnaise) corn puree, and scallions. Riding atop this sturdy base was a lavaflow of that creamy concoction. It was quite slathered with this rich topping, but the crust was up to the task, even as it was messy to eat without knife and fork.
This pizza was almost as spectacular as the uni pasta with its wild mix of textures and flavors. We savored every bite, and I'd love to go back to try the clam pie or the simple pepperoni version that includes canned Jersey tomatoes.
We finished with a dessert called grapefruit granite, made with shaved grapefruit ice, campari, vanilla gelato, and shiso (an herb from the mint family). Just as the green appetizers served as a platform to dive into the deep end of the umami pool populated by the pasta and pizza, this cool concoction was the perfect exit ramp, tart and sweet and crunchy and creamy.
We came for the pizza, but this was a transcendant meal from start to finish. Go out of your way to get to Tonari; wafu waiting for?