Pizza maker Anthony Pilla flips out at Urbana

Few Washington food brands have jumped around as much in the past year as Anthony Pilla. Since the popular pizzaiolo left Seventh Hill Pizza last August, for a gig with the owners of Acqua al 2 that never panned out, the 25-year-old pie baker has been seen flipping dough first at H & Pizza in the Atlas District, then at Pizza CS in Rockville.

Miss his show? You can catch it again, Wednesday through Sunday, at Urbana in Dupont Circle, where for the past month Pilla has been tending the gas-fired stone oven in the dining room of Hotel Palomar.

He swears he’s there for the long term. “I need to interact with people,” says Pilla. A 10-seat pizza bar in the back of Urbana allows him to do just that. As anyone who has seen him in motion can attest,  the cook’s delivery is as impressive as his thin crusts, sought after for their puffy lips, crisp-chewy texture and dance between yeast and char in every slice.

The cook has tweaked his dough recipe for Urbana. It now incorporates two kinds of flour, a 24-hour raise and white wine. The last touch gives the crust  a tangy kick that goes missing when you’re not using a wood-burning oven, says Pilla. Wine has also been added to his sauce, which is made with hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes.

Pilla says the establishment, which is run by the San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, first tried to hire him a year ago, when he was still at Seventh Hill Pizza. “No way,” he says he thought at the time. “I’m too cool to go corporate.”

The chance to learn from Urbana chef John Critchley and to grow with a boutique firm persuaded him otherwise. “Fun and challenging,” says Pilla, “that’s a match made in heaven.” And who doesn’t like a benefits package?

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

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Lavanya Ramanathan · February 1, 2013

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