A Mano: good pizza but where’s the gnocchi?

Now that I’ve shamelessly lifted this great pic from Jason Perlow’s in-depth review of the pizza restaurant, A Mano, I’m not sure I can add anything of value to what seems to be an extremely well-covered dining experience.

But then I read about a huge change to the eatery that occurred six months previous to my arrival in North Jersey: the original pizza pioneer left and the menu was retooled to become more America-friendly. Evidently, the well-regarded Roberto Caporuscio was let go for making pies that were a little too authentic.

What?

If you go back to that first review, which is pre-menu-change, you’ll see some pretty convincing evidence that Roberto was serving one of the most authentic (and by all accounts tasty) Neopolitan pizzas around. That the management felt this uniquely Italian food was off-putting to much of its New Jersey clientele seems to me to be completely insane. But, hey, they own a restaurant and I don’t.

So, being that I did not have the opportunity to try the original Roberto pies, I figured my little review here might provide some insight into what the A Mano experience is like to a newbie, ignorant (at the time of dining) of the menu shenanigans that took place not seven months earlier.

When my wife and I trekked out to A Mano on a week night about a month ago, we were seated outside and ordered a bottle of wine. It was probably the cheapest bottle and, unfortunately, we got what we paid for. If ever we had wished a restaurant were BYOB, this was it.

For an appetizer, we ordered the Tricolore salad (Field Greens with Endive, Gorgonzola, Walnuts, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar). It was well-balanced and fairly tasty, with a good distribution of  dressing. The Gorgonzola was a bit creamier and milder than I was used to, but seemed to pair well with the rest of the salad’s flavors.

For entrees, we decided to split a pizza and a pasta. Our pizza was the Marinara con Funghi (Tomatoes, Extra Virgin Oil, Fresh Garli, Mushrooms) and was delicious. I obviously can’t compare it to any of Roberto’s former creations, but this was certainly better than the average delivery pie. The wood-burning ovens gave a perfect chewy crisp to the crust, and the tomato sauce and cheese were just as savory. It may not have been the most authentic Neopolitan I’ve ever tasted, but I can’t find anything to complain about.

The gocchi was another matter entirely. It’s not that they didn’t taste good; in fact, borrowing many of the same ingredients as the pizza (tomato sauce, melted cheese), it was just as delicious. It’s just that it was prepared in the weirdest way I’ve ever seen. The whole deal was presented in this small, terracotta crock  covered in bubbling mozzarella cheese. Underneath this layer was a kind of casserole of sorts, consisting of tomato sauce, more cheese and, buried deep at the bottom, a couple of gnocchi.

It was the most peculiar way of serving pasta that I’d ever experienced. The portion was more appetizer-sized and it struck me as almost more of a soup than a pasta dish. I was tempted to send it back, but it tasted good, so we pressed on.

With bellies full of the three food groups – carbs, tomato sauce and melted mozzarella – we had no room for dessert. But we came away from the place wanting to return, which is something I’m sure A Mano will be thrilled to hear.

Next time, though, I think we’ll just stick to the pizzas.

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