It’s easy to be disappointed by Neapolitan pizza. Compared with American pizza’s bulging, tanned bicep, a traditional Naples pie can seem like the flabby, pale-skinned jobber of the pizza world; it’s soupy soft center epitomizing old-world weakness, the way things used to be.
The tragedy of the Neapolitan pizza lies in the assumption that it will be made well with good ingredients in a blazing hot oven. That’s not easy to do, especially compared with the anything-goes ethos (and thus, quality) that American pizza has exported to the world. One big reason behind the creation and usefulness of these official appelations that you see demarcating True Neapolitan Pizza is to make sure the fragile formula is being followed correctly. The limitations of the certifications are there, too, but I think the base purpose is a noble one.
Suffice to say, there are a lot of folks in Korea who have probably had awful Neapolitan pizza and who either were turned off by it or thusly ranked it below Domino’s on their list of pizza priorities.
Yet, these are golden days. Pizzeria Darobe has been rolling out certified Neapolitan pies in Seongsu-dong since 2017. The owner has been studying pizzamaking for over a decade. The dough is fermented for 15-17 hours and made from Molino Caputo flour. The brick, wood-fed oven blazes truth and righteousness at 500 degrees celsius. There is a simple marinara and a margherita. All the boxes are ticked, and the lines are a sign of the value of ticking those boxes.
Honestly, prior to this visit, I hadn’t made it over to Seongsu-dong in a few years. My daily trodden path takes me on line 6 from work to home and my curiosity is usually well-scratched by living in Mapo-gu. But I found myself with some business in the area (ala the Lonely Gourmet) and Darobe was #1 with a bullet to try.
Even at 5:30 on a Tuesday, we were six parties deep. There is an excellent patio area for waiting. You can gaze at piles of wood or all the hip passersby. The presence of large amounts of botox reminded me of the Seongsu’s general vicinity to Gangnam and just how gentrification money has drifted across the river is easy to see in how much the area has changed since I was last there. While wandering, you’ll make note of a handful more places to try in a three block area. It’s all goin’ down in Seongsu.
Darobe might be the best casual date restaurant in Seoul. It’s quality is high enough, the ambiance cozy enough, the price reasonable enough for a university student, if they really wanna go for it, to absolutely try to grab that brass ring of monogamous human companionship.
Although JY’s argument for pasta was strong and I’ve heard the pastas are very good, Darobe is first and foremost a pizza restaurant. We got the margherita and the Bismarck between us, two humans with two sadly normal-sized stomachs, with a side of addictive oven-braised shiitake mushrooms in olive oil. However, in addition to the pastas, the “tapas” section and the pizza accompaniments were really alluring. Was jealous of the ladies’ next to us and their baked baccala with toasted bread.
You gotta measure a Neapolitan-influenced spot by its margherita (and absolute purists would say the marinara pizza is foremost). Admittedly, I’ve never been to Naples or even Italy but I’ve had some of Tokyo’s best (so…some of the world’s best), and Darobe certainly stacks up with the likes of Tamaki and Seirinkan at least in terms of having the basics DOWN.
The Bismarck was a nice counterpoint to the margherita’s conventional pizza charms. If your mantra is “put an egg on it” then this is the pizza for you. The soupy egg yolk slicks the entire pizza in its richness, and you can even soak up the golden-white remainder with your crust. Cotto proscuitto, basil, and truffle oil add the funk to one of the most memorable pizzas I’ve ever had.
There is no Meat Lovers or deep dish here. Just traditional-styled Neapolitan pizzas made to strict specifications. The menu and the area are worth exploring well-beyond just one visit. Don’t let any misconceptions trip you up. Darobe makes pizza for you and you and you.