Let’s break down what’s really important in pizza. I'm going to add a NYC pizza (John's Pizza from the Theater District in Manhattan) as a benchmark and and compare:1. Crust, 2. Sauce, 3. Cheese/Quality of toppings, 4. Size/price and 5. Service. of Korean pizzas to that one.
Let's end the debate-- I'll just give you the scoop on what's what for each place. Some of the info is from my last review, but this is bigger in scope.
John's: The pizza here is standard NY pie, not great, not bad, but good NYC pizza. I would take John's Pizza over anything in Korea in a heart beat even if it is made by someone who isn't Italian because they've got the recipe down for their pie as. Slightly crispy, with a little bit of a dough bite, and being a brick oven pizza, it has a gestalt that is missing from Korean pizza. You have to think that the crust isn't too thin nor too thick, but just right for what they are trying to accomplish. This restaurant is the benchmark for a good prototypical NY pizza model.
Brick Oven Pizza: Right ingredients, right technique. Crust here is crisp and has a real bite. they give you a little of the tomato red sauce to dip the crust in, and is wel- deserved. Seems that this pizzeria has the goods on ingredients as they appear to be the importer of the flour they use in the dough. This is cooked more than a typical NY pizza is, to hold the sauce that the pizzaiolo designed. Again it's baked longer than John's pizza crust because there is no yield. But top notch in Korea.
Al Matto: Cooked perfectly/the right amount of doug- like texture, with the crispness it deserves. Wood-oven baked yet missing the gestalt that takes many years to develop. Overall these Seoul pizzas don’t have it yet. Given that the store opened in October of last year, it is no fault of their own. These pies have the crispy crust you want with some texture so you know you are not biting into a wafer, but they are thin enough so there aren't any complaints. Perfectly done for the two pizza we ordered. This crust is closer to NY pizza.
Buzza: For me it was cooked right on the second pie, and like Al Matto, the crust was similar to John's, a little yield, but firm on the bottom. Perhaps complaints of inconsistency are due to the 3-week waitlist and an interest in profits.
Gianni’s: This crust was ranked fourth, missing some of the bite that you want and was inconsistent with texture and timing. The oven was too small considering the size of the restaurant.
Karnival: This is Korean pizza at the typical start-up stage. The crust was doughy and cooked so that the crust had a little hold, yet it still wasn't thin enough to feel right. So, lots of doughy texture. I came to Brick Oven Pizza and settled for this mess. It is a no-thank-you-ma'am for me. They can sprinkle this restaurant with kimchi water and I wouldn't want to grow there......but I am super picky.
Al Matto - This is the closest to NYC crust. The owner accomplished this much and within a few years, I hope they have the gestalt that makes it a pizza that Korean's can eat and enjoy a real NY pizza taste. Second by a hair is Brick Oven Pizza: The right ingredients and right method, but the dough was a little too tough for the prototypical NY pizza slice. (There's a reason why this crust is how it is, but we'll discuss that below.) Third is Buzza, fourth is Gianni's and in last place is Karnival.
John's: Simple red tomato sauce, slightly sweet, salted, and seasoned. One portion of the pizza doesn't overwhelm the nex; it is all complimentary. You taste it, but you don't notice you are tasting it because that is what pizza is, bite by bite. it is supposed to be a meal in your mouth. I say pizza-eating is a form of sushi-eating-- there are right ways and wrong ways, but if done right, it is awesome in only one bite.
Brick Oven Pizza: Brilliantly done red sauce, a little sweeter than John's but heavier, hence the more sturdy base of crust. I would say the sauce is a mix of Brooklyn meets Sicilian. It is thicker with solid ingredients and it really shines for this pizza. I didn't try their cream pizza so will have to report on that later. I will be coming back for more sauce as it is pretty rocking. And after getting take-out and eating some the next day, this is definitely a bright point.
Al Matto: Didn’t try their cream pies, but had the tomato-sauced ones. I did try a pasta out of curiosity's sake and thereby have faith that they can make a good creamed pizza. With 40 different pies on the menu, I think they've got you pretty much covered. Their tomato sauce was good. It was seasoned with just the right amount of salt and sugar. I am actually excited to try their white pizza as I will be going back when I need my pizza fix.
Buzza: They might as well have just opened a can of pureed tomatoes and put it on top. That isn’t what makes a pizza stand out.
Gianni’s: Same as Buzza.
Karnival: They actually do the same a Gianni's. They probably get a good can of imported tomatoes and just ruin the pizza by not using it correctly. But there's nothing to really kill them about-- they killed themselves with the thick crust.
Winner: Brick Oven is the new winner. This is a new style of NY pizza, if I can call this NY pizza, slightly Brooklyn-flavored and more distinct than what I am used to. Al Matto's is closer to NY sauce, but Brick Oven's sauce is hunting for its own place in pizza history.
John's: Being situated in NYC and having access to great top-notch Italian ingredients (that I hope came from the characters like Vito Coreone in the 'Godfather' in the 1920,) this is the benchmark.
Brick Oven Pizza: All as good as NYC from the sausage to the pepperoni. I was more surprised about the hot Italian sausage than anything, there was some love in that sausage that is hard to find in Korea. I was very happy here and had their 'Godfather' pizza. It was good: garlic, pepperoni, onion, hot Italian sausage. Good enough to be from NYC.
Al Matto: Cheese was good and they even allow customers to buy their fresh mozzarella cheese for 5,000 KRW. When I was picking up my slice, the cheese wouldn’t break. Pretty good quality. Had a ‘Pizza Prosciutto a Funghi’ – Tomato sauce, mozzarella, button mushrooms, topped with prosciutto. Cheese was of good quality. Prosciutto was also of quality, not overly salty. Both are a step up from Buzza and Gianni’s. Button mushrooms were fresh too. The red chili flakes weren’t the typical come- from-the-shaker you buy at your local supermarket either. I tasted their freshly shaved parm cheese topping which was also of fair quality. Good overall, but if I nit pick I would go for better prosciutto, but the price point would break.
Buzza: Everything was pretty good. Cheese was good, but Al Matto got them beat by a finger. Prosciutto was of a lower quality and much saltier than Al Matto. I did like the touch of the dipping sauce of parsley and oil for the crust. For all the topping extras I had to ask at Al Matto, though the sample sizes at Buzza are barely enough for a slice anyways. Service at Buzza is better because of the bi-lingual servers, but quality-wise Al Matto has got them beat.
Gianni’s: Cheese was probably a hair down from Buzza, but all their ingredients were solid. I loved their fresh basil.
Karnival: This is where the zany toppings come out. Like the overly cheesy, not done right 'stinky' cheese pizza with honey. They had every typical italian topping for their meat pizza. They are served in 6 different styles and you can order a half pizza, so you can try one third of their pizza menu on one visit and that is about all you need.
Brick Oven. Tasting it, you can tell they take real pride in their pizza. (the Owner asked me if I thought his pie was the best I have ever eaten, and I responded happily, "pretty good" and he replied, "pretty good?!" with a prideful smirk.) Brick Oven Pizza has taken the lead two to one over Al Matto's. Buzza and Gianni’s tied in second. Karnival doesn't deserve to be ranked, cheese wasn't even proper.
Price and Size:
John's: Just pay what you eat for.. EeeeHH~~!!
Brick Oven Pizza: The 14" pie is 27,000 KRW, but that is the small size. The Pizzaiolo at this place is going for true NY pizza. I commend him for that, but for a couple on a date in Korea this maybe too big for tiny Korean girl stomachs. And English speakers aside, Korean men often follow the women's choice and this is a manly restaurant. Looking at the tables next to me there were lots of foreigners-- Japanese and American. For the quality of ingredients, and trust me i know, Brick Oven delivers and on a better scale. This is good for Korea. Top notch ingredients leads to a higher price, but if you want NY style pizza then eat here. The Pizzaiolo here understands this whole concept. He is all about pizza-- you can order any combo of menu items and he is up for the challenge. This is the NY state of mind.
Al Matto: For the quality of product they are giving you their most expensive pizza was 20,000 KRW, with the average being about 16,000 KRW. This is for about an 12 inch pie. For value, this is the clear winner. Their menu suits Korean tastes so I can take any local person here and they will have something good to eat by Korean standards. It has a menu with over 40 pizzas but a small seating area. In addition there is a good pasta menu. Their Welcome sign an a chance at a Chicago hotdog gets big love from me. I would go to Al Matto's over Brick Oven just for the personality the restaurant has and the owner turned pizzaiolo IMHO. His cream pasta takes 10 minutes (20 if he doesn't have boiling water hidden away somewhere) and requires the right execution to be consistent-- he is really good in skill alone.
Buzza: Average price is 15,000KRW, but the size of the pie is about 10 inches. So for about 1,000 you get roughly 30% more pie at Al Matto's.
Gianni’s: The average price is about 16,000 KRW and they have a slightly smaller than a 12 inch pie.
Karnival: One size fits all and for 15,000 KRW, you get what you pay for and it isn't great. But it is big and filling compared to price, so expect a young crowd.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="717"] Karnival Pizza Image from Seoulfoodyo[/caption]
Al Matto’s. Second place is Brick Oven barely, third is Buzza, then Gianni's. But the best pizza to be found is Brick Oven Pizza. Hands down they have the best pizza in Korea. I am confident enough to say that I am not going to update this review for a long time because i believe hands down that they will be the best for a decently long time. At the same time however, I am going to ask Al Matto's owner to try some ingredients from Brick Oven.
Brick Oven Pizza: English is good here, Korean not so much... We had a couple of servers that could not speak Korean, which according to taxi ahjuhssis that I have met over the years, is not a good thing. I ordered one pie to go, two to eat in, and buffalo wings to start and one to go. We got the wings with only one table seated as we ordered in a decent amount of time. The wings were pretty good, toned down in spice, but there are better places in Korea for wings. We got our first pie in a reasonable amount of time, but they forgot our take out order because they thought it was to go after the meal. We clearly told them this in English and Korean 30 mins into the meal, but they forgot an extra order of wings that I wanted to take back to the lady of the house at home. The only explanation was that they were too busy, with 4 empty tables, and 4 full, this is inexcusable. This is the whole reason why Korea needs a TIPS system ("To Insure Prompt Service"). But given that the restaurant is only in their 2nd month, there is every reason to believe this will impove. The place seats approximately 40 people with what looked like 3 ovens and two pizzaiolos. Given the size and the fact that they also warm ceramic serving plates, I would expect slightly slower service. Compared to John's pizza, overall this would be an 8 out of 10. Not NY pizza, but a good solid pie from experts.
The Final Verdict is:
Winner with 4 stars (The best pizza in Korea)
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Al Matto[/caption]
Al Matto: It is much better. It is a tiny restaurant so you don’t have to worry about quality (those two dont really have a bearing on each other do they?) Seats at most 20. I walked in relatively late on a Saturday night with no reservations. Brick Oven may have the best pizza in Seoul, but Al Matto's has them beat on menu and service. This is a relatively chill place to just hang out.
Yongsan-gu, Yongsan-dong 2-ga 38-11 용산구 용산동2가 38-11번지 02-794-4616
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Pizzeria D'Buzza[/caption]
A close second with 4 stars (one of the best places to eat in Seoul for a foreigner at good value, second best pizza. Closest to a NY pie.)
Buzza: It has the best service for foreigners; wait staff speaks English & Korean. The wait staff is well trained, but they need at least one more server to make it efficient, but at least you get what you ask for. Ask for a crispy crust!! This is a decent service and while Al Matto's is more of a relaxed vibe, I didn't have too wait long either.
Yongsan-gu, Hannam-dong 743-33 서울 용산구 한남동 743-33 02-794-9474
3.5 stars (value kills this restaurant and their tiny pizzas)
Karnival: We were warned with a half empty restaurant that there would be a 30 min wait for our pizza. Sucks it took them close to 40 mins to get us our second beer as well as all the other stuff we had to find on our own. If you relied on their wait staff you wouldn't get anything extra, like red pepper flakes or napkins. Or alcohol, even with paying up front and picking up a mask you are supposed to wear at the table for your pizza/order to be delivered.
2 star (portions were at least big, I was warped back to the 80's Korea and Pizza Hut I actually like sometimes.)
This is down the street from Brick Oven Pizza and this is where we settled on eating after we found Brick Oven to be closed. Would rather eat curry or Dos Tacos, but if you need to fill your pizza fix this will do.
Kangnam-gu Yeoksam-dong 619-3 강남구 역삼동 619-3 Tel: 02-555-6193