There’s something great about being a regular. And at Visa-O1, it seems everyone is greeted like an old friend.
Once they find the place, that is. It’s an 18-seat, windowless box past the lobby of an anonymous office building off Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
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Master pizzaiolo and owner Renato Viola emerges from the open kitchen every few minutes with a smile and a joke and a warm embrace. His hidden spot is especially popular with local families, who are happy to wait for a table. Or, if the wait gets long, the order gets boxed up to go. Everyone smiling along to the tunes of Little Richard and Frank Sinatra.
The slender chef, also a member of the pizza acrobatic team, comes from Agropoli, south of Naples, where the ancient art of pizza-making is as serious as religion.
The pizza is a mix of cultures. Viola describes it as New York Italian-style that he perfected from years in the Big Apple and here at Dolce and Giotto. Indeed he does hold a special visa for his extraordinary skill. And as a world pizza champion, an acclaimed prize in Italy, his talent is evident on the plate. He has the goods to back up the restaurant’s subhead: Extraordinary Pizza.
In the kitchen, his team in classic pizza whites spins dough from a secret recipe that has been proofing for nearly three days. The result is a light, thin, crispy pie that emerges from the oven with scorched bubbles on the edges but tender and chewy. This is pizza made to eat with a knife and fork, but you can certainly try the fold-and-stuff technique if you like.
The staff, a pair of young and slender women who can scoot between the tightly placed tables, is polite and quick.
The menu is a bit too long, considering that the only offerings are pizza in more than thee dozen configurations and some antipasti. No reason to get confused. Stick with simple options. The gorgeous and traditional 13-inch Margherita is sauced with the thinnest layer of silken San Marzano tomatoes topped with a restrained amount of perfectly melted mozzarella and a few leaves of bright and bitey young basil.
On the other extreme are the “extraordinary” pies made in the shape of a star and loaded with creamy ricotta cheese and a choice of other fresh and expertly curated ingredients.
Though the picture makes them look bready, they are not. The dough is simply sliced and folded, origami-style, to form the pointy pockets that create a greater ratio of crunchy crust to soft center. We sampled the Star Michele, loaded with see-through sheets of grilled eggplant, zucchini, and slender ribbons of red and yellow peppers.
The meat lover’s pie is another indulgence worth savoring. Somehow it is not overkill, even with layers of fresh sliced ham, pepperoni, bacon and pork sausage. Even vegans have options here: Just ask for the cheese replacement.
Salads, too, are done with care. A Caesar is tossed with a dressing that is perfectly emulsified and well-balanced with a hint of anchovy, lemon and cheese. Shavings of crusty, well-aged Parmesan top off the simple construction. The Sonia with tomatoes and Italian tuna is another hit. In fact, everything we sampled was handled well.
Nutella lovers are in luck. It is the prime ingredient for dessert. Perfect if you are a fan of the hot, tasty flavor of the hazelnut spread — I am! Here you can also have it baked with hot and sweet bananas or into a flaky croissant.
The hard-back wooden seats could have been more comfortable, but perhaps that is by design. You cannot have people sitting too long in this cozy spot. There are people waiting to become regulars.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Victoria Pesce Elliott on Twitter and Instagram: @VictoriaPesceE.