The best Italian food is often simple yet carefully prepared, which is the goal of Pizzeria da Marco, a Neapolitan pizzeria that opens tonight in downtown Bethesda. The menu doesn’t throw any curve balls: there’s an antipasto of prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella; tomato bruschetta; and Margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil. But there are some subtle twists on the list of specialty pies, which include the Marco, with smoked mozzarella, mushrooms, and sausage.
In the corner of the 90-seat main dining room (there’s also a smaller back room and a front patio) is the restaurant’s biggest source of pride: a $15,000 oven made from volcanic materials from Mount Vesuvius in Naples. General manager Alessandro Ferro calls it “the Rolls-Royce of pizza ovens” and says it holds 900-degree heat better than standard brick. Months have been spent “curing” the oven, burning oak logs for hours each day to ensure that it’s dry and heats evenly. Think of it as seasoning a new skillet.
The oven is similar to the one at Italy’s Pizzeria Brandi—the 231-year-old birthplace of Margherita pizza—where da Marco’s Naples-born pizzaiolo Dino Santonicola used to cook. He’s been certified by the Verace Pizzaiolo Napoletana association for his mastery of traditional Neapolitan-style pizza: wood-fired rounds, simultaneously soft and crispy, made with fine “00” flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Santonicola hopes to get the same designation for this restaurant, an award that so far has been maintained in Washington only at 2 Amys in Cleveland Park.
The pizza isn’t the only thing that strives for authenticity: A large photo of Santonicola’s nonna—or grandmother—hangs on the wall.
Tonight, Pizzeria da Marco is offering one free 12-inch pizza per diner. For the remainder of May, there’s a 50-percent discount on all meals.
Pizzeria da Marco, 8008 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-6083; pizzeriadamarco.net. Open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 to 10:30, Friday and Saturday 11:30 to 11:30.