Anyone who’s watched Ugly Delicious can get a close look at Tokyo-style Neapolitan pizza, popularized by Seirinkan from Susumu Kakinuma, for a Japanese perspective on the famous Italian food. Now that look can be a bit more local too, thank you to William Joo and wife Jennifer So’s tiny Pico-Robertson restaurant called Pizzeria Sei. The name is a reference to Seirinkan and also the Italian word for six, which makes sense since each pie here gets sliced into that number of slices. South Korean-born Joo trained at Via Alloro, Providence, Angelini Osteria, Pizzana, and Ronan before saving up with So to open their own restaurant, which debuted on February 5.
The two longtime Angelenos think this could become one of the LA standout pizza destinations, in a city that has a lot of very good pizzas but doesn’t have something on the level of Seirinkan in terms of international fame. In one sense, they might have a point, as there are plenty of big names already in Los Angeles like Pizzana, Pizzeria Mozza, and Ronan, as well as places like Superfine, L’Antica da Michele, Cosa Buona, and Hail Mary, but they don’t usually try and make statement pizza. LA doesn’t have as much of the $20-plus Neapolitan-style pizza from a lower volume wood-fired oven that the likes of Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana in New York City, Lucali in Brooklyn, or even Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix (and soon Los Angeles) tend to garner in terms of widespread acclaim.
To get there, Pizzeria Sei will have to convince Angelenos that it’s doing something on another level. “We wanted to be very high end, kind of like a sushi bar, with pizza that’s very fresh from the oven so you get 100 percent of everything when it’s super hot,” says Joo, who is clearly obsessed with the Japanese interpretation of Neapolitan-style pizza, and hopes to weave in farmers market ingredients to the format. Joo and So, who both grew up in Los Angeles, are in for the challenge. “Everything is completely owned and managed by us. We hate to serve ‘whatever’ food. We want to be different from everybody else. We just want to be the best pizzeria in Los Angeles,” says So.
The menu is very simple from the start, with a few good salads, some excellent mozzarella with prosciutto and lightly dressed arugula, and a number of pizzas like margherita, funghi, and salami with olives. There are just seven on the menu, with the less traditional Bismarck standing out with prosciutto cotto, egg, pecorino, basil, and truffle oil. “When I stretch the dough, I’m inspired by Japan, where they pinch the crust, which makes the dough more mochi-like. Instead of a boring one-dimensional texture, you get both soft and crunchy,” says Joo. The results are clear from photos of the pizzas, which sport singed blobs of dough at the edges instead of a smooth circular crust. In addition to the counter seats, there’s a single table up front and a few outdoor tables in the very minimalist space.
Sei’s combination gas and wood-fired oven uses a built-in burner to bring the rig up to temperature. Once ready, the oven can hover at 800 or 900 degrees with the addition of almond wood, which keeps the fire going throughout the day. Earlier in the day at lunch, however, the Italian-made oven isn’t quite at the heat Joo thinks is ideal, which means the bottoms of the crust will be slightly less developed and crisp than if they were enjoyed in the evenings. So says they are currently offering takeout and delivery to help boost sales, but hope that as word spreads Sei will have a long queue of people waiting for their pizza. “We make every pizza with love so it doesn’t have to be like a factory,” says Joo. “We’re still growing and doing R&D. We just got the place and have to settle in and systemize. We’re trying to improve and change the perception that LA doesn’t have good pizza.”
Pizzeria Sei is open Wednesday to Monday, Closed Tuesdays, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.