Kevin Mahan is sitting at a table at Razza, leaning in and talking truths.
“Dan was a regular at Gramercy, and I was a regular here. I was baking bread at home and missing something, and Dan had three whites and three reds on his wine list.” Mahan pauses. The dots connect themselves.
Dan Richer, chef-owner of Razza Pizza Artigianale in Jersey City, will not rest in his quest to take the craft of fermentation to its max. His work in dough, specifically making pizza and baking bread, has brought him national acclaim and renown, as well as several James Beard Award nominations.
Kevin Mahan, former general manager and partner at New York’s seminal Gramercy Tavern, takes on the subject of drink, especially wine, cocktails and beer, with similar intensity and knowledge, marrying them to menus at restaurants with a let-no-man-put-asunder fervor.
“Let’s call it an exchange of services,” Mahan is saying as he segues into talk of seasonal influences on the newly expanded beverage program he piloted at Razza.
What a difference a man with a focus makes.
In the past eight months, Mahan not only has elevated Razza’s wine, spirits and beer lists to destination status, he’s paved the way for every Razza acolyte and aspirant to keep pace.
“My gentle suggestion is that the beverage program be on par with the food, the bread-and-butter, the pizza, everything,” Mahan says. “This is a one-of-a-kind food program, all from scratch, and we needed beverage to honor the food side of things here.”
Now it does.
Take wine. There is—by the glass, no less—the Abbazia di Novacella kerner from Trentino; the Andrea Felici verdicchio from the Marche; and the Terenzuloa vermentino Cinque Terre biano from Liguria on the white side of things. In by-the-glass reds, there are a Cavallotto freisa from the Piedmont; a Di Fessina nerello macalese from Sicily; and a Montevetrano aglianico from Campania.
Mahan’s cocktails are designed to show off Richer’s top-draws in food. Drink the Half Moon, which shakes Espolon tequila with Giffard’s elderflower and basil-infused grapefruit, while you’re eating the famed bread-and-butter course.
Or, if you are snagging the seasonal corn pizza, consider the Rosebud, a mix of organic Vivacity vodka (made from corn) with a spray of rose liqueur, lemon and honey. Light citrus notes and corn-plus-cheese-plus-dough equals happiness.
Speaking of happiness: Could the “Project Hazelnut” pizza, using Rutgers hazelnuts, Richer’s ultra-creamy mozzarella and ricotta, and local honey, show any better than it does with that alluringly big, nutty vermentino? The freisa, served here chilled, is a natural for a tomato-based pie such as the Di Natale. Or, as seasonal fortune has it, the heirloom tomato salad with a scoop of ricotta and interludes of herbs both shredded and set off in olive oil.
Mahan starts talking brews with some of Richer’s special, summer pies and salads. He loves the “super lean” Alpine Duet IPA and Stone’s “favorite summer” Ruination Double IPA.
“Beer and pizza isn’t an easy combination,” he says, flying in the face of conventions making that a nightly twosome for half the adult population.
Yet the Richer-Mahan alliance at New Jersey’s premier place for food with dough, as its foundation pounds the gavel with a verdict that will change the face of dinner: No longer will pizza-with-plonk be acceptable; we deserve better.
And, thanks to two gentlemen who exchanged services, we now know better—and know where to get better.
Razza Pizza Artigianale, 275 Grove Street in Jersey City. 732-356-9348. razzanj.com.Click here to leave a comment