Photos by James Pham, courtesy of Pizzeria Sei.

Resy FeaturesLos Angeles

Pizzeria Sei Strives For Perfection in Every Pie

By

You could say I have a problem: there isn’t a week that goes by when I’m not trying a new pizzeria in Los Angeles. My particular burden also tells you that L.A. is in the middle of a major pizza boom, where you can discover a different style of pie on seemingly every corner: New York, Sicilian, Roman, Neapolitan, Detroit, Chicago, New Haven, the list goes on.

But when my pizza-tasting journey brought me to the only Tokyo-style pizza joint in the city, I quickly realized that I would have to eschew some new openings and return to this one again and again: Pizzeria Sei.

A little background: Rooted in Neapolitan tradition, Tokyo-style pizza came about in 2007, when chef Susumu Kakinuma opened Seirinkan in the Nakameguro neighborhood of Tokyo. The restaurant pays homage to Kakinuma’s time in Naples, where he studied everything he could about the world’s best pies. Kakinuma is considered the godfather of Tokyo pizza, and a bevy of chefs have studied under him and opened their own shops throughout the city.

The pizza itself reads Neapolitan. The crusts are fluffy and pillowy, with a distinct aesthetic from the way the pizzaiolo pinches and knots the dough as they shape it, creating a back-and-forth bite of crispy and chewy. The ingredients are all world-class – the finest buffalo mozzarella, richest tomato sauces, most painstakingly selected olive oils, and so on. These pies are seared in wood-fired brick ovens at 800° Fahrenheit, and just before they get cooked, the chef adds a signature salt punch – throwing a bit of salt to rest under the dough while it cooks.

Pizzeria Sei is, as far as I know, the only place making pizza like this in L.A. And now that they’re on Resy—and chef-owner William Joo is debuting an exciting new pizza omakase—I knew I had to check in on the space.

Joo is a quiet chef, a native-born Korean who moved to L.A. as a teenager and originally wanted to be a food critic. Joo never went to cooking school, at least not in the traditional sense. He staged for over a year at Providence with chef Michael Cimarusti, worked under Gino Angelini at Angelini Osteria for five years, and has put in stints with Daniele Uditi at Pizzana and Daniel Cutler at Ronan. I’m not sure you could pick a better lineup of chefs to solidify your cooking and pizza training, culinary school be damned. 

“Around the time I was at Ronan, I saw the Netflix show ‘Ugly Delicious’ with David Chang on Seirinkan and I was like, wow, it’s so cool that you can develop your own style,” said Joo. “It’s unique, but the core is so similar to the traditional Neapolitan. So, I thought, okay, I’m gonna try to do something similar.

“At the beginning, I focused on copying [Seirinkan’s] style, and I bothered a couple workers over there asking them how they make it. But I couldn’t get any of their flour here, so I started with generic flours. To be honest, I was still learning, and some days I was embarrassed to even serve,” said Joo.

Pizzeria Sei opened in 2022, and in the two years since, Joo has experimented with countless flours in an attempt to perfect his “Tokyo-by-way-of-L.A.” style. “I keep tweaking  it,” he admits. “When it’s a good day on the dough – we try to be super consistent, we check the pH, the temperature, everything – the dough is light like Styrofoam. It should be very light, crispy, and airy, with a great flavor, too.”

Seasonal specialty pies at Pizzeria Sei.

Pizzeria Sei is housed in a small, nondescript space nestled between kosher restaurants in Pico Robertson. The minimalist atmosphere evokes a sense of calm, with blank white walls and the smell of a wood-burning oven, and the serene vibes extend to the service.  The pizza chefs quietly shape their dough, flour flies gracefully around the glass walled bar seating area, and waiters coolly take orders as you sit before the chefs. The giant wood oven devours the dough, and 90-100 seconds later produces perfect leopard-spotted pies, placed immediately in front of you.

Nothing is perfect. But Joo comes close with his pizza. There are seven pies on the menu, including a Marinara, a Diavola with soppressata, a Bismark with egg and pecorino, and a Napoletana with anchovies and olives. Each pie is distinct and well thought out with traditional, well-curated ingredients. “I only do the salt punch on the margherita and the marinara,” explains Joo. “We have a pizza called the Diavola with soppressata, and that would be too salty. I try to balance it out.” 

I’ve eaten at Seirinkan and Savoy and Pizza Strada and others in Tokyo—and Joo’s version is comparable to all of them.  — Food writer Paul Feinstein on Pizzeria Sei

 

The menu is deliberately small, fitting for the tiny space, which has only a single wood-fired oven, and a back area with barely enough room for cold storage and for fermenting dough. Antipasti includes a lovely burrata doused in olive oil and sea salt, a bright and bitter tricolore salad, and a handful of charcuterie options. 

Though Joo has never visited Tokyo before opening his own version of this style, he’s come close to mastering it. I’ve eaten at Seirinkan and Savoy and Pizza Strada and others in Tokyo—and Joo’s version is comparable to all of them. 

A luxurious caviar-topped pie; Joo at work.

“One of the reasons I changed to Resy was because they have this ticketing system, and I’m trying to do this pizza tasting menu,” Joo explains. “I want to serve three different kinds of dough for the tasting menu, with one seating a day, for just 10 people.” 

Sei’s omakase pizza menu, which just debuted, will run every other Tuesday, when they’re traditionally closed, and will feature 8-10 courses for $150 (not including tax or tip). “If you try to eat eight slices of Neapolitan pizza, it’s really hard. But if you incorporate a fried dough or a super hydrated dough, you can finish eight to ten slices, no problem,” Joo says.

He’s drawing inspiration from the Pizza Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Tokyo, which runs a similar tasting. “There have been a lot of moments where I’ve thought, if I have the time and the space to serve slower, then I can be much more thoughtful and make a much better pizza.” 

As Joo talks, I’m reminded of the Japanese concept of kaizen, in which one strives for continuous improvement toward a greater purpose. When I bite into Joo’s Tokyo-style Neapolitan pie, I can taste this desire. I know I will continue to return to Pizzeria Sei time and again, confident in the knowledge that the next pizza I eat will be even better than the last. 

Reservations for regular dinner service and pizza omakase bookings are now available here


Paul Feinstein is a Los Angeles-based food writer and the author of the upcoming book, “Italy Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by Italia” by HarperCollins imprint Cider Mill Press. Follow him here; follow Resy, too.