pizza


Funghi Pizza

Funghi Pizza

I’m generally not a big pizza person, but once in a while, the craving hits. When it happens, I know just who to call. Pizza is something Juewei and Germaine are especially passionate about, so when my last minute email went out, I got immediate responses to the affirmative. Yay to great eating buddies. The pizza at Keste is not the typical New York thin crust JW favors. Rather it is made in the Neapolitan fashion, plate-sized and to be eaten with cutlery. I’ve never been to Naples, but judging from early reviews, the pizza here is authentic, with slightly puffy dough, very nice char marks creating a mottled crust. I liken it to good naan, and forgive the sudden California Pizza Kitchen wild irreverent though, I think tandoori chicken and sweet grilled onion would make awesome toppings to this pizza crust. 

pizza del re

pizza del re

 

Keste’s toppings are of course more authentic then my whimsies, are used sparingly but are all of top quality. I especially like the tomato sauce, naturally sweet without being overtly acidic, a fine base to our mushroom and sausage pizzas. But our favorite pie of the night happens to be the Pizza del Re, a white pizza laden with bufala mozzarella imported from Italy, truffle oil, mushrooms, olive oil and curls of pink prosciutto di parma. Oh, that scent as it arrived on our table was just heavenly. The middle of the pie got a little soggy from the truffle spread, but it was fine since we gobbled this pie up so quickly the juices had no time to penetrate through the crust.

Despite a packed house on Friday, our pies arrived a scant 10 minutes after ordering, thanks to the ultra-short cook time of the soft crusts and the frenetic tempo of the kitchen staff, constantly molding dough, layering ingredients, pulling cooked pies out of the oven, never stopping. If I had wanted a more leisurely meal, I might order an appetizer or a dessert (nutella pizza is on the menu, as well as tiramisus and other Italian standards), and a bottle or two. For now, the restaurant has yet to receive its liquor license, so BYOB is in effect. But when it happens, I expect the restaurant to make good on the Vino part of its name and offer some good choices to go with the well-made pizzas.

Keste Pizzeria & Vino

271 Bleecker St (Between Cornelia and Jones St)

http://www.kestepizzeria.com/home.html

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I spent New Year’s Eve doing what thousands of New Yorkers most loathe, or at least will shudder when hearing about it. I spent the 7 hours preceding midnight on the streets near Times Square, in anticipation of watching the infamous crystal ball drop and ushering in 2007 with a million others, 85% of which was estimated to be out-of-towners. Luckily Gerrie and I had 2 enthusiastic out-of-towners in tow too, or else we would never have the bravado to brave the crowds or the courage to face our friends or colleagues who scoff at the idea of even stepping within the 3 blocks radius of tacky Times Square. Being fully unprepared for the size of the crowd, how boring it could get while waiting and how cold the temperature could drop, we went without food, without entertainment and for gerrie, without socks. The first 2-3 hours were bearable and the almost stampede that nearly killed us was exhilarating to say the least. By 9 pm however, the novelty had waned, our legs were killing us, the crowd made us claustrophobic and the stale air started to stink of lit cigarettes and unwashed hair. After skipping on dinner, we were also ravenous that Applebee’s -a chain I snobbishly turn my nose up at during normal circumstances- right across the street from where we were standing never looked more morbidly inviting. Unfortunately, leaving the insides of the barricades to enter Applebee’s would mean us giving up our hardearned space, something we were too invested in by then.
Luckily at a little past 9, we noticed enterprising deli employees from BellyDelly Deli and La Famiglia walking along the barricades taking orders for overpriced pizza and drinks. The order taker from Bellydelly was really sweet, but the hot chocolate was extremely vile. Still we cupped it in our hands and enjoyed the warmth. The pizza from La Famiglia is something i usually won’t touch from a ten foot pole. Even the picture reflects the radioactive orange emanating from the pie. Still, it was gooey, greasy and most importantly hot, and filled our starving stomaches. It was the best slice of pizza I’ve had.

I had two slices of oddly shaped pizza this past week, one from Jiannetto’s pizza truck in Midtown and the other from Sullivan Street Bakery. Both were squarish, cut from oblong strips of dough. Call me a traditionalist, but I like my pies nice and round, with a clear delineation between the crust and the sauce and toppings. The shape of the pies aside, I enjoyed both square offerings, Jiannetto’s plain pizza, which is baked on location (inside a customized truck) , and topped with fresh tomato sauce, basil and minimal parmesan cheese, is a much healthier option for pizza compared to other midtown options. At $2.25 a slice, it also makes for a frugal lunch, although one slice is seldom filling enough for a person.
While Janetto’s pizza is a just square version of the usual neapolitan pizza, to call Sullivan Street Bakery’s pizza bianca pizza is quite misleading to one accustomed to the usual pizza pie. It should be called bread on crack or something. The bakers at Sullivan Street Bakery are geniuses for coming up with the chewiest, tastiest bread i have ever had. Pizza bianca is somewhat akin to flatbread, just slightly oily, studded with rosemary and a good sprinkling of salt. It is also oh so fragrant that I can finish a huge slice by myself just walking from the bakery back home, a short 2 avenue blocks away. It has become a saturday tradition to go to the gym in the morning, and then run to the bakery and reward myself with a slice of pizza bianca, which with all the carbs and fats probably about 5423 calories per gigantic slice, but I don’t care.
I have also tried their pizza pomodoro to comparisons sake. Sadly I didn’t enjoy it that much. After tearing through slices and slices of amazingly tasty pizza bianca, I found the smaller, thinner, tomato-puree encased slice to be too crunchy and a little unwhelming. At $2.75 a slice, I could get almost 2 slices of pizza bianca ($1.50) for the same price. I would take that option any day, and even if they upped the prices, I think I will still find myself jogging over to the bakery faithfully every saturday for the slice to kickstart my weekend.

Jiannetto’s pizza truck
47th St and Park Ave

Sullivan Street Bakery
533 W47th St (Between 10th and 11th Ave)

We thought we were invincible. We had by either sheer luck or too much persistence managed to fish out a lot of kate spade goodies, in relative good shape, for very little moolah and were very pleased with ourselves. If we could pack so much shopping in such a short time, we rationalized, what’s a short walk from Century 21 to the village for pizza and some oddly flavored ice cream? What’s wrong with strolling in the sun, with no sunblock on a 90 degree day? We are from the tropics and therefore had a natural immunity to sweltering heat, or so we thought.
Just so you know, we did manage to get to Washington Square Park and did locate Otto. We also ate there. But the hour long walk was anything but short, and the initial excitement about trying olive oil gelato for the first time had died down somewhere between tribeca and soho. By the time we stumbled into the restaurant, thoroughly dehydrated and very sweaty at 4 pm we just wanted to crash into the chairs and be fed as quickly as possible.
It is under this premise that Ruoying and I tried the pizza and pasta at Otto, the most affordable Mario Batali-related establishment in the city. I had very inexplicably imagined the restaurant to be in a tiny and quaint cornershop, but it was pretty cavernous and comfortably dark. While it was extremely quiet at 4 pm, I can imagine it being a bustling and jam packed place during more normal dining hours. We ordered quickly and played safe on our choices. At 4pm, we really didn’t need added grief if the pizza lardo (lard on bread, dad would kill to try this) didn’t come up to our expectations. The server and efficient server, as if sensing our hunger (which is pretty apparent, it being 4 pm for lunch and all) served us rather quickly and plied us with bread and numerous refills of water. We tried the penne alla norma, very al dente, which is the way I like it but less to Ruoying’s liking. But the eggplant was nicely done and Ruoying, normally averse to eggplant actually fought me to get to the last couple of eggplant bits on the plate. The ricotta also binded rest of the ingredients together well without being an overkill.. The pizza margherita was also very yummy with a thin crispy base. An afficionado of thick and chewy dough probably would not appreciate it so much however.
With our tummies sated and with us having sufficiently recovered from our unfortunate walk, we then contemplated our gelato choices. Pickings were mainly conventional save for the house specialty olive oil gelato. We chose that of course, as well as chocolate and the hazelnut flavors. The trio was quite a good balance, with the saltiness of the olive oil balancing the sweet nutty hazelnut flavor. The chocolate flavor was somehow less creamy and more sorbetty, and served as a palate cleanser of sorts. Oddly, I was a little disappointed by the olive oil gelato, i had imagined it to be a putrid green or yellow and tasting of solidified evoo. Silly me, Mario Batali and crew obviously have a more understated and sophisticated palate than that! After all, he is an Iron Chef..
The wine selection at Otto is enormous and given its surprising affordability, I can’t wait to bring Peishan there when she’s in town again =)

p.s.: I thought i saw susan sarandon while in the bathroom. She had curly hair and a nice mellow voice. I was probably mistakened, but after spotting johnny depp and spiderman in the past 2 wks, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was her too… i love the cheap thrill of celeb spotting, don’t you?
Otto
1 Fifth Ave (on 8th St)