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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Porchetta sandwiches

Porchetta sandwiches

Here is one way to feed a small group. A structurally unsound mountain of brown paper packages that reveal pork sandwiches. These sandwiches in question are Italian in heritage and purchased from Porchetta, a white sliver of a shop a few blocks down my apartment.  Slow roasted pork with crackly golden skin nests within a small, square ciabatta roll that soaks up all the juices. For sides, one can order beans, slow-cooked greens and roasted potatos studded with more roasted pork.  For pig freaks, this is all good, although the price at $9 a smallish sandwich is  steep. And frankly, we did not really get the raving “top 10 eats of the year” type of reviews.

 

 

Porchetta

110 E7th St (Between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

www.porchettanyc.com

It had been an awful awful week at work, and as Friday rolled in, all I wanted to do was go home, order Chinese takeout and then crawl into bed and not get up for the next 15 hours. Unfortunately, I had to honor previously made plans with friends and as dinner time approached, made my way up 80 blocks to Pisticci, Sarah’s (our dinner mastermind) favorite Italian restaurant in Manhattan. With an Italian grandma, that is no small praise indeed.

It is easy to see why Pisticci earns Sarah’s praise. The decor is charming in a quirky, kitschy way, with canary yellow wallpaper on one end and a mural of painted bookcases (replete with painted hardcovers) on the other. The pieces of art available for sale are electic and original. The service is friendly, quick, laidback and non-obtrusive throughout dinner, and no one attempted to rush us through our very long meal. Last but not least, the food is straightforward and very tasty. We shared a heaping bowl of spaghetti and meatballs to start, with the pomodoro sauce done just right, not too watery nor tart. I was having dinner with a group of carbophiles so after spaghetti came more heaping bowls of pasta, all al dente and slick with a myraid of tasty sauces, the most memorable being Chri’s fresh tomato and mozzarella mixture and Joanna’s rich, lemony broth that was as seductive as advertised on the menu. My bowl of fresh maltagliati (ie “badly cut” pasta similar to my favorite mee hoon kuay) was one of the heaviest dish, the pasta mixed into a thick lamb ragu and topped off with ricotta as if it was not rich enough. Not too distinguished, but it was a comforting dish suitable on a very cool night.

We then slowly whiled the night away with coffee and desserts which like the savory dishes were simple, traditional and delicious. Katherine’s bowl of fresh whipped cream and fruits was no doubt the most decadent, but the most delicious? I’ll give that honor to the hefty brick of moist coconut cake and the chocolate mousse that was not too sweet, super-smooth and without the grittiness that sometimes plague mediocre mousses. The evening went quickly, as we passed around desserts, shared stories of our lives, and talked about everything, from food trends to books to politics. We finally left the restaurant after an epic 4 hour meal (3.5hrs for me the latecomer). After a very trying week, dinner with friends in a welcoming spot such as Pisticci was exactly what the doctor had ordered.

Pisticci

125 La Salle Street (Between Broadway & Claremont Aves)

www.pisticcinyc.com

I have not forsaken watermelon as my favorite fruit per se, but these days my traitorous stomach has been yearning for fresh figs, particularly the thin-skinned california mission figs that are so easily available during summertime but disappear from the marketplace once it turns cold. I love ripe figs, the feel of the tiny seeds popping against my teeth, the squishy texture, and don’t care how I eat it, whether plain or wrapped in prosciutto. But when fresh ricotta is available, I like to plunk a few figs on the white curds and drizzle a little honey to finish. The creamy, grainy ricotta with a touch of saltiness balances out the honeyed sweetness of the fruit perfectly. Delicious.

Figs and tomatos go well with cheese

Figs and tomatos go well with cheese

While figs are a seasonal affair, I get my supply of to die for ricotta throughout the year at Di Palo’s, a scant 20 minute walk away. With a corner shop in the increasingly touristy and crass Little Italy, Di Palo’s remains a bastion of good taste and amazing Italian foodstuffs. They sell everything Italian, from cans of olive oil, fresh pasta  and bottles of brined capers. However the real action is at the counter, where countermen slice cured meats paper thin, scoop creamy ricotta and lure you into buying mozzarella that’s so fresh its still oozing milk. Come during witching hours (i.e. early in the day) and the shopkeepers are more than happy to discuss the merits of prosciutto di parma versus culatello and dole out generous samples. You feel compelled to buy more than you intended, as I found out this weekend, when I went in for ricotta but ended up buying bococcini and speck for a caprese salad and ham sandwich for lunch.

Insalate Caprese (sans basil), speck and breads makes for a rustic lunch!

Insalate Caprese (sans basil), speck and breads makes for a rustic lunch!

But even if you’re there when lines are long and tempers are short, the spoils of war are totally worth it!

Di Palo’s Fine Foods Inc

200 Grand St (on the corner of Mott St)

One month before her trip to New York last weekend, TPS did the unthinkable and stayed on redial for 20 minutes. Thanks to her perserverance, she managed to score a table for 4 at Babbo on the 2nd floor (always preferable v. noisy and cramped 1st floor), not at 5 pm, nor at 11pm, but at a civilized 615pm, perfect for a long tasting menu that lasted north of 3 hours.

We had: 

culatello

1. A plate of Culatello with Pumpkin in Scapece – The thin piece of cured ham layed on the white plate like a rose-colored lily pad, trimmed in a thick white ribbon of fat that instantly melted in your mouth. Pumpkin cubes that were lightly marinated in a sweet and sour sauce provided contrast texture and flavor-wise.

hedgehog-less pasta

2. Pappardelle with Hedgehogs and Thyme – Imagine our disappointment when the spicy specimen we were expecting was nowhere to be found! The hedgehog in question turned out to be hedgehog mushrooms (very meaty and earthy variants similar to chanterelles) bathed in a luxurious butter sauce and dotted with fresh thyme. Being the temple for pasta, the smooth chewy flat pappardelle noodles were unreproachable.

3. Duck Tortelli with Sugo Finto – We were really looking forward to this dish, but it failed all of us. The duck taste was lost in the goat cheese stuffing, which was too tangy and overpowering.

venison

4. Grilled Venison with Acorn Squash Caponato and Mint Pesto – Perfectly cooked slices of venison, soft and chewy and encrusted with a light spicy coating that matched up well with the slightly sweet vegetable side which included the zestiness of mint, the sweet mellowness of acorn squash and nuttiness of pinenuts. If only there were more slices to go around.

coach farm’s finest

5. Coach Farm’s green peppercorn goat cheese with fennel honey – Is it travesty to declare the cheese course as my favorite that night? The amber honey really did me in, accentuating the creamy richness of the semi-hard cheese, while the peppercorn in the cheese and the fennel seeds in the honey both added a touch of spiciness.

final course

Courses 6-8: All sweets, including a mini ring cake soaked in rum, topped with cream and dressed with diced pineapple and pomegranate seeds; the most decadent scoop of hazelnut gelato drenched with viscous chocolate sauce and sitting on top of bitter-sweet chocolate biscuit crumbs. An intense piece of preserved fruit (prune/ cherry?) lays hidden until you bit into it; a trio of desserts for the three of us including a sourish pineapple tart, an olive-oil and banana cake and a thick vanilla mousse. By the time the amaretti mirengue and chocolate biscotti appeared on our table with the check, we were severely high on sugar.

Besides all that food, TPS also gave Gerrie and I a short wine lesson, introducing to us a light Soave and a fruity, very drinkable Ruche from the Piedmont area. We swirled and sniffed for as long as we sipped, marvelled in the change in scent and mouthfeel as the wine opened up throughout the evening, and did a sniff test using different glasses. The results were convincing enough for me to want to run out and buy some good stemware.  

Our dinner at Babbo on Sunday was by no means perfect. The fourth person in our party had to miss dinner as she arrived at the restaurant an hour before our reservations due to a miscommunication. Our most anticipated dish – the duck tortellini- was an unequivocal miss. The best of Babbo (i.e. the many offal dishes, the signature pastas) were missing from the tasting menu. But after a hectic weekend planning huge dinners, rushing around town, absorbing opera (both carmen and bluebeard were fabulous though), the languorous meal was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Babbo

110 Waverly Place (Bet 6th Ave & Macdougal St)

www.babbonyc.com

paniniWe celebrated my housemate’s birthday last weekend at the LES hotspot. While it is usually a pain to have dinner at Inoteca, no thanks to its hyper-popularity and no-reservations policy, a big group of us managed to nab prime saturday night seating due to a peculiarity in its reservation policy. While Inoteca does not usually take reservations, it is happy to do so for groups larger than 8, with a credit card to secure the table of course. Which translate to good news for us, and too bad for the couples and groups that arrived in time for an hour long wait.

Inoteca provides a pre-fixe family style meal to facilitate speedy large group dinners. I’m not too sure if its compulsory, but we didn’t mind to have the freedom of choice inoteca affettatiwrested off our hands this time, and the appealing menu made for sharing meant I got to taste upwards of 10 dishes. Yay for family style meals.

By the time G and I got to the restaurant (I had to stall her so that everyone else was seated), olives and bread were sitting at the table, alongside bottles of wine. No one seemed to be touching the olives though. Well, more for me. Next came the salads and an assortment of mixed cold meats, none too memorable. The salads though were good/very good, including the de rigeur beet salad, a really lovely octopus, bean, celery and fennel salad, with the little twirl of octopus lightly grilled and smoky, as well as the meaty shredded duck salad, with the meat slightly rare and gamy, sitting on top of some greens, slighty crunchy lentils, and some sweet pickled onlasagnetteions to provide a little tang.

With salads accounted for, we kicked into full carbo gear with the entrees. 2 trays of panini found their way onto the table. Needless to say, I avoided the roasted vege one in favor of the sopressata and goat cheese filled meat sandwich. Unfortunately, while the bread is nice and chewy, the inclusion of goat cheese overwhelmed the sweet & spicy cured meat. Thankfully I like the other entrees more. The meatballs were juicy and swimming in a tomato sauce that included a lot of yummy citrus overtones. It smelt like I was taking a walk in an orchard.  The solid block eggplant lasagna oozed with melting cheese, and while heavy was comforting on a frigid night. In that plate of fried vegetables (unfortunately soggy after sitting out for a while), I found a new found appreciation for battered fennel, where the sweetness and anisey flavor seemed enhanced after an oil bath. And G could not stop digging into the plate of firm polenta dressed with a side a very fried cauliflower bits. If you have not noticed, the menu is very veggie-friendly, making it a good option for a carnivore/herbivore group outing destination. And even if all of the attendees are avowed meat eaters, we lapped the vegetable dishes up.

What is dinner without dessert? And so we downed shots of affogato (vanilla icecream drenched in espresso); grabbed warm panini oozing with thick smears of nutella, a cheese plate (the server went too fast for me to note anything down) and a rather unappetizing plate of cooked fruits which everyone avoided. Ice cream and fruits. No guesses for what we polished off and what got neglected.

The restaurant got busier and busier as the night went on, the long bar was 3 deep, and G was constantly accosted by servers with their hands full of hot plates and people waiting for tables. Given normal circumstances, I would probably not eat at Inoteca because I hate to wait. But for two hours that night I was oblivious to it all, the noise level, the crazy wait, the discomfort of sitting practically on top of my neighbor. I got caught up in our conversation (we must have been loud, but I didn’t notice), the happenings of my friends, the celebration of my housemate’s birthday and the spread on our table.

Inoteca

www.inotecanyc.com

98 Rivington St (at Ludlow St)

There is little that’s more comforting to me than to sit in front of the tv, hugging a big, warm bowl full of pasta while I take in the latest episode of Project Runway. But my pasta repertoire is somewhat lacking and I always find the noodles undercooked, in my haste to start eating. That is not a problem at Po however when Ruoying, Yanru and I found ourselves there for a quiet Sunday meal. The little ears of orecchiette I ordered were cooked exactly al dente and swathed with a sweet but light tomato sauce that held minced sausage and broccoli rabe. But I ignored my pasta to attack Ruoying’s soulful bowl of pappardelle. The duck ragu was tomato-based like my pasta, but a lot meatier and richer. The meat was shredded but retained much of its texture and gaminess instead of being reduced to a mush. And the thick ribbons of fresh made pappardelle had just the right amount of bite. I must have finished half of Ruoying’s plate (hope she ate well that night too).  Yanru eschewed the pasta route and order a plate of sauteed sweetbreads, a little too crisp for my taste, and we ended the night with a fresh ricotta cheesecake almost oozing with milk and strong coffee. Certainly not as convenient as my couch, but I’ll gladly step out of my pjs to eat at Po again.

Po Restaurant

31 Cornelia St (Between Bleeker and W4th Sts)

www.porestaurant.com