Pizza perfection

Now that’s a pizza party!

After eating at Motorino in the East Village, I thought I had found the one. I would have to look for real Neapolitan pizza no more in New York. Motorino was the one for me, and that’s all I needed.

Then I found Kestè, a small, bustling pizzeria in the West Village, and now I know: I’m not a one-pizzeria kind of girl. In this city, my heart and stomach are divided between east and west, Motorino and Kestè.

Flaneur, Vanessa and I went on a recent Thursday and after a 45-minute wait (because they don’t take reservations) we shuffled through the busy restaurant to our table on the other side of the flour covered pizza-making area and hot ovens. In addition to the mouth-watering aroma of fresh-from-the-oven pizzas and the fact that the whole place was packed, with even more hungry people waiting outside, there was another sign that this was going to be a good spot, and something that I look for in situations like these: Italians. One of the girls next to us, the family a few tables down, the old couple outside, even our waiter.

White pizza with burrata and tomatoes

With ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, soppressata, and pecorino romano, everything on the menu sounded delicious and by the looks of the pizzas getting served all around us, these were the real deal. Because none of us could decide on just one pizza, we decided to each get a different one and share.

Not long after we ordered (thankfully), our pizzas showed up and we hungrily set about dividing them up. They looked beautiful, just as perfect as their most perfect Italian counterparts, and after the first bite I was just as in love as I had been in Italy.

Pizza del re: fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, mushrooms and truffle

The first pizza I tried was one we decided on at the last minute when our waiter announced it as the special of the night. Although I don’t usually like white pizzas (meaning no sauce), when he said it had burrata, one of my favorite Italian cheeses made from mozzarella and cream, I was totally sold. Big, white blobs of the creamy cheese topped the thick, doughy crust. Little cherry tomatoes added a little color and a hint of that familiar taste to this amazing pizza. I almost felt like I was cheating on my love, Motorino. Kestè and I were getting into something serious here.

Kestè pizza: prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, gran cru and arugulaNext up, I tore a slice of the pizza del re (king’s pizza) which Flaneur and Vanessa had already started on and were ooohing and aaahhing about between mouthfuls. The same thick crust was covered with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto and one of my favorite ingredients of all time: truffle spread. I tend to like my pizzas more on the simple side, with just one or two ingredients but on the pizza del re, all the toppings worked together perfectly so that if even just one was missing it wouldn’t of been half as good. As soon as all those flavors hit my tongue and seemingly swirled around my head, I was hooked. As if the pizza itself weren’t delicious enough, it left a mix of truffle and olive oil on the plate, perfect for dragging pizza crust through.

Last on my Kestè tour de force was the pizzeria’s self-titled pie, a lush leafy pizza with arugula, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, and gran cru, a hard pecorino cheese. No ingredient dominated the other. The entire surface was done almost in layers instead of one single blanket of mixed parts. The arugula mixed with the thick cheese shavings contrasted nicely in their dry textures to the gooey cheese underneath and the soft chewiness of the dough.

When every last bit of pizza was done, I debated with myself. Could this be better than Motorino, what I had previously named the best pizza on this side of the pond? As I sat and reminisced about pizzas past, I decided, nope, not better, not less delicious, just perfectly equal in my pizza loving heart…and stomach.

*Photography by the multi-talented Vanessa Garcia. Woot woot.

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I beat the NY Times to saying it first…

A couple of weeks ago I sang the praises of the best pizza on this side of the Atlantic, and now it looks like I’m not the only one that thinks Motorino is awesome! A restaurant review in today’s New York Times has nothing but great things to say about the East Village and Brooklyn pizzerias. (Although, they do prefer the Brooklyn location because of it’s bigger space.)

“Motorino is having a moment. That seems fair. It serves the city’s best pizza,” writes Sam Sifton, whose job I’m insanely jealous of. (He got paid to eat there and then write about it. Ugh, color me envious.)

You heard that? The city’s BEST pizza. Who knows how many pizzerias are packed into this city and Motorino is the best. I said it, the New York Times said it, God himself probably agrees.

To really complete this, I think a trip to Brooklyn is in order.

Read what the Times and I have to say about this most delicious of New York pizzas. Try not to drool.

The best pizza on this side of the pond

Take note, all you nasty pizzas out there, THIS is what you should look like.

After saying arrivederci to my friends and boyfriend, the hardest thing about leaving Italy was parting ways with the food. Goodbye chicken liver crostini. So long burrata. See you later frittelle di riso. Until we meet again, dear friends.

Well, at least going to New York I’ll have good pizza, I reassured myself. Pizza is universal but New York’s is supposed to be great, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

To say that I was disappointed the first time I encountered this so-called “great pizza” would be putting it nicely. My roommate took me to a pizzeria around the corner from our Murray Hill apartment and while it smelled mildly enticing from outside, the second I walked in I knew it would never work out between us.

Glass countertop cases were filled with pizzas: flimsy, sad ones, covered in beige layers of cheese, and crumbly looking bits of sausage, and red pepperoni slices whose orange grease bled through the off-white cheese in unappetizing swirls of nastiness.

Ohmygod. Is that a heat lamp? How long has this depressing specimen of a pizza been sitting here? Is it too late to make a run for the door?

It was only my first or second week in the city, so I cut it a break and wrote off the bad experience as just that: one bad experience at one of a million pizza places in New York. It’s not like every single pizza made in Italy was perfect either.

Time passed and I had slices at other places, in other neighborhoods, with other toppings, and still nothing. If I passed a pizza parlor, I looked in the window and quickly inspected their product. Always the same sad pizzas, sitting under heat lamps like iguanas at the pet shop.

Some places weren’t horrible. They were just ok. But it was only the beer that went with them that got them even that far. Numbing my senses and probably my tastebuds, the beer helped me forget.

I was sad. Losing pizza made me nostalgic and whiney. I didn’t want to be a pizza snob but how could I not be? Il Pizzaiuolo, my favorite in Florence, had been directly below my apartment. Caffé Italiano, just down the street, had made heart-shaped pizzas when I went with girlfriends. Gusta Pizza, across the river, had been a regular gathering place for friends. Each offered pizzas from dough that had been kneaded right there in front of me, with bright white chunks of fresh mozzarella and other delicious ingredients, all before being slid into a giant wood-fired brick oven. Not a heat lamp in sight.

But I wasn’t giving up that easily.

Good pizza has to be around here somewhere! New York is crawling with Italians, real Italian-speaking, born-in-Italy Italians. I hear them everywhere I go and can pick them out in crowds. I doubt they’re settling for this cheapy, iguana pizza, so where are they eating, dammit??

I polled friends and coworkers, pored over blogs and reviews, scrutinized menus and inspected photos. And then I found it.

Motorino, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria in the East Village. Their menu had just a few pizzas, featuring classic ingredients like buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil, and even toppings reminiscent of my Italy days like soppressata and scamorza.

This was going to be good. I could feel it in my bones.

Flaneur and I showed up late on a Friday night and the small restaurant was packed. After a 30-minute wait, we were squeezed into a small table for two. I scanned the room and besides amazing looking pizza remains on people’s plates, I saw another sign that put me at ease: a table of Italians, chatting away and lounging around at the table where they had probably finished eating some two hours earlier. These were real Italians.

We ordered and thankfully not long after, our pizzas arrived.

Flaneur, ever the traditionalist Italian, ordered a margherita, which of course I tried. It was perfect, like it had somehow magically been teleported from a pizzeria in Napoli somewhere. Bright red tomato sauce, creamy white splotches of mozzarella and bright green basil leaves. And it wasn’t just good looking. This pizza was the real deal. It. Was. Awesome. Soft, doughy crust. Not too thick, not to thin. None of that weird, even coating of artificial cheese. No orange, acidic tomato gunk. Just simple, delicious perfection.

Oh pizza, how I missed you so.

I, on the other hand, ordered the cremini and spicy sausage pizza. Same soft, wonderful crust as the margherita but topped with scamorza (a Southern Italian cheese similar to mozzarella) AND pecorino, cremini (small, brown mushrooms), spicy little chunks of sausage, and swirls of olive oil (the good stuff), with just a few black olives, some garlic, and a bit of thyme.

After just the first bite, Motorino and its pizzas quickly won a place on my hands-down-all-time-favorite-insanely-delicious-pizzerias list. Anyone watching me wolf down that pizza might have thought I was having some sort of religious experience.

At the end of the night, as I walked home with my New York-transplanted Italian boyfriend and a belly full of authentic Italian pizza, I thought, ah, now this is la dolce vita. Thanks for pulling through, New York.