Oh, glorious pizza. Since San Diego’s restaurants are in some kind of purgatory of mediocrity, with pizza options just a step above Domino’s, I tend to seek out good pizza when I travel. Declaring the best “New York slice” engenders as much arguing and regional posturing as Mideast peace negotiations, so I’ve limited my research to the Neapolitan-style pizza served at relative newcomers Motorino and Kesté.
Full disclosure: pizza from Naples is not my favorite. It has a puffy 2-inch crust that amounts to a bloated bread overload and, yes, the feeling of being just a little cheated. I much prefer the northern Italian style of pizza that is thin and flat all over, allowing more real estate for sweet tomatoes and those wonderful melted pillows of mozzarella (as opposed to the amalgamated blanket of pre-grated Sargento we Americans so often demand from our chains–cut to the commercials showing strings of cheese clinging to the pan as someone pulls a slice away).
[Side note: Pizza Hut just introduced a pizza with cream cheese and meatballs in its crust! Have we no shame?? Click here for video. Not to mention that Pizza Hut and other chains fry the bottom of the crust in oil to make it "crispy." Sigh.]
Nonetheless, I will take Neapolitan pizza over Pizza Hut any day of the week.
My cousin and I showed up for the $12 lunch prix fixe at Motorino (note: it’s $11 at their Brooklyn outlet—borough discrimination or real estate prices?). It’s a choice of pizza and either a mixed green salad or, oddly, soft-serve ice cream. Not exactly Italian gelato, but okay, one point for whimsy.
We ordered the simple margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil) [pictured at top] as a baseline and the irresistible-sounding Brussels sprouts pizza (Palombino is Belgium-born) with smoked pancetta, mozzarella, garlic slivers, and pecorino.
The rich mozzarella and sweet San Marzano sauce on the margherita was everything I’d hoped, the crispy basil was a nice element, and the charred bits on the crust gave the pizza a surprisingly agreeable sweetness without being sugary.
The Brussels sprouts pizza was a fun departure: the vegetables had a refreshing al dente crunch, and the burnt edges of some of the leaves gave the flavor some depth (garlic and bacon didn’t hurt either!)
The salad and the ice cream were standard, nothing to write home about. But for $12, I’ll take it! (The margherita and Brussels sprouts pizzas are normally $14 and $15, respectively.)
Next stop: Kesté. With rumors of swarming masses and lines out the door at this pizzeria in the West Village, I met Jenny, a NYC-based food writer, at 7pm on a Tuesday with fingers crossed. There were a handful of tables open, but the wait list quickly multiplied as it approached 8pm. Service at both places is brisk; you’re not meant to linger.
I ordered the Kesté pizza with tomato, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto crudo, and fresh arugula.
Jenny ordered the sausage pizza and immediately said she wished she’d ordered something else. I tried a bite; my criticism would be that the sausage had a very gamey flavor to it, and it was the first time I’ve seen so much cheese and sausage on an Italian pizza! It felt like they were trying to please American tastes with this one.
My pizza was much better, though the ingredients didn’t sing quite as boldly as those on the Motorino pizza. And Kesté’s “doughy border” was much bigger than Motorino’s—a mound of crust was left on my plate in the end (and I’m a crust person!).
Although Motorino takes the win for its pizza by a smidge, Kesté had its strong points: more pizzas to choose from (including gluten-free pizzas on Mondays and Tuesdays), a list of panini and salads, and a cozier ambience. Perfect world? Kesté’s buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula on Motorino’s crust. Just sayin’.
Other NYC restaurant reviews:
Minetta Tavern: I Don’t Get It
Colicchio & Sons: What’s New Is Old
Eleven Madison Park: French Laundry Wanna-Be
Peter Luger v. Strip House: The Steak-Off
Locanda Verde: Swing and a Miss
Maialino: Danny Meyer Does It Again
Marea: Do Your Homework
Great Jones Cafe: Best Wings In The City
Apiary: Hidden Gem
Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar: Who Knew?
Brooklyn’s Fatty ’Cue: Malaysian BBQ
La Esquina: VIP Mexican Food?