Monday, May 24, 2010

New York Neapolitan at Kesté Pizza & Vino

With the possible exception of the hamburger, there may not be a more sacred food to Americans than pizza. Although originating in Naples, this dish has entrenched itself into the very fabric of American culture and our stomachs along the way. As diverse as our country is, so too are the countless regional varieties, styles and types of pizza. Pizza lovers are a passionate bunch, and being such, pull no punches with who they feel makes the best pie. "Best" is a dangerous word, often sparking regional debate over which which variation is superior. But this post isn't about who makes the "best" pizza; that topic will have to tabled for a future post. Instead, this is a recap of a recent lunch The Chief and I had at Kesté Pizza & Vino.

Manhattan is home to countless pizzerias. Any random block is sure to have no less than one pizza joint serving up slices until all hours of the evening. However, New York has seen a recent wave of Neapolitan-style pies. One of the more discussed restaurants serving up this style is Kesté Pizza & Vino, with the likes of New York Magazine and Time Out New York praising owner Roberto Caporuscio's pizzas. Caporuscio is President of the U.S. branch of the Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers, whose mission is to preserve the Neapolitan pizza-making tradition and promote the art of pizza-making. Having the luxury of time, The Chief and I met for lunch at this West Village pizza destination in order to avoid the throngs of people who gather during the evening.

Unlike the frenzied dinner scene, Kesté was surprisingly quiet during lunch service. A narrow corridor filled with two tops led to an expanded area where larger parties can sit. Further back is Caporuscio's famous wood-burning brick pizza oven. We were seated without a wait and greeted by our waiter with a  thick Italian accent. While some (i.e. female Yelp reviewers) may have found our waiter's thick accent charming, I found it to be particularly difficult to decipher the specials of the day. Unpersuaded or just unsure of what the special pizza was, The Chief and I settled on two pies.

The Pizza Salsiccia E Friarielli came topped with Italian Rapini and Sausage, Imported Smoked Mozzarella and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. A smokey fragrance emitted from the pie curiosity of the mozzarella as it arrived to our table. The crust had a slight char (though not as charred as the pies at Motorino), and a nice chew to it, but not as chewy as the pizza at Co. Crust aside, The Chief and I both found this pizza to be unimpressive. The sausage needed more spice, the rapini was under seasoned and the smoked mozzarella was a bit cold. We agreed that the ingredients together failed to create the synergy necessary for a great pie. 

But as underwhelming as the Salsiccia E Friarielli was, the namesake Pizza Kesté quickly erased any doubt that all of the pies here would disappoint. The Kesté was topped with Tomatoes, Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, Prosciutto di Parma, Arugula, Gran Cru and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This pie was a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The sweet tomatoes, salty prosciutto, creamy mozzarella and peppery arugula combined, forming a balanced yet complex flavor.

As The Chief and I left, we both agreed that our experience at Kesté was a bit hit or miss. The crust was good, the ingredients interesting but ultimately resulted in a mediocre experience. While the Salsiccia E Friarielli left us wanting more, the Kesté was an excellent pizza. After only sampling two of the many pizzas at Kesté, I can't give a stellar recommendation or emphatic warning to avoid the food here. Instead, understand that, while Kesté Pizza & Vino is certainly capable of serving some of the best Neapolitan pies in New York, it doesn't necessary guarantee those results.

Kesté Pizza & Vino
271 Bleeker Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 243-1500

To see all our pics please click the flickr link.

Keste Pizza & Vino on Urbanspoon

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