My friends and I were in the mood for pizza, and after having read rave reviews in New York Magazine about Kesté Pizza and Vino (www.kestepizzeria.com) on Bleecker, we decided to give it a try. I figured that since I am traveling to Italy next week, this would be the right time to gather the appropriate data for my firsthand comparison of Italian pizza to American pizza.
If you are looking to get a table right away for dinner, then I suggest you arrive by six or earlier. Our party arrived at around seven, and there was already a mob amassed out front. I do need to compliment their host, who seems to have finessed the skill of crowd pleasing in a short amount of time. He remembered my name from the moment he put me on the waiting list, until we had paid the check at the end of the meal, and graciously thanked us for coming. He would also bring out fresh pies, cut into slivers, to whet the appetites of the hungry hoards that gathered on line outside, eagerly awaiting their taste.
It took less than a half hour to get a table, and we sat toward the back, where you have an excellent view of the pizza maestro himself, Roberto Caporuscio, assembling his prestigious pies and popping them into the wood burning, bell-shaped, brick oven. All of the ingredients are so simple, vibrant, and unbelievably fresh. You are practically drooling from all the sights and aromas until your own pizza arrives.
My dining companions and I are relative purists when it comes to pizza, so we all opted for simple selections in which we could adequately enjoy each specific element. The pies are very thin crust, and are about one foot in diameter. (Yes, we each got our own pie, thank you very much!) We ordered one Margherita pie, and two Regina Margherita pies. The only differences are that the regular Margherita is made with fresh mozzarella, and the Regina Margherita has grape tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. Both pies are essentially crust, tomato sauce, cheese, basil and extra virgin olive oil. The simplicity and utmost quality of each ingredient on its own is what contributes to the wonderfulness of this pizza.
Any good pizza needs to start with a good crust. Any aficionado knows that a tasteless crust equates to a lame slice of pizza. And since pizza dough has so few ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, and water), choosing the right balance makes all the difference. These pizzas are very thin crust, and the dough is tasty, crisp, chewy, and slightly salted — all the defining qualities of an excellent pie. The crust has all those wonderful air pockets that are crisp on the surface, and slightly chewy and gummy inside, permeating throughout the dough.
Beyond the dough, the tomato sauce seems to be delightfully unaffected. The simplicity of the ingredients is what makes each element really stand out in the crowd. The sauce seems to be little more than a medley of crushed/pureed delicious, ripe tomatoes. And it is no surprise that the cheese is clean, fresh, sweet, and melted to perfection. The buffalo mozzarella is a bit more tart and tangy than the regular mozzarella, but you can’t go wrong with either. This pizza absolutely hits the spot. Complimenting it with a ½ carafe of wine is even better.
After leaving Kesté in our pizza induced coma, we wandered a block and half to L’Arte del Gelato (www.lartedelgelato.com), which has some of the finest, mouth-watering gelato and sorbet in the borough of Manhattan. It probably deserves its own post – it is that delicious. It was the perfect cap to a wonderful Italian dinner, and my friends and I have full intentions of repeating this excursion once I return from Italia!
Kesté Pizza and Vino – 271 Bleecker, 10014