Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Changing of the Pizzaiolo

Unless you inherited one or were grandfathered in, it is illegal to own and use a coal-burning oven. It's bad for the environment and it's competition for the likes of Grimaldi's and Lombardi's. We don't want any black lung or broken knee caps.

You can imagine whenever a coal-burning pizzeria closes, many budding NY pizzaioli are hoping to take over the lease and get their hands on a grandfathered coal oven. Wood ovens are a different story - they're legal and available aplenty - but it is still nice when you can rent a space with oven and all - especially when that oven is the topic of much praise.

That's what happened to Mathieu Palombino when he took over the space of Una Pizza Napoletana in the East Village. The former pizza place was fast becoming the unanimous favorite of pizza lovers throughout the city. I was a little slow with this current pizza journey and therefore missed trying Anthony Mangieri's creations. Word on the street was that he got tired of dealing with the East Village lifestyle and he just got up and moved out west. He's supposed to be opening a pizzeria in San Francisco sometime soon.

So out went Una Pizza Napolitana and in came the latest incarnation of Williamsburg favorite, Motorino. It has not been open at this new location long, but it is already a hit and seems to get more favorable reviews than its big sister.

I went on a weekday lunch when they offer a great lunch special - your choice of a personal pizza and salad or ice cream for 10 bucks. Not too shabby.

We ordered the margherita and the seasonal brussels sprout and speck pizza. The salad was pretty standard with packaged field greens and a vinaigrette.
The pizza smelled great. I took in the fumes of fresh baked bread and cooked ham and green vegetables. The smell was almost too good to eat, but what's smell without a little taste?

My brussels sprout pie was amazing. The sprouts were fresh and distributed well. The speck was salty enough with a meaty, earthy flavor that was balanced with the creamy richness of the fior di latte mozzarella. The textures were also varied and interesting.

The margherita was not as successful. The sauce was sort of wet and uneven, which made the pizza a bit soggy. I understand that Neapolitan pies have a tendency to be soggy in the middle, but it's not my thing. I think it loses some flavor and brightness when that happens. I could tell this tomato sauce was well made and had a nice subtle citrus quality, but I just wish there was more of it for me to taste.

The dough was a stand-out. The cornicione (the end of the crust) was huge with a fluffy, airy quality. The crust also had a very nice char and a woody flavor.

Maybe the magic is in the oven. Palombino did inherit one of the most highly regarded kitchen appliances in the city. But regardless, he bakes a good pie and uses interesting, complimentary ingredients. Now if only those were things you can acquire when signing a lease.

Is Motorino the best pizza in NY? They do some great interesting seasonal concoctions, but their margherita fell a little short for my tastes. I still give them a 7 out of 10 for authenticity, originality, and some good flavors.

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