Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pie-dentity Crisis

About a year ago, the hip new pizza movement in New York City became evident when Jim Lahey opened a spare, homey pizza restaurant in Chelsea with lots of natural lighting. Lahey is first and foremost a baker and has been making delicious pizza-like concoctions at Sullivan Street Bakery for years.

This newer restaurant seems to be called Co. That's what all the press and reviews had titled it. I figured Co, was an abbreviation for something. I just hope Lahey wasn't referring to the chemical element cobalt (Co). That's not among my favorite pizza toppings.

On my first visit (many months before I began this official pizza search), the mystery was cleared up when I saw the big sign welcoming me to Company. Not Co. at all. Yet when I went inside and was presented with menus and noticed the young waiters all wearing logo T-shirts, there was the "Co." once again. So what the hell is this place called?

I've read in interviews that Lahey thought of Co. as the abbreviation for "corner" (The restaurant does proudly take up the corner of Ninth Avenue and 24th Street), so where does the company come from now? My only guess is that it's a reference to the two long communal tables that take up the majority of the dining room. Communal tables are all the rage. They're social, gimmicky, and really make you appreciate the co. Sorry, I mean the company.

But really what's in a name? It's all about the pizza! And Company, or Co. (Seriously, I don't know what to call this place. It's starting to piss me off!) makes individual pizzas in sort of a Neapolitan style. But there are many differences between these pies and the classic Neapolitans. First and foremost, these are cooked in a gas oven as opposed to a wood one. That's sort of a dealbreaker right there. I can pretty much guarantee Lahey won't be getting any invitations to the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani Christmas party.

It was an off-time when we arrived at 4pm. We were the only one's in the restaurant (which is usually bustling at prime time) except for the corner table of managers in a meeting. We didn't feel un-welcomed per se but I felt as if I saw a little too much of the man (or men) behind the curtain. Shouldn't they have their meetings when the restaurant is closed? Also, because it was so quiet, I became more aware of their ridiculous choice of music. We must have heard some weird French cover of "These Boots Are Made For Walking" three times during our hour-long dinner.

We ordered both the margherita and the flambé. We picked the flambé because I work at The Modern which makes the most authentic and delicious tarte flambee you'll have this side of the Rhine. So I always have to check out the competition.

The bread was pretty good across the board. It's obvious Lahey knows his yeast. Considering they don't use a wood oven, the bottom had an intense char and while the crust was not as doughy and tender as I come to expect from Neapolitan, it was crispy, chewy, and delicious.

I wish I could say the same for the toppings. The flambé was slightly reminiscent of California Pizza Kitchen (which is another of my former employers). That's not a bad thing if you're into that kind of stuff, but the flavors were a bit too rich and sweet for me. The bacon tasted honey glazed and the bechamel was a bit thick. Didn't come close to the light delicious ingenuity of The Modern's.

The margherita was also lacking. The pie was pretty wet and became soggy way too quickly. The pizza was very light and had just a hint of everything. Just a hint of cheese, a hint of tomato, a hint of taste.

I'm sure their more unique pies fare much better. I've heard amazing things about the stracciatella and the popeye. But my feeling is if they can't get the standards right, then you've got to re-think your concept (or at least take those options off the menu).

And the pizzas weren't bad, they just should have been better. Lots of attention was paid to the bread itself, I just wish there had been more thought put into the things that go on top of that bread. And some more thought into what to call this place because I'm getting tired of writing two names. Until they make up their mind, I'm calling this place Cobalt. Take that, Jim Lahey!

Is Co. (or Company) (or Cobalt) the best pizza in NY? The pizzas are a bit expensive and could use a little more oomph in the ingredients and the flavor combinations, but that crust is a stand-out. And it's really the only reason this place gets a 6 out of 10.

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