Pizza Napolitana

We kicked off the next NYC food tour hosted by CKoh by having dinner at Keste in West Village.  CKoh’s sister, and Pdho’s cousin and her co-worker also joined us for the evening. According to CKoh, they served the best Neopolitan pizza so that sounded pretty good to us.

We were supposed to arrive at 6pm, but we were running a little bit late which made Pdho very nervous. He knows CKoh gets pretty anxious when people don’t arrive on time for meals, and I think he was walking briskly for fear of enduring the infamous wrath. Hehe! We eventually got there about 15 or so minutes late, and the restaurant was packed with a decent number of people waiting outside. The restaurant didn’t look very big, but the turnover looked pretty fast. I think we missed our call, so we had to wait a little bit longer for a large enough table to open up.  The long wait of people outside the restaurant really lended increased credibility to CKoh’s raving review. Not that he’s ever steered us wrong, but considering that a lot of us were already pretty hungry, it made us even hungrier thinking how good this pizza was going to be.

After getting seated, we quickly ordered a couple different appetizers and pizzas for the table to share. To start, there was the Sfizi Caprese and the Insalata della Casa.  The Sfizi Caprese is essentially fresh mozzarella and tomato, a typical Italian starter that I have come to really like more and more every time I have it. It’s funny, because I am not a big fan of cheese. However, the mozzarella especially when it’s really fresh tends to have a more neutral taste and goes really well with the flavor of a fresh tomato.  This was pretty good, but I’ve probably had better in Italy. I know… unfair comparison, but there is something really special about Italian tomatoes.  Anyways, the salad was a regular salad. Nothing necessarily memorable or tasty about a plate of ruffage.

Now on to the pizzas. We shared three different pizzas, Margherita, Pizza del Re, and Vegetariana.  My favorite was Pizza del Re, but I was probably heavily influenced by the distinctly intoxicating smell and taste of truffle oil that was sprinkled all over the pizza.  Truffle oil goes great with almost anything, but I think it went very well with the smoky taste of the prosciutto.  Although I like prosciutto a lot, I’m thinking it wasn’t the best choice of meat topping, mainly because it’s hard to really tear into it.  Add to the fact that there were probably 3 slices of prosciutto spread on top and you could have easily ended up with a slice with nothing but cheese and mushrooms. I’m not sure if that happened to anyone at the table, but I know I had a hard time taking a bit of the prosciutto.

The Vegetariana pizza, on the flip side, had quite a few different toppings including eggplant, zucchini, olives, mushrooms and even artichokes.  I have to keep telling myself not to judge a vegetarian dish by it’s cover, because I always expect to not like anything that is vegetarian, but somehow, vegetarian pizzas never fail to please. The different vegetables always seems to add a lot of different flavors and textures that really hit the spot.

Admittedly, I didn’t get a chance to taste the Margherita pizza, but it definitely looked tasty.  It’s the standard Italian classic with just cheese, tomato and fresh basil.  Although it seems very simple, it somehow never ceases to please people’s taste buds.

So although the pizzas overall were pretty good, I admit I wasn’t really sure what made these pizzas Neapolitan. I think the key distinction for these pizzas is that they have to be cooked in a wood-burning, bell-shaped brick oven.  The pizzas must be cooked on the surface of the oven (often made of volcanic stone) with oven temperatures reaching at least 400-430° C which is about 750-800° F.  I can only imagine how insufferable it is for the guys working in the kitchen, but I think there is a distinct smoky flavor baked into these pies that is signature Neapolitan.  There is probably something special about the dough too, but I’m not sure what. It’s definitely a lighter style of dough, kind of poofier than other doughs I have. It doesn’t have the same denseness as Chicago deep dish, but it’s not exactly a thin-crust pizza either. It’s a little thick but kind of tastes like there is some air pumped in the dough. Nevertheless, it was good food and good company, so a good dinner overall.

Keste
271 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10014

PAFO Ratings for Keste:
Price 2 stars
Ambiance 2 stars
Food 3 ½ stars
Overall rating 3 stars

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