On a recent school night, Elana and I headed into the East Village to visit Neapolitan pizza-powerhouse, Motorino, on 349 East 12th Street. It's a Monday night, so tables were relatively easy to come by. The interior is narrow and tight, but it's a pleasant scene with a friendly wait staff. In the rear, a beautiful brick oven (left over from previous tenant - Una Pizza Napoleana - which has since left for San Fran) churns out open flame glory. We sit down and ponder our order...
Although we're here for the pizza, we first ease ourselves into the night with a roasted mortadella antipasto of sorts, as well as a beet salad. The mortadella is served with tomatoes, greens, onions and olives. On top rests sprinkled parmesan and some drizzled oil. The dish is a winner. The sliced mortadella is a snappy, meaty, slightly spicy hunk of ham. It's perfectly salty, smoked and satisfying. The beet salad was also a hit. Sure, the sardine made things a bit uneasy, but it's a well marinated, sweet tasting creation, with ricotta cubes to boot.
My Margherita arrives looking fine as hell. Beautiful, semi melted blobs of oozing mozzarella, chopped basil, and bubbled, yet charred crust. A good looking pie, and perhaps an even better tasting one. The crust is definitely some of the best I've had; almost of "Co." caliber: crunchy yet puffy and with great elasticity. It's flavored with just the right amount of salt.
The pie has a very authentic Neapolitan pizza consistency: charred, but floppy, moist, and even a tad runny. Well done. The semi-melted blobs of mozz are tremendously satisfying. Scope the pic directly above: those suckers have a bit of thickness to them, with a good deal of moisture, too, owing to its time spent in the oven - not a second too long. This pie ranks near the top of the heap for the city's best Neapolitan margherita.
But it's not quite perfect, I'll say. The mozzarella, while one of the pizza's highlights, is perhaps also one of its subtle weaknesses. It is creamy, but also a tad bland. I like my pizza's mozzarella to be a touch on the sour side. There is not a lot of tomato sauce, either. This, of course, is an intentional, stylistic feature - but, using the all mighty Da Michele pizzeria in Naples as my ultimate barometer, I prefer it when there is some San Marzano swimming about. Minor qualms, indeed, but it's state-side, Neapolitan mastery that's the ultimate goal here, people. Naw mean?
Elana's pie - the Cremini and Sweet Sausage - is just o.k. Like its distant margherita cousin, there is a wonderful crust throughout, but it's a shade dry and is, somewhat substantially, lacking flavor. It's a bit of a disappointing follow up to my pie for sure.
My visit to the bathroom was a pleasant one: a unisex one-toilet stall with a secure door lock and amusing wall art. It's clean, functional, and private.
Final impressions: Motorino gets high marks for its creative and quality appetizers, as well as its near-perfect margherita. But it also stumbled a bit in other areas, such as with Elana's pie which, in all fairness, was average. When I go back - and it definitely deserves another visit - I'll be sure to sample some of their other pies.
Overall experience - Top Gun