We are going all Italian this week here at JAETAF. Did you know that was our acronym, by the way? Jay-taff. Use it on the streets. See what happens.
This past Saturday we decided to do some heavy hitting in the Italian department. First up, some coal oven pizza at a NYC institution, Lombardi's (incidentally, the only NYC pizzeria besides Grimaldi's in DUMBO to operate a coal oven), followed by the Fiat Gallery in Soho with a GQ sponsored event where itty-bitty cars would be complemented by tiny shots of Lavazza espresso.
But first to fuel up on Margherita pies!
Lombardi's is a pretty large place. There are multiple rooms and even a basement room (where John and I sat). From the start, the sheer size of the place concerned us. We had doubts whether a place that needed to churn out that many pies in such volume could maintain a high quality, brick oven product. And volume needed to be produced because even though it was fairly early on a Saturday evening, the place was packed and we had to wait for a table. So we staked out seats at the bar and sipped Sixpoint beer in anticipation. Sidenote - should an Italian brick oven pizzeria offer Sangria? Moving on...
We order a split pie: half Margherita to maintain standards of comparison, and half decorated with Lombardi's house made pork and beef meatballs. Our 18" pie has a few standout characteristics that put us on guard:
1. The crust is rather flat and evenly baked. No puffy Neapolitan cornicone here. And no coal-fired char marks, save for one large bubble.
2. The pie is stiff, lacking that floppy quality that makes a well functioning brick oven pie chewy and delightfully unwieldy.
However, there are some redeeming qualities: The basil is liberally applied, and the sauce has a simple, tangy, pure tomato taste of which we both approve. John could have used a bit more, however. Additionally, the cheese provides a noticeable salty, milky flavor.
As often happens, the meatballs steal the show. Moist, flavorful and bite-sized, like meat popcorn, they are a perfect pizza accessory.
The lavatory was pretty standard issue. It seemed more like a closet with plumbing. But everything was clean. Bonus accessories included Windex (?) and a motion-sensored paper towel dispenser. The mirror was mesmerizing as well...
John and I were largely underwhelmed by Lombardi's pie. Between the two coal oven contenders, we both agree that Grimaldi's is considerably better. You may not – Yahoo doesn't. You can read their opinion here.
Overall Experience: Vanilla Sky - The Average Restaurant
On with the show! We ambled several blocks to the Fiat Gallery on Wooster Street. We had been promised (via Urban Daddy) the possibility of test driving Fiats, and we both had Italian Job-esque dreams of hurtling through the streets of Soho in a perfectly polished red rollerskate.
Our test driving dreams were squashed, but we did get to sit in the show room models and make convincing vrooooom-vrooooom noises. That helped a bit.
All joking aside, the exhibit was pretty fun. The evening's events were sponsored by GQ and we got to wander around artistically-rendered Fiat hoods, sample Lavazza espresso, sip Peroni's, and get our photos taken!
John looks quite at home, no?
More events will be running until May 1st. You can check out the full list here.
Entries in Italian - NY (29)
We have not talked about pizza all week! What were we thinking?? Clearly, we weren't.
To bring you all back, I present you with this mini review (it is Friday, after all) of Slice in the West Village.
Let me set The Scene:
The Megs and I washed up on the West Village location of Slice on Official Umbrella Inside-Out Day. It was torrential downpour in New York. No umbrella was safe. Certainly not mine. Or my hair. We will leave it at that. We dove out of the water, and flopped onto one of the train station-style booth tables, happy to be dry (kind of) and have the promise of food in pizza form. The interior is friendly and cozy, with half booths and tables lining the dining area and an eclectic arrangement of books and nick-nacks lining the exposed brick and wood-panelled walls. There is a wine and beer selection to complement their healthy pizzas.
First! A note on the Slice style pizza. This is an artsy pie. It's square, so I would technically throw it into a Sicilian category based on geometry. It's also thin crust. But the ingredients of both the crust and the toppings are modern. California style? I lived in California for 7 years, and I'm not sure what that means except that maybe it's a bit indie, a touch free-form-no-rules (in a good way) I'll do what I want pizza. So there! And with the organic, free range, hormone free ingredients it's Venice Beach meets Brooklyn! Served on a pan!
Anyway, there were two stand-out pizzas from our selection. They were:
The Miki: a wonderful combination of basil pesto (sans pine nuts for the allergic!), chicken sausage (that had flavor!), goat cheese, sundried and fresh tomatoes, and a little extra fresh basil. All this was piled onto a crispy-on-the-outside-but-chewy-on-the-inside honey whole wheat crust. Verdict: Completed devoured. The pesto was so good, I didn't even miss the pine nuts. True story.
The Yuri: Organic truffled (squeals of joy!) ricotta and mozzarella, with sauteed mushrooms all living harmoniously on an herbed crust. Verdict: Also devoured. Wonderful truffle flavor without being too dramatic and overpowering (save the drama for...well, for your mama, I guess). The mushrooms were nice and meaty. I really hate wilty mushrooms.
I was overwhelmed by Slice's bathroom – so much so that when I walked in there, I forgot what I came in there to do – take photos of course! A red glass chandelier! Art featuring muppets! Painting on the walls! Check it out:
The Experience: Napoleon Dynamite – The Offbeat Success
Slice - The Perfect Food
535 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
P. 212 929 2920
F. 212 929 2987
1413 2nd Avenue (73rd/74th Sts)
New York, NY 10021
P. 212 249 4353
F. 212 249 3706
John and I are as choosy with our Italian desserts as we are with our entreés (like pizza). I happen to be a tiramisú snob, and have turned up my nose at quite a few slices, while John will down well-made panna cotta like an Electrolux that's just had its filter cleaned.
But the cannoli....Ahh...the cannoli. A perfect cannoli is a study in contradictions, a perfect blend of opposites in flavor and texture. As the holding device, the shell represents a challenge: It must be crispy and ever-so-slightly sweet. NEVER chewy or dense. With lots of airy holes for extra crunch.
The cream presents another challenge. First, it has to be ricotta cream. I know....I know, you may be thinking, "Who would fill cannoli with anything else?" If you asked that question, you're hired!
You might be surprised to learn how many whipped cream filled cannoli I have encountered. And put down after the first bite, because that's just wrong, people. WRONG.
Assuming that the filling is ricotta based, it should also be rich, thick in consistency and have a definite sweetness that is not overpowering. Light and airy are not characteristics of the filling – those belong to the shell.
Now a final word of caution: NO PRE-FILLING the cannoli shells. If you walk into a bakery and there are a stack of filled cannoli in the glass display case, don't order them. They could have been sitting there since the Dharma Project's last food drop.
The shells should be lined up, empty awaiting your order. Then, and only then, do they get their ricotta cream piped into them. This is because cannoli filling will make the super crispy and light shell a soggy, dense mess. True story.
As for toppings or additions to the cream filling, these are traditional and definitely allowed. I'm not a huge fan of succade, or chopped, candied citrus peel, I find that they don't add much in terms of flavor and are just interruptions in the cream filling. Like speed bumps. I do, however approve of mini chocolate chips, either integrated into the cream or sprinkled on top. These do add flavor, and because they are firm, but not crunchy, an extra layer of texture. Pistachios often make an appearance, as does a nice dark chocolate dip. However, prepping the chocolate dipped varieties usually means pre-filling, so I'm not the biggest fan of this option.
OK, I think I'm done with my pastry-related tirade. Are you still here? I hope so, because Rocco's cannoli are definitely worth the trip. To the West Village. In the pouring rain. And John doesn't walk very quickly. So, if you're going with him, you should know that.
Rocco's has a lot of other treats that we didn't sample. We went straight for the cannoli. But you might like to try some of these:
They sure looked tasty.
After navigating the somewhat confusing line (it seems that people just queue up in no particular order, and there's no number system), we noticed the empty cannoli shells lined up in the back awaiting their creamy centers – a very good sign. We ordered 2, and got them to go.
Probably we should have enjoyed them at on of Rocco's cafe tables. Instead, we ventured out into the pouring rain (did I mention that John walks slowly?) and to the PATH train to head back to Hoboken.
Both John and I are very impatient when it comes to food. We want to eat it NOW. Whatever it is. Now works. The train unfortunately arrived immediately, even as I was unwinding the intricately-laced bakers twine on the box.
John: "I have never wanted the train to NOT arrive before...." This said as I reluctantly returned the white box to its plastic bag.
Once on the train, all bets were off. Especially the ones saying "No Eating or Drinking on Path Trains". John dove into his cannoli as I attempted to take photos of them on the moving train. Please keep in mind that we are professionals. You shouldn't try this at home. Or anywhere.
I held off on eating mine as I wanted to take a nice glamor shot of it once back at my apartment (see the first photo for evidence of self-restraint). But I was curious, so I asked John some questions.
Me: "How is it?"
John: "Great." (You might not think it, but this is actually very high praise from John).
Me: "Ummm...Could you give me more details? How's the filling?"
John: "Awesome, man."
Once I could sample mine in the comfort and stability of my non-moving apartment, I could tell that John was correct. It was a great cannoli. The shell was fried to perfection, and I detected a hint of cinnamon in the mix that added a subtle flavor. The cream was indeed awesome: a ricotta cream with very tiny and sparingly applied succade and topped with mini chocolate chips. I may have wanted the cream a bit thicker, but the flavor was true to form. The shell even maintained its crispiness throughout our soggy walk home, shattering as I bit into it (this is supposed to happen).
Rocco's: a great place for awesome cannoli. Man.
243 Bleecker Street
New York, 10014
What happens when a new pizzeria is coupled with considerably positive buzz? Well, we review it of course. Even if that means enduring a late winter rainstorm to check it out. Such was the case with Rubirosa on 235 Mulberry St., which Elana and I visited just last Sunday.
Actually - while Rubirosa may be new to the immediate area, its pizza making philosophy has been around for quite some time. Chef Angelo (A.J.) Pappalardo has cooked at Esca and Osteria del Circo, but his formative restaurant experience began at age 12 washing dishes and making pizza at his father Giuseppe's Staten Island restaurant, Joe & Pat's." (NYMAG)
The Scene - And if indeed Rubirosa's pies hail from old family tradition, so too does the overall feel of the place. It's a lot like your (Italian) Grandma's house, especially if Grandma was really cool and kept a fully stocked bar with various kinds of whiskey and aperitifs. It's a long, somewhat narrow space, with a quaint and charming vibe - tin ceilings, mahogany framed pictures, filament visible light bulbs and, where we were sitting, antique radio equipment. There's even a steady collection of oldies music, which I've never had a problem with. Even our water comes served in a large, old school carafe.
The Grub - Elana and I start things off with 3 rice balls, which come accompanied by a small bowl of extremely fresh and flavorful tomato sauce. They have a wonderful snapping but forgiving crust, which gives way to a great tasting mixture of cheese, rice and pork bits. The breaded spheres have very good consistency - the goo is not gushing, and the crust is not crusty. There is perfect moisture and togetherness throughout each bite.
For pizza, we order their Vodka Pizza and their Classic Pizza (we opt for the smaller sizes of each). Of the two, the Vodka is the winner. It's a hot mess of sauce, melted cheese, and a thin crust - which gets utterly, yet somehow beautifully, dominated by the pie's heavy ingredients. As I lifted each slice from the pan, portions of it would get left behind due to the weight of it all until what was finally on my plate wasn't actually a slice at all, but rather a steaming mound of saucy, succulent slop. And it's delicious! The Vodka sauce is creamy, it's cheesy, and it keeps its tomato flavor well. A little more kick could have made it flawless, although Rubirosa does provide some crushed red pepper should you desire.
The ingredients of the Classic are as you'd expect - cheese, bread, sauce. Both pies have a very thin, evenly pressed crust, yet the Classic's has not been soggily penetrated by an abundance of Vodka sauce. The tomato sauce stands out, it is exceptional. Almost in Grimaldi's league. The cheese, however, is a bit unnoticeable and sparingly applied. It's still a darn good slice however, easily foldable and light - almost effortless to take down. As a server was kind enough to show me, each pizza is made within a gas pizza oven, with revolving shelves.
The Bathrooms: I send sis off to the Bathroom to pick the food out from her teeth. Her review is as follows: "There may not have been subway tiles, but the vertical wood panels continued the "grandma's basement-chic" style. The chalkboard paint on the walls, gave the atmosphere a more playful vibe, although I would have liked some chalk to add to the decor. Large mirrors and a supply cabinet were pluses."
Rubirosa is proof of my latest theory that there is no wrong way to make a pizza, provided you know what the heck you are doing. And they clearly do. I've never quite had a pie like this, and I'm glad I came to experience it. If you go, make sure to order a Vodka Pie, which was the highlight of the meal. Unfortunately, this does not count as a visit to Grandma's house. Ungrateful bastards.
Movie equivalent - Top Gun - The Well Working Formula
This past winter, Elana and I accompanied mom on one of her local group trips to Brooklyn. It was a guided tour throughout some of Brooklyn's neighborhoods, stopping along the way at the area's most festively decorated residences for the holiday season. It was a very entertaining experience to say the least, with the energy being maintained between stops by our animated and knowledgeable tour guide, Tony Muia. On that trip, Tony had encouraged me to come on one of his his company's pizza tours. This last weekend, Elana and I did just that.
The launch location for this trip was from Union Square, where Tony's Cousin, Paula (who was our tour guide for the day), was enthusiastically welcoming all participants onto the bus. To say Paula is an extrovert would be an understatement; within 10 minutes of the trip, she has already told various jokes, given nicknames to everyone on the bus, and dropped a few hundred "fughediboudits." "This is going to be fun," comments sis.
The first out of two pizza stops for the day: Grimaldi's on 19 Old Fulton St
in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn. But, prior to that, Paula directs the group through a nearby park to view the Brooklyn Bridge (which, by the way, has all of its original cables, Paula adds), as well a detour through the Jacques Torres Chocolate Shop, where Elana and I sample some of their delicious spicy hot chocolate.
The group is more than happy to wander around this beautiful area while peppering Paula with questions. "Did ya know," Paula adds, and proceeds to tell us that Grimaldi's coal heated oven is one of the last of its kind within the city, as environmental regulation put a stop to the installation of coal burning ovens in the 1980s. She also advises us not to make eye contact with the long line of people waiting to get into Grimaldi's. Why? Well, today, we don't have to wait in the line. A spot on the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour grants you VIP access into the storied pizza shop. (It doesn't, however, isolate you from the frustrated mutterings/shouts from those who you cut in line, which you will inevitably receive). I mean, just how does the other half live? Also, is it wrong that I secretly take pleasure in this moment of blatent line cutting? Moving on...
Being one of the first let inside Grimaldi's allows me to quietly watch the pies get made. There is a system at work here - mountainous piles of sliced fresh mozzarella, jars of ingredients, stacks of wooden crates filled with unpressed dough, and then the oven itself - an almost Medievil looking heat terminal of coal burning excellence. According to Paula, pies endure a stay of around 2 minutes and 43 seconds within the oven. How's that for specific information?
I had not been back to the original Grimaldi's in some time. Indeed, I have a local Grimaldi's in Hoboken that I visit from time to time without having to wait in line, but I was looking forward to retesting the original.
The original is a better tasting pie. Its crust is a bit more charred vs. the Hoboken shop's, with portions of its underbelly completely scorched by coal. This, in my opinion, lends itself to a unique taste and separates Grimaldi's from some of the other Napoletana style Pizzerias which use wood, gas, or a combination of the two. The sauce quality is simply excellent here: fresh and flavorful. And, even if the cheese may be a touch bland, Grimaldi's (the original) does not let me down. I put down 2 and 1/2 slices in about as many bites.
As we pull away from Grimaldi's en route to our next stop (L & B Spumoni Gardens), Paula cues up appropriate movie clips while we are still in Dumbo - such as the scene from Scent of a Woman (one of my favorites) where Charlie and Colonel Frank Slade (WHOOAA!) take the Ferrari out for a test drive. Our bus is traveling on those identical roads. I elbow Elana with excitement.
The seamless infusion of movie clips throughout the tour is a big theme. While traveling out to L & B's, Paula continues to add context to our voyage with additional clips, as well landmark descriptions and famous/infamous stories about the immediate surrounding area. We also journey through Dyker Heights and view the million dollar homes along Shore Road in Bay Ridge.
And then, more pizza! Our second and final pizza stop is L & B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst, which we featured on the blog not too long ago. It's a wonderful pizza to feature, particularly due to its contrast from Grimaldi's; the two could not be more dissimilar. Grimaldi's is round; L & B's is square. Coal oven vs. gas. Neapolitan vs. Sicilian. Is one better than the other? Who cares! They are both amazing.
While they are both "pizzas", comparing the two is like apples and oranges. And on this day, I just can't seem to stop putting down these scrumptious squares of sauce splattered satisfaction. It doesn't bother me in the slightest to effortlessly own a 3rd slice (that's 5 and 1/2 for those keeping count) since others are full. Especially since Paula had noted earlier that the L & B pizza feels "lighter" due to the dough rising twice.
And I'm not scared of dessert either. Elana and I split some addictive spumoni ice cream, which isn't quite ice cream at all. It's ice cream mixed with whipped cream which, yet again, has a "lighter" texture to it than what you would expect. I again say "lighter" because, hey, let's face it... I'm ingesting pizza and ice cream like Jaws gobbles up chum... I'm probably well beyond the point of characterizing this as a mere snack. Whatever. When in Rome.... er.... Bensonhurst, I guess.
After L & B's, the tour makes its final stop to Coney Island, where Paula takes us along the boardwalk. She notes the simultaneous (and hilarious) sensations of danger/excitement surrounding the various rides, such as the Parachute Drop and the Cyclone, with toothpick thick 2 x 4's anchoring its highest peaks.
And even as the tour nears an end, there are additional movie clips to watch or more sites to see, such as the National, an oddly, yet awesomely decorated Russian restaurant/banquet hall; or the picturesque grounds at Poly Prep - there is never a dull moment. So whether you are visiting Brooklyn for the first or you're a full time BK resident, this tour really has something for everyone. You'd be hard pressed to find more prideful and informative guides than Tony and Paula. And, even for the so called know-it-alls, how else are you cutting the line at Grimaldi's?
Click here for more information on A Slice of Brooklyn's pizza and other tours of Brooklyn.