After eating at Motorino in the East Village, I thought I had found the one. I would have to look for real Neapolitan pizza no more in New York. Motorino was the one for me, and that’s all I needed.
Then I found Kestè, a small, bustling pizzeria in the West Village, and now I know: I’m not a one-pizzeria kind of girl. In this city, my heart and stomach are divided between east and west, Motorino and Kestè.
Flaneur, Vanessa and I went on a recent Thursday and after a 45-minute wait (because they don’t take reservations) we shuffled through the busy restaurant to our table on the other side of the flour covered pizza-making area and hot ovens. In addition to the mouth-watering aroma of fresh-from-the-oven pizzas and the fact that the whole place was packed, with even more hungry people waiting outside, there was another sign that this was going to be a good spot, and something that I look for in situations like these: Italians. One of the girls next to us, the family a few tables down, the old couple outside, even our waiter.
With ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, soppressata, and pecorino romano, everything on the menu sounded delicious and by the looks of the pizzas getting served all around us, these were the real deal. Because none of us could decide on just one pizza, we decided to each get a different one and share.
Not long after we ordered (thankfully), our pizzas showed up and we hungrily set about dividing them up. They looked beautiful, just as perfect as their most perfect Italian counterparts, and after the first bite I was just as in love as I had been in Italy.
The first pizza I tried was one we decided on at the last minute when our waiter announced it as the special of the night. Although I don’t usually like white pizzas (meaning no sauce), when he said it had burrata, one of my favorite Italian cheeses made from mozzarella and cream, I was totally sold. Big, white blobs of the creamy cheese topped the thick, doughy crust. Little cherry tomatoes added a little color and a hint of that familiar taste to this amazing pizza. I almost felt like I was cheating on my love, Motorino. Kestè and I were getting into something serious here.
Next up, I tore a slice of the pizza del re (king’s pizza) which Flaneur and Vanessa had already started on and were ooohing and aaahhing about between mouthfuls. The same thick crust was covered with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, prosciutto and one of my favorite ingredients of all time: truffle spread. I tend to like my pizzas more on the simple side, with just one or two ingredients but on the pizza del re, all the toppings worked together perfectly so that if even just one was missing it wouldn’t of been half as good. As soon as all those flavors hit my tongue and seemingly swirled around my head, I was hooked. As if the pizza itself weren’t delicious enough, it left a mix of truffle and olive oil on the plate, perfect for dragging pizza crust through.
Last on my Kestè tour de force was the pizzeria’s self-titled pie, a lush leafy pizza with arugula, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, and gran cru, a hard pecorino cheese. No ingredient dominated the other. The entire surface was done almost in layers instead of one single blanket of mixed parts. The arugula mixed with the thick cheese shavings contrasted nicely in their dry textures to the gooey cheese underneath and the soft chewiness of the dough.
When every last bit of pizza was done, I debated with myself. Could this be better than Motorino, what I had previously named the best pizza on this side of the pond? As I sat and reminisced about pizzas past, I decided, nope, not better, not less delicious, just perfectly equal in my pizza loving heart…and stomach.
*Photography by the multi-talented Vanessa Garcia. Woot woot.