Continuing our month about Pizza, this week’s review is of Keste Pizzeria (also called Keste Pizza and Vino) on 271 Bleecker Street in the Village. I always look forward to going here. This is a true Naples pie, even though some of the menu’s wide ranging options may stray from traditional Neapolitan expectations.
What makes this a Neapolitan Pizzeria? You may recall in a previous post, I broke down three common styles of pizza. They are really my own groups and may not make sense to others but, essentially, a Naples pie is furnished within the extremely hot confines (up to 1,000 degrees) of a brick, rock or stone dome shaped oven. In Keste’s case, pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio fuels the oven with wood. A Naples pizzeria’s oven is its guts. Many pizzerias will proclaim “brick oven” capability. Don’t assume it is always a sign of greatness. For one, the brick oven may be a poorly designed or insulated piece of crap. Second, a well functioning brick pizza oven needs to be expertly tended to. This isn’t some toaster where you can wait for the timer to pop, nor is it even your neighborhood pizza oven where some extra time in the oven is irrelevant towards your slice’s eventual edibility. A few seconds too long, and your pie is burnt. A few seconds too few, and your pie is too doughy. Keste’s oven is serious business. You can’t buy this thing in a store. As Roberto told me, he flew in dudes from Italy to assemble his temple of pizza production. It took three days to build the bad boy seen in the above photo.
Yes, that’s Elana and I getting the tour of the kitchen, which was awesome. Our friendly server/host Davide, was more than happy to take us around. Which brings me to my next point – HEAT. No, not the movie (yes, i’m shamelessly plugging my last post). This oven is hot – another characteristic of the Naples pie. Can you see me sweating in the later pictures? Pies go from “raw” to charred within 1 minute of being in the oven. That’s pretty damn fast. So, you better have someone who knows what they are doing – It’s a delicate science. Also, check out those pizza peels that moonlight as medieval jousting rods – those suckers need to be long so as to allow maximum distance (and reach) from the oven’s mouth when tending to the pies for an extended period of time. Watching the Keste pizzaiolos expertly finagle in-oven pizzas with that thing is pretty cool. I think the only person more familiar with open flame ovens might be this guy. Again, special thanks to the Keste staff for taking us around. They could not be nicer. But, all warm feelings aside…we vow to keep our reviews as objective as possible. So, is the pizza any good? Oh yes.
We ordered two Keste greats: I went with the Regina Margherita (tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, grape tomatoes, basil and extra virgin o.o.) which was terrific. The buffalo mozzarella is of noticeable quality – it is not bland, it’s sweet and even a touch sour – a trait of very good mozzarella. The tomatoes were very fresh. And the crust? Expertly crafted. As you can see from the pictures – the crust/bread is charred, yet chewy; a unique coexistence of dissimilarities that is a staple of the Naples pie – the pictures don’t lie. Look at how that pizza bends and folds! Just very well done.
Elana’s pie is one of our favorites, the Pizza Del Re (Fresh Mozzarella, mushroom, prosciutto di parma, truffle spread, extra virgin o.o.). What a winning combination. For what it’s worth, we consider this to perhaps be the best pie in the joint. Again, perfectly cooked, and the truffle spread is glorious.
For dessert, we each had an espresso. Very very good. A seamless blend of rich, bitter and smooth. Another instance where a photo accurately captures its quality.
Elana’s experience with the bathrooms was above average. As she put it…”There was some Italian-inspired art in there, so I didn’t loose the vibe of the place while utilizing the facilities. The decorative floor tiles were a nice touch as well. No Xlerator, but the mirror was large and in-charge and everything was sparkly clean.”
Overall – a tremendous experience at Keste. The pies were of very high quality, and the staff was very attentive and friendly. A little tight on space, but big on authenticity… you won’t be sorry after stopping in here (even if you have to wait a bit, which is possible). Highly recommended. On a side note – Keste offers wine and beer. Had Elana not been training for her triathlon, we would have probably ordered one of their large carafes – but we kept it responsible.
Additionally, Keste offers a pizza with burrata mozzarella cheese on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons. You can bet we will be back to review this at some point in time.
Overall Movie Equivalent – Shawshank Redemption