Italian Flatbread Craze Reaches NYC

04/29/2009 4:00 AM |

Keste, 271 Bleecker St, 212-243-1500

Price range: $15-$25 Rating:

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With the Dow dropping and the thermometer rising, wallet-friendly
pizza is back in vogue. And ambitious new pies are popping out of ovens
from Chelsea Club Land to the East Village and Williamsburg. And at
Keste, oven-man Roberto Caporuscio is turning out legit Neapolitan
pies. His weapon of choice, which he uses to create perfect crust, is a
bespoke 1,000-degree wood-burning volcanic stone and tile oven, a
masterpiece, inside and out.

The 12-inch pizzas, quite dissimilar from thin-crust New York-style
pizza, are airy and doughy, with a taffy pull and black-singed edges
from their careful trip in the blazing fire, being turned and rotated
on the superheated stone and suspended over an electric-amber flame. As
for what goes on that crust, Roberto sources all his ingredients from
Campania, from flour to buffalo mozzarella (which actually sounds
counterproductive). The house special Keste pizza ($18), with sweet San
Marzano tomato sauce, gran cru cheese, prosciutto and arugula, was
gloriously overladen, with different concentrations of toppings making
each bite an experience, rich enough to match its doughy fullness.

The oven was likewise used to great effect for a battilocchio del
giorno ($6, toppings change daily), basically a misshapen pizza
appetizer topped with commingling neon-colored spinach and red-pepper
purees. There isn’t much else in the way of appetizers, but Keste’s
fine fresh salads show their skill in picking produce. The overwrought
Rustica ($8), a combo of mixed greens, prosciutto, artichoke and olive,
was kept simple with a lemon and oil dressing, while the Fresca ($10),
with stunning baby arugula, grape tomato and Parmigiano-Reggiano, was
rounded out with stellar balsamic vinegar.

The room itself, aside from the gorgeous oven, leaves much to be
desired. It’s a sliver of space with terrible acoustics. But the artful
black and white photos of the Old Country somehow manage to overcome
base sentimentality, and our Italian waiter was one of the best I have
encountered recently. His recommendation of the tiramisu ($6) was a
good one, as it was an excellently prepared version of the trite Little
Italy standard, and a slosh of limoncello sauce (that I requested, from
a different dessert) lent some vigor. Most annoyingly, Keste is on a
frustratingly tourist-trampled block — but don’t worry, they’re
all going to John’s on Bleecker instead, while we enjoy some great
pizza.