Okay, I'm finally getting a free moment to jot down my thoughts on the Neapolitan side of the trip.
Before I get into it, two caveats.
1. While I've been researching Neapolitan pizza for years and understand a great deal of the science behind it, when it comes to actually eating Neapolitan pizza, I'm a bit of a noob. Prior to Thursday, I had only eaten Neapolitan pizza a couple times, and, honestly, hadn't been that impressed.
2. As everyone knows, I'm a NY slice guy to the core. Neapolitan pizza has always been more of an intellectual curiosity to me, rather than a passion. Thanks to two experiences on Thursday, I am now a bit more of a Neapolitan fan, but nothing could ever change the way I view pizza- through distinctly NY slice lenses.
Okay, here we go
I was blown away by Roberto's graciousness. For some reason, from watching videos, I thought he might be a little more aloof. He is not aloof whatsoever. He gave us a solid hour and a half of his time and shared an unbelievable wealth of knowledge with us. We never pressed him for a great amount of detail, but, in general, he was incredibly open about his process. I can sort of understand how pizzeria owners might see how holding their cards close to their chest protects their business, and I can also see how a teacher, in order to be successful, really should share the entire depth of his/her wisdom with their students, but, at the end of the day, when you run into masters of their craft that so willingly share their wisdom, it's very hard not to be incredibly impressed.
And I can't talk about the amazing Keste experience without giving a major shout out to Larry. Without his connection with Roberto, that would have been an entirely differently meal. Thank you, Larry.
As expected, Paulie was incredibly charming and endearing. What impresses most about Paulie isn't just his fanaticism with his own pizzeria, but his obsession with all pizzerias. I don't think anyone is a better ambassador for NY area pizza. Clueless tourists can watch Dom Demarco take 15 minutes to top a pizza all they want, but if anyone wants to meet a real NY pizza guy, make the trip to Greenpoint.
Just don't ask him about his fermentation time
As impressed as I was by Paulie the person, I was a tiny bit disappointed in the pizza. I know that he has a much larger place than Keste or Motorino, and this dictates the needs for different logistics, but liberally dusting an already formed skin with flour isn't a shortcut that I can stand behind. If Da Michele can make 1000 pizzas a day without having to go overboard with bench flour, Paulie can work out the logistics and not have to stack skins. The second nit was undercrust char. This is obviously a subjective area, but, as far as I was concerned, a couple of the pies were way past the pleasantly charred territory and just plain burnt. Don't get me wrong, it was still very good pizza, but it could have been better. I was expecting a 10 out of 10 and got 9.5.
As far as 10 out of 10 go... well, I mentioned having two transcendental experiences- these two pizzas were maybe 11s on a 10 point scale
The lardo pizza at Keste and the brussels sprouts pizza at Motorino.
It's pork fat, and, let's face it, pork fat does rule, so anyone can put lard on a pizza and it should be pretty wonderful, but the fact is, Roberto did it- and it was blissful. It took something great (pork fat), put it on the perfect canvas and brought it to an even higher level. Crispy, salty, simple, delicate. Heaven!
The Motorino dough was a bit less salty and, from what I could tell, a bit more tender than Keste. I appreciate a slightly less salty dough, so that was a plus. The brussels sprout and pancetta topping was absolutely stunning. Mathieu Palombino spent some time at a restaurant with one Michelin star, and, I have to admit, the artistry shows.
Like I said, I'm not shouting my love for Neapolitan pizza from the rooftops, but, thanks to these two pizzas, my perspective has changed. I can say one thing for certain, my days of baking primarily plain or pepperoni pies are drawing to a close.