From bloomberg.com (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601093&sid=arghXXsJVcrg&refer=home#
Bronx's 089, Best New U.S. Pizzeria, Wows With Old School Pies
Review by John Mariani
Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Zero Otto Nove (089) is the area code for Salerno, Italy, the seaside town from which chef- restaurateur Roberto Paciullo, 53, emigrated in 1970. It's also the name of the best pizzeria to open in the U.S. in years, located in the Belmont section of the Bronx, where Dion and the Belmonts originated and Chazz Palminteri wrote the play ``A Bronx Tale.''
The usual trajectory for Italian immigrant cooks has been to open a pizzeria first and then, after making a success of it, to open a real ristorante.
Paciullo reversed that process: Ten years ago he opened Roberto's, one of the most popular Italian restaurants in New York, drawing a crowd that includes everyone from Joe Torre and Marisa Tomei to Mike Wallace, Uma Thurman and Jerry Springer. Getting a table at Roberto's is far from easy, especially since they don't always pick up the phone. Two-hour waits for a table are common.
Now Paciullo has opened Zero Otto Nove around the corner, making great pizza and expanding the idea with impressively personalized, rustic Italian trattoria food. Paciullo became a local hero when he took over and demolished a much-despised McDonald's here. His new pizzeria, two stories tall, features almost surreal murals that evoke the narrow streets and alleyways of Salerno, where he grew up as one of 11 children.
``My father would come home at 1 o'clock and we'd all eat together, and he'd say to my mother, `Everything was good today. What we gonna eat tomorrow?'''
There is a big, open, wood-burning pizza oven, which Paciullo had crafted and brought over from Italy along with Ricardo, a good-looking young pizzaiolo from Salerno, who between making pizzas sits down and schmoozes with the prettiest girls in the room.
The menu is a one-page broadside, listing 13 different pizzas, each based on a superlative crust and adhering to the principles set down with all due seriousness by the Naples-based Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which dictates the precise ingredients that may go into the dough, the temperature of the brick oven (750-800 degrees Fahrenheit) and the not-too-thin, not-too-thick crust and rim, called the ``cornicione.''
Zero Otto Nove's pizzas are not those trendy, matzo-thin things made in Manhattan or those puffed-up abominations you find in Chicago. Instead, balance, crispness, puffiness and texture are quintessential to the pizzas' integrity, whether in the traditional Margherita, with mozzarella, tomato, and basil; ``La Roccardo,'' made with butternut squash puree, smoked mozzarella, pancetta ham and basil; or ``Bianca Cotto e Panna,'' with mozzarella, bechamel sauce and Italian ham.
Yet pizzas are only the beginning at Zero Otto Nove. The menu goes on to list nine antipasti, including fabulous baby octopus, cooked till tender in tomato sauce; five salads; three soups; and seven very unusual, very lusty pastas, including a pasta e fagioli azzeccata, made by baking pasta, cannellini beans and prosciutto till it turns from a soup to a pasta dish.
Fusilli con cecchi is a generous bowl of pasta with chickpeas, crispy pancetta, toasted breadcrumbs and sharp pecorino cheese, while al dente linguine comes in a silky, briny black sauce teeming with calamari and cuttlefish.
Then you get to the main courses, which are every bit as rich, including the best stewed rabbit in tomato and rosemary sauce I've had in New York, and baccala (salted cod) baked with tomato and served with fried potatoes.
On the other side of the menu is a wine list of more than 100 selections, most well under $50. It's a list that perfectly matches the food here -- a hearty 2005 Drepanum Nero d'Avola ($32), the bold 2005 Due Palme Primitivo Le Sciare ($22), a delightful 2005 De Conciliis Donna Luna Aglianico ($45) and the same label's beautifully structured 2004 Naima ($110) -- named for a John Coltrane song. There is also the slightly sweet, slightly fizzy, red Cantine Federiciane Gragnano ($29), which Paciullo says is what his friends in Salerno drink with pizza.
Paciullo is just as committed to his desserts, which include a pizza alla Nutella (baked pizza dough lavished with a thick chocolate-hazelnut paste); crisp, creamy homemade cannoli; and a torta della nonna (``grandma's tart'') with almond cream and pinenuts.
There are other excellent pizzas to be found nearby (Mario's, across the street, perfected theirs soon after opening in 1919). Otto Zero Nove adds to the mix of a neighborhood that is New York's real, functioning ``Little Italy,'' unlike the hustle-the-tourist area by that name north of Chinatown. I very much doubt it has ever occurred to Paciullo to serve Italian- American tourist food. His father would probably clobber him.
Otto Zero Nove, 2357 Arthur Ave., Bronx, New York; +1-718- 220-1027.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? Pizzas run $11-$15, pastas $14-$23 and main courses $16-$25.
Sound level? When packed, the noise bounces off the high ceiling; otherwise you can have a civilized conversation easily.
Date place? Absolutely.
Inside tip? Start with a Campari and soda at the handsome bar up front and watch a little Italian soccer.
Special feature? A roving chef-owner who really cares what you think about his food.
Private room? Not closed off, but the upstairs mezzanine functions for parties.
Will I be back? In a New York minute.
(John Mariani writes on wine and food for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)