Obicà

When I visited Italy many moons ago, I toured with a diverse group of people from the Union County area. We went all over the country—Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Capri—but what stands out to me the most is our visit to the Campania Region. We went to a mozzarella and ricotta factory there, where we sampled the creamiest and most flavorful mozzarella I’ve ever had.

obica housemade bread

housemade bread

With a new location in Flatiron, Obicà claims to source their mozzarella from Campania several times a week. Upon learning this, I rushed to make a reservation at the brand new restaurant in order to try their cheese as soon as possible. I regret to inform you that Obicà did not live up to my expectations one bit.

The place was packed on Friday night. I suppose that’s no surprise since the joint only opened the beginning of last week and they already have one location in the city that has received some acclaim. The dark interior was off-putting, but was made up for by all the restaurant personnel exclaiming “buona sera” as we entered. This restaurant must be authentic, I thought.

obica burrata salad

burrata salad

I was wrong. The only saving grace of Obicà is their bread, which is made in-house (and is, I’ll note here, free). The olive kind is forgettable, but the mild-flavored focaccia and the crusty, chewy Italian bread are winners in my book. Too bad the rest of the food, which is fairly expensive, paled in comparison.

We started with the burrata salad, which comes with beets, string beans and pine nuts. I definitely enjoyed the pine nuts, but the burrata itself left something to be desired. Plain and simple: It did not taste like anything. Good mozzarella (and burrata, for that matter) is slightly salty and creamy and should register as “divine” to your taste buds. This did not. Disappointment number one.

MDP got the lasagna, which was served partially cold, so I’m not even going to mention what it was like or what it came with. Massive fail. Disappointment number two.

obica pizza

pizza

I ordered the salsiccia e friarielli pizza. The crust was delicious. Obicà uses PETRA flour and lets the dough rise for 48 hours. I think this makes a difference. But the toppings were not very good. The sausage was not flavorful and the broccoli rabe (rapini, according to their “authentic” menu) didn’t have the same punch it usually has. Disappoinment number three.

We didn’t stick around to check out their dessert menu, since we figured we were already paying a boatload for a dinner neither one of us enjoyed. Why add to the disappointment? We paid and went across the street to Maison Kayser, which is decent but not a place I’d recommend either.

If you’re looking for excellent burrata, go to Palma. If you want fantastic pizza, go to Emporio.

Obicà

928 Broadway

Flatiron, New York

Take the N/R to 23rd Street and walk south a few blocks.

Emporio + Cake Boss Cafe

Last weekend, MDP and I went on a food tour of Nolita and Noho courtesy of MDP’s kind cousin Jan. The tour was extraordinary! We sampled Brooklyn blackout cupcakes and homemade ricotta on multigrain toast among other delightful treats on our three-hour culinary journey.

emporio prosciutto and arugola pizza

prosciutto and arugola pizza

One of the stops was Emporio, where we tried a beautiful slice of prosciutto and arugola Roman-style pizza. As I munched on the gigantic slice, extra virgin olive oil streamed down my sleeve–a delectable treat for later. I knew we would make our way back to Emporio some day. Who knew it would be a mere six days later?

Emporio is tucked away on Mott Street, down below Prince where high-end boutiques are the neighborhood norm. Emporio is nothing like it’s neighborhood would suggest, though. It isn’t boastful or cold, no. It exudes a warm, serene ambiance and a no-nonsense Italian menu that lingers on the palate for many delightful moments after the completion of the meal.

We ordered the kale salad for an appetizer, though we eyed the Fritto Misto and the burrata. Considering we were planning to have the prosciutto and arugola pizza, which is made with mozzarella, we decided against the burrata–though, it was, I must admit, a painful choice. The scrumptious kale salad was accompanied by delectable roasted squash and bits of pomegranate strewn throughout, and topped with rich slices of grana padano. It was a light, excellent way to begin our meal at Emporio.

For the main course, we split a special pasta course called I Casarecci made with eggplant, tomato and whole wheat, homemade pasta, and the prosciutto and arugola pizza. The pasta was divine! I highly recommend Emporio’s pasta, by way of the recommendation of our fantastic tour guide from last week. She raved about the homemade delicacies coming out of their pasta maker, and I second her support. The pizza was just incredible. Made with a not-quite-Neopolitan thin crust, the prosciutto and arugola pizza is a white pie (no sauce) cooked in a wood-fire oven where the convection of the heat is so strong, the pizza takes just four minutes to bake. Once the pizza is out of the oven, it is topped with handfuls of arugola, slices of prosciutto, cherry tomatoes and slices of grana padano. The result is one of the best pizzas I’ve had. Ever. I highly recommend Emporio’s pizza.

cake boss cafe treats

cake boss cafe treats

Instead of trying Emporio’s desserts (the Nutella calzone is the option to get for dessert, by the way), we went up to the newly minted Cake Boss Cafe up on 42nd and 8th, in the north wing of the inimitable Port Authority Bus Terminal. Cake Boss Cafe takes up a large chunk of the corner, and rightfully so. With good lighting and ample seating, it’s easy to make yourself at home at this Buddy Valastro establishment. Unlike Carlo’s Bakery, the line isn’t too overwhelming at Cake Boss Cafe. They have their signature cake in the form of beautifully decorated cupcakes, alongside cannolis, lobster tails, Napoleons, and other Italian treats (such as pignoli cookies which are, by far, my favorite cookies).

We ordered a lobster tail and an orange flower-topped cupcake. The lobster tail was divine! Think: a thick, crusty, flaky croissant filled with silky cream in the shape of a lobster tail. And the cupcake wasn’t bad either, although the sweet, soft bakery cake reminded me of Entenmann’s.

I’d recommend Cake Boss Cafe, especially if you’re getting on a bus to New Jersey (or somewhere else). But I can see it becoming a tourist trap, much like the sorry Five Guys outpost located on 42nd next to Chevy’s. What were they thinking?

Do try Emporio, at the very least!

Emporio

231 Mott Street

Nolita, New York

Take the N/R to Prince Street and walk east a few blocks.

Cake Boss Cafe

Corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue

Times Square, New York

Take the A/C/E to 42nd Street and exit near 8th Avenue.

High Heat

burger at high heat

burger

Celebrity chef Waldy Malouf has undertaken a few restaurant ventures in the past decade or so. He’s even written food books. Among the restaurants he’s opened is Waldy’s wood-fired pizzeria, located in the Flatiron district on 6th Avenue. Waldy’s is a hole-in-the-wall with some of the best thin-crust pizza I’ve ever had. I’m lucky enough to work right by there…or is that a curse? I can’t tell. Nonetheless, the wonder of Waldy’s generated certain expectations for High Heat, Malouf’s latest.

Going with the wood-fired oven feature, just as Waldy’s has, High Heat is found down in Greenwich Village, on Bleecker Street, among many bars and Qdobas. It has the same “order at the bar, find a seat” set-up as Waldy’s, which I can’t stand. I feel very insecure in places like this–like, I’m going to order and get all excited about the food, but then I won’t have anywhere to sit. But the food, if you can find a seat to eat it in, makes up for the poor arrangement.

I think our experience of High Heat was tinged by the presence of a bunch of drunken Santas roaming the streets and finding their way into High Heat, just to interrupt our dinner. But the food persevered!

margherita pizza at high heat

margherita pizza

We had a Groupon, which afforded us a hamburger, a pizza, two orders of fries and a carafe of white wine. High Heat serves all of its alcoholic beverages on tap (and the sodas have fountain spigots to pour from), which is a nice feature of the place–no bottles to recycle.

I ordered a cheddar burger and MDP ordered the margherita pizza. We got an order of garlic fries and an order of parmesan fries. And, of course, the carafe of wine was a nice addition to the meal.

All in all, the food was delicious. The pizza was crisp (though not as crisp as Waldy’s pies) with fresh ingredients such as sliced cherry tomatoes and basil sprinkled on top. The burger had a wonderful char on it which infused every bite. I put mayo and the tomato, lettuce and pickles that came with the burger on top. It was a delightful experience. The fries were amazing! So firm and crunchy and crispy were they! Featuring shaved parmesan on top, the parmesan fries were my favorite, while the garlic-inflected fries won over MDP.

fries at high heat

fries

Minus the drunken Santas, our (boozy) experience at High Heat was fantastic. I recommend trying it out, especially if you tend to favor pizza and burgers. High Heat will make it hard for you to choose which to order–but I recommend getting both!

High Heat

154 Bleecker Street (by Thompson Street)

Greenwich Village, New York

Take the 6 to Bleecker Street and walk west.

Nizza

nizza eggplant involtini

eggplant involtini

As you may know by now, I’m not a fan of Italian restaurants. But it’s only because there are so few good ones around New York–if you can believe it. Well, my friends, I’ve found a delicious Italian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s Nizza.

Cozy with swelling ambient lighting, Nizza has a small bar and about 15 tables around the restaurant. When we arrived, which was on the early side for a Friday night, we were told we had to wait 30 minutes for a table for two. MDP and I sat at the bar, sipping Maker’s Mark and a house white, respectively. The drinks weren’t exorbitantly priced, as they were last weekend at Blue Smoke, and my wine was very good.

The couple sitting next to us–the male half had a staring problem–at the bar was ahead of us on the seating list, but declined their table, and opened up the opportunity for MDP and I to sit down, about 15 minutes ahead of time.

We were seated at a busy intersection, near the bathroom, but we were comfortable. For an appetizer, we ordered the eggplant involtini, which was eggplant stuffed with ricotta and then topped with a light marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Rolled into little loaves, the eggplant was mild and soft, and the gooey mozzarella cheese was amply spread across the three eggplant loaves. The dish was delicious, and I’m very glad we ordered it.

nizza chicken milanese

chicken milanese

For his entree, MDP opted for the the picante pizza, which featured hot peppers, smoked mozzarella and spicy sausage. The crust was slightly more bloated than your typical thin-crust pizza, but it was delicious.

I ordered the chicken milanese, which came with a caprese salad on top of a large breast of crisp, thin chicken. I had tried this dish at Nizza on another occasion, and I liked it as much this time around as I did last time.

For dessert, we got the tortoni, which is, according to the menu, Italian frozen custard with crumbled biscotti and rhubarb composta, but the composta tasted of strawberry, not rhubarb. I also tried the cappuccino, while MDP got an espresso. Like the other two courses, dessert was fantastic.

I highly recommend Nizza, especially if you’re in the Hell’s Kitchen area and have some time to kill before a theatre engagement. Oh, and Nizza has a gluten-free menu, so you and your GF friends can enjoy it!

Nizza

630 9th Avenue, between 44th and 45th streets

Hell’s Kitchen, New York

Take the A/C/E to 42nd Street and walk east one avenue and north about two blocks. 

Sage General Store, Long Island City

With its cutesy decor and dishtowel napkins, Sage General Store is definitely aspiring to be something–perhaps a country general store, as their website claims. It isn’t clear. What’s evident, however, is that their food and service are aspiring to be something and falling just short of making it.

sage general store ranchero burrito

ranchero burrito

We started our brunch with some coffee, sweet tea, and cheddar biscuits. The coffee tasted bitter and required extra sugar. The sweet tea was okay–no complaints there. We accidentally ordered two cheddar biscuits. This turned out to be an accident because the biscuits arrived in the size of a baby’s head, with some butter on the side. We ate our way through one, wishing it was warmed by their brick oven that is obviously dedicated to pizzas-only, and took the other home. The biscuits had a crisp, crusty exterior and warm, cheesy interior. There was definitely a kick of cheddar in them.

For my entree, I ordered the Ranchero burrito, filled with organic eggs, caramelized onions, ham, tomato, and cheddar. The potatoes on the side came out cold and lacked flavor. The burrito tasted fine–perhaps too ham-heavy for my taste–but needed something to distinguish itself as a burrito, said my dining partner. Hidden Valley Ranch, of course, would have been the ideal condiment to accompany my lacking burrito. HVR! HVR! HVR! Too bad there wasn’t a Hidden Valley Ranch party in my mouth.

Sage General Store Wisconsin Pizza

wisconsin pizza

Sage General Store offers a bevy of pizzas as part of their brunch menu. My dining partner ordered the Wisconsin pizza, which was topped with Neuske’s bacon, caramelized onions, ricotta, and creme fraiche. To my surprise, the pizza was excellent. The crust was on the thin side and golden brown. The ricotta-creme fraiche combo definitely delighted the senses. It was delicious.

A word about the service: My burrito came out at least five minutes sooner than the pizza did. I noticed this trend at every other table in Sage General Store. As my dining partner said, “They just bring things out here”–without any order or synchronicity. I didn’t like this, and don’t think you would either.

Overall, Sage General Store is an okay brunch spot, but definitely do not go out of your way to get there. If you happen to be at MoMA PS1, you might try Sage afterward. Otherwise, stick to your trusted Manhattan reliables.

Sage General Store

24-20 Jackson Avenue

Long Island City, Queens

Take the 7 train to Court Square and walk a few blocks. 

Keste::West Village, Manhattan

salsiccia pizza

KESTÈ PIZZE E VINO

So I guess Monday nights are pizza nights.

That’s the impression I got from Keste anyway. The narrow Bleecker Street restaurant was packed to the gills and hot as hell. You’d think there was a wood-burning oven in there.

New York Magazine swears that Keste beats any Neopolitan pie outside of Naples. I’m not so sure. I really wanted to go to Una Pizza Napoletana, but the eccentric/amply tattooed pizza man, Anthony Mangieri, tells me they’ve closed their location. His hands needed a vacation methinks.

So Goody Bathtub and I chose Keste.

It’s a Love Story

The Italian-speaking host charmed and confused GB and I as he corralled us into a table for two. Handed us our menus and put a carafe of water on the table. Minutes after we ordered, our Salsiccia pizze arrived ($15 apiece). Swift service, perfect. I was impressed.

Everyone around us looked happy about their food–arugula salads with thick shavings of parmigiano reggiano, and mmm, who doesn’t love a caprese platter? It may have been the Neopolitan gentleman eliciting their smiles though. Who can tell?

Ah, what light and thin crust on Keste pies! San Marzano tomatoes = wow. And what beautiful mozzarella! The ingredients–key to creating any fine cuisine–are fresh to taste and easily leave any self-proclaimed “Best in New York” pizzeria in the dust.

Another Menu to Burn

If I return to Keste, I will try a different pie. Yes, the sausage was fine, but its flavor didn’t blend with the delicious fresh mozzarella and acid-y tomato sauce. Two tables over I noticed a pizza with long slices of prosciutto and arugala (Prosciutto e Arugola, $16). That may be the way to go next time.

The chewy, burnt crust satisfied at times, but I found it excessively doughy halfway through. I prefer a crisper crust. You may not.

kesteplateAs you can see, I was able to finish the pie. More notable is the adorable plate Keste serves their pizze on. Check out the cute pizzaiolo tossing his pizza around. Note: The pizzaioli at Keste don’t wear white hats or coats, or have ghostly pale skin tone. (Casper may have Monday’s off.)

Keste cuts the pie into four quadrants. According to New York, I am supposed to know how to fold and eat the pizza using my hands instead of a fork and knife. Well, I couldn’t shape it into the triangle they depict in the magazine, but I did my best. It’s possible that my incorrect approach hindered my ability to fully appreciate the flavor of Keste.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Keste’s got a lot to offer–mostly in the form of extreme heat and market-fresh ingredients. Avoid a heavy topping like sausage and opt for the Regina Margherita to fully experience the flavor explosion of fresh mozzarella, crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and nearly-transparent crust. Next time I’ll try the caprese plate and a different pizza–and wine.

Keste
271 Bleecker St. (Near Morton St.)
New York, NY
1 train to Christopher St.; ABCDFV to West 4th

PS You’ll see a lot of these on your way to Keste. Beware.