At his friend Maurizio DeRosa's urging, Celeste chef Giancarlo Quadalti set out to make authentic Neapolitan pizza in the gorgeous wood-burning oven installed in the corner of his restaurant. A year later, DeRosa concluded that New Yorkers didn't want the real thing. "It was too wet for people. People would take napkins and blot the pizza to absorb moisture. We were devastated. We would look and suffer in silence."
But after an appropriate mourning period, Quadalti made the necessary adjustments. Now Quadalti drains the tomatoes just the way many American pizzaioli do. As a result, Celeste's pizza is probably not authentically Neapolitan, but it is quite delicious and Italian in conception. That means they use double-zero Italian flour, imported canned tomatoes (drained), and excellent cow's-milk mozzarella, imported from Maspeth, Queens. The crust is a little crisper than any I found in Naples, but trust me, Giancarlo, that's the way we like it. I usually have either the Margherita or a marinara (made with tomato sauce and anchovies here), but sometimes I get crazy and order the one with prosciutto and arugula. It doesn't matter what pizza you eat at Celeste. They're all delicious. After devouring your pie, it is imperative that you have gelato for dessert at Celeste. They're all made by the mad-genius gelato maker, Gino Cammarata, from the tragically shuttered restaurant Bussola. If you're with a group, have the "porcini mushroom" ice cream, made with hazelnut ice cream and chocolate sauce in the shape of, yes, a porcini mushroom.
Location: 502 Amsterdam Ave. (84th/85th), New York NY
Ed's Rating: 3 pies (out of a possible 4)
Ed Levine is a regular contributor to the New York Times Dining section and is author of New York Eats and New York Eats More. He also maintains a blog: Ed Levine Eats. This entry is an excerpt from his book Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, published on Slice through special arrangement.