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Keste Pizza & Vino: What You Can Expect

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If everything goes according to plan, say the partners at Kesté Pizza & Vino, the pizzeria will open Sunday, March 29. Slice got a sneak peak. Sure, you've seen the oven (here and here), but we've got photos of the pizza you might expect there, after the jump.

Meet Roberto Caporuscio

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Kesté Pizza & Vino

271 Bleecker Street, New York NY 10014 (b/n Jones and Cornelia streets; map); 212-243-1500; kestepizzeria.com
Getting There: 1 train to Christopher Street-Sheridan Square; A/B/C/D/E/F/V to West 4th Street
Pizza Style: Neapolitan-style pizza made by renown pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio
Oven Type: Custom-built wood-fired oven
Price: $9 to $19 for pizza
Notes: Kesté does not take reservations

One of the partners at Kesté is Roberto Caporuscio (above). If you're not a pizza geek, his name may not be familiar. Let's get to know him.

Caporuscio, a former farmer and onetime mozzarella-maker, trained in Naples at the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana pizza school and under Antonio Starita at Starita a Materdei, which came to fame among locals there after it appeared in the 1954 Sophia Loren film L'Oro di Napoli. Caporuscio is the U.S. delegate for the Associazone Pizzaiuoli Napoletani, an organization that seeks to preserve Neapolitan pizza-making traditions and pass them down to a new generation.

Prior to Kesté, Caporuscio was the founding pizzaiolo of A Mano in Ridgewood, New Jersey, which he came to in 2007 after opening and running two restaurants in Pittsburgh—Regina Margherita and Roberto's.

Caporuscio has also consulted on a number of Neapolitan-style pizzerias in the U.S., including places in Colorado, St. Louis, and New Jersey.

The Pizza

One of the dangers of getting sneak peeks is that the pizzaiolo is not under the pressure of a packed dining room and multiple pizza orders. Therefore he has all his wits about him for trial pies. Below is an impression of what you might expect at Kesté. Once open to the public, your mileage may vary.

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As you'd expect from a Neapolitan, Caporuscio sources all the crucial ingredients from Italy, from the flour to the tomatoes (San Marzano, of course) to the buffalo mozzarella, which is flash-frozen in Campagna before shipping to New York. (Kesté thaws it overnight in a cold-water bath. In its raw form, there's a noticeable loss of texture, of course, but when it's melted on a pie, it's fine, fine cheese. Incidentally, Caporuscio says the mozz that will go into his Caprese salads will come from one of the neighborhood latticini.)

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Yes, the oven you've seen all over the place is of Neapolitan provenance. The stones (oven floor is volcanic stone), tiles, and builders all came over from Italy to get the job done. Caporuscio keeps it going around 1,000 degrees and was constantly adding wood to the fire while we talked. The pizzas cook in about a minute. Turn your back, and the thing's done, as I learned while fiddling with my camera—subsequently missing a shot of the first pie Caporuscio made.

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That was fine, because he quickly moved on to making a second Margherita. The prep station here is at the back of the restaurant. The Kesté space is long and narrow, with about 20 two-person tables in the dining area, followed by the prep station; behind it is the oven.

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Caporuscio stretches the dough a bit on the marble work surface before moving it to the peel, where he stretches it some more.

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The pies are almost in and then right back out. Because of the ultra-fast cook time, Caporuscio seems to work the pizzas a lot more than many of the pizzaioli I've seen, moving it about the oven, rotating it, grabbing it with the peel and holding it off the oven floor and near the flame.

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Cheese lovers may be disappointed. The buffalo mozzarella is applied sparingly.

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The crust was expertly cooked, and the cornicione was tall and puffy. A look at its cross section shows the airy hole structure—and no evidence of undercooking.

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And there's the money shot: The Kesté upskirt.

In all, the crust is typically Neapolitan, which is to say that if you're a fan of firm, crisp crusts, you may be disappointed. The cornicione is crisp and bready, while the middle of the pie is wetter and exhibits significant tip sag. Again, that's basically the Neapolitan way, so you can't judge it by New York-pizza standards.

The crust-sauce-cheese balance was good, though you may have to eat strategically if you want to get bites of all three at once. I found myself accidentally snagging a whole chunk of mozzarella, leaving the rest of my slice barren but for sauce.

The San Marzano sauce is bright and fresh-tasting and naturally a bit sweet, balanced out by just the right amount of sea salt. Speaking of salt, the crust had enough of it that it was flavorful enough on its own once it came down to the puffy lip of the pie. (I've found that a number of pizzerias fail this crucial test; Kesté did not.)

There are about 18 pizzas on the menu, ranging from the traditional (marinara, Margherita, and fuhghi pies) to more ambitious creations (lardo, pecorino Romano, and basil; Italian broccoli rabe, sausage, and smoked mozzarella; prosciutto di Parma, arugula, and grand cru cheese).

Appetizers

I usually don't delve into appetizers on Slice, but there were a number of interesting ones at Kesté.

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I watched as Caporuscio made what he said was a very traditional Neapolitan appetizer, a rosette vegetariane ($6). It was interesting to see this item prepared, and it shed a bit of light on the origins of those pepperoni pinwheels you often see in typical New York slice joints. The rosette here is fill with mixed vegetables, no cheese, so it should be vegan-friendly (but don't hold me to that).

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I sampled several of the battilocchio del giorno ($6), which were long, rectangular pieces of pizza dough topped with various ingredients. The one above was addictively good, with a sweet cherry tomato paste and buffalo mozzarella. There was also a nice olive-pesto version that omitted cheese.

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