First Look: Buca Brick Oven Pizza, Morningside Heights

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[Photograph: Adam Kuban]

Buca, a small new wood-oven Neapolitan-style pizzeria in Morningside Heights, has gotten a little bit of play on these pages. Longtime serious eater Simon wrote in about it and gave us some early intel here.

Owned by Sebastiano Cappitta, who recently opened nearby Bettolona, Buca is a tiny space on a quiet block, with six tables — seven if you count the one on the sidewalk — perhaps fitting for a place whose name means hole in Italian. It's small but doesn't feel cramped.

Attilio Reale is the pizzaiolo here, manning a fire-breathing oven akin to the one you may have seen at Roberta's.

I tried the Margherita ($9) and the Quattro Formaggi e Salamino (four cheese and hot soppressata; $11).

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When the Margherita hit the table, I was a little wary. I try not to judge a pizza by its looks, but, hey, you eat first with your eyes, and this pizza looked too much like many of the soulless Neapolitan Margheritas I've had in the past.

But, hey, it's pretty good. I'm not going to say spectacular, but good. The sauce was made from bright, fresh-tasting tomatoes with a great blend of sweetness and acidity, and the cheese was very good — creamy, soft, stretchy. For a Neapolitan pizza, it was very generous with both of these elements.

The crust is where I was a little let down. It could use a little more flavor. It wasn't completely bland, but there was a certain depth missing. Texturewise, it's not as pillowy soft as some Neapolitan pizzas in the city and is noticeably more crisp. It is not the soupy "wet" pizza you may have come to know from that style. But neither was it "shatteringly, audibly crisp" as Simon said.

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I was beginning to wonder if Simon or Buca was off when I had the Quattro Formaggi e Salamino, a white pie with four cheeses and spicy soppressata. Here, the crust was so wildly different from the Margherita that I had to wonder if it came from the same batch of dough or same oven.

This pizza was exactly as Simon described his experience. "Shatteringly crisp," indeed. No tip sag whatsoever. It was almost like eating a crisp bar-style pizza crust. It was very un-Neapolitan but not altogether unpleasant.

Still, it gives me pause that the crust would vary so much from one pizza to the next in so short a time. (I ordered both these pies one after the other.) I'm not sure what to expect from Buca next time I go.

And there will be a next time. The place has only been open a couple weeks and though it could use some work, the pizza shows promise. It's one of the only wood-oven places like this in the neighborhood; I hope it gets its sea legs and starts putting out some truly remarkable pies.

Buca Brick Oven Pizza

201 103rd Street, New York NY 10025 (Broadway/Amsterdam; map)

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