Kesté Pizza & Vino
271 Bleecker Street, New York NY 10014 (near Cornelia; map); 212-243-1500; kestepizzeria.com
Getting there: 1/2 to Christopher-Sheridan; A/B/C/D/E/F/M to West 4th
Pizza style: Neapolitan
Oven type: Wood-fired
The skinny: Where some Neapolitan places seem to check off a list of physical attributes and ingredients and call it a day, Kesté goes beyond and enters the realm of truly craveable pizza. The Vesuvio is usually available on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and should be tried
Price: Vesuvio, $24; calzone, $16
We've featured Kesté Pizza & Vino a number of times here on the site, in how-to videos and history and Italian lessons, etc., but it's been a while since we actually, you know, sat down and ate the pizza there.
To that end, I'd been wanting to try a couple different things here: a weekly special called The Vesuvio (buffalo mozzarella, stracciatella, prosciutto di Parma, cherry tomatoes, and basil) and the "Ripieno," a calzone stuffed with ricotta, fresh mozzarella, salame, and just a smidge of tomato sauce.
The Vesuvio isn't on the menu. You'll have to ask for it. And it's usually available on only Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. It's a bit steep at $24 and I don't know if I'd get this every week, but with its creamy, buttery stracciatella (it's hard to overstate the deliciousness of this cheese), it's worth a splurge every now and then.
And for you folks who complain about the miserly nature of cheese distro on Neapolitan pies (I'm looking at you, seriousb), well, you can take that whining and stuff your pie hole with this one. Almost every bite but the cornicione (the rim of the pizza) is covered with buffalo mozzarella and stracciatella, with halved cherry tomatoes hidden below — little snaps of tartness that serve as the red element on this pizza (there's no sauce otherwise).
Oh, I'm sure you noticed the prosciutto di Parma here. Yeah, that's a nice touch, right? It lends the saltiness needed to offset all that creamy cheese below. And this is a note to sloppy pizzerias that don't know how to use a slicer. Look at that prosciutto. That's how you do it. It's sliced so thin you can see through it, making it easy to cut through (this is knife-and-fork pizza) or take a bite without the whole sliver of cured meat coming off in one swipe.
It's a rich pizza. Too much for one person. I'd imagine* it'd be good for a date.
You know that Slice is almost always 100 percent on message and that that message is PIZZA. But I guess we've had a bug on lately for calzones (see these recent Pizzatown USA, Nick's, Donatella, and Gnocco posts — and this poll). The "Ripieno" ($16) at Kesté stands out. Like the calzone at Donatella, Kesté not only stuffs the interior but tops the exterior as well — here with a thin layer of sauce painted on and a dusting of Parm.
As you can see, the Ripieno arrives cut into thirds and is fairly neat and clean as calzones go. The interior is not overstuffed, does not ooze ricotta or liquid that would otherwise bathe the crust and sog it out. But you get plenty of creamy fresh mozzarella and a generous helping of salty, funky salame.
Neapolitan purists will probably jump on me for saying this, but what I liked most about this calzone was the center piece. Look at that thing. By all appearances, it's a slice that almost plays out as some sort of high-end stuffed-pizza concoction the Hut would come up with but would never execute on in such a delicious or proper manner. In fact, it kind of reminds me of Frizzaldo's "big slice from small pie" method of cutting pizza.
While these are a couple of the more high-end or out-of-the-way offerings at Kesté, I feel I should note that they've got the fundamentals down here, so even a simple Margherita is a treat. The crust is flavorful both in and of itself and with the added smokiness of the oven and the charred bits. It's mostly chewy (in a good way) but has just enough crispness. I'm usually not a huge Neapolitan-pizza fan, but Kesté's pizzas have that added bit of artistry and flavor that take them beyond just the rote checklist of physical attributes and into the realm of the truly craveable.
* Sometimes I have to imagine these things, since Girl Slice often rolls her eyes at my pizza expeditions and declines to participate.