In this solo dining adventure, Kate and BF have dinner at a very busy Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria.
Note: This visit took place back in April.
I’ve been on a pizza kick lately. I’ve enjoyed pies twice at Motorino and once at Keste this month alone. I ate my face off at Co. several months ago have wanted to go back ever since. Of course that’s not even counting my standard guilty little stops at Joe’s of Bleeker Street on my way home from work. Eating pizza I’ve come to realize, is much like doing yoga, checking Facebook, and drinking coffee– the more you do it, the more you crave it. So although it wasn’t my intention, I somehow ended up at Pulino’s last Saturday night.
It was a strange Saturday where BF and I were actually up early, putting us in the odd position of being hungry for dinner at the ungodly early hour of 7 P.M.– earlybird special time by New York city standards! As we walked around lower Manhattan and tossed around ideas of where to have dinner, Pulino’s came to mind. I knew Gary had recently been for brunch and liked it. BF and I were meeting friends nearby after, and I have been curious to try the latest from Keith McNally, so why not? Something also told me that the early hour would work in our favor in regards to getting a table.
We put our name in at 7:20 and were told it was a half hour wait by the two guys tag-teaming the door. As the bar is small and in the middle of the frenetic space, not everyone who is waiting for a table will fit. After a glance from the door guy to the manager, and the manager to the bar, we were given the okay to head over. A triumph already!
We stood at the bar and observed the space as we awkwardly hovered over the seated bar patrons, saying “excuse me” as we reached for our ($8 a pint but delicious) beers and ducking servers as they came busting out of the kitchen with amazing-smelling pies. The beautiful, McNally-esque (slightly french bistro, very Manhattan) space manages to feel casual. Perhaps due to the staff in T-shirts, the tightly packed tables, the lighting which is not bright exactly but not dim or sexy either. BF thought the walls lined with liquor bottles were an attractive and cool touch, in keeping with the slightly special vibe of the scene.
And scene it was! Even early in the evening this was definitely the hot place of the moment. Hip people stopping in for dinner before a night on the town made up 95% of the crowd. Pretty ladies dressed up, couples on dates, big groups of people who seemed like the kind who magically know where the place to be is and get there.
We were seated slightly less than thirty minutes after putting our name in by the good-natured door guy, greeted very soon thereafter by our good-humored server, from whom we ordered a couple of glasses of white wine.
Perusing the menu I was pleased to find very seasonal sounding options for starters and salads. I couldn’t resist the Roasted Asparagus with ramps, rhubarb, and black pepper marscapone salad. It was great. Full flavored and textured and went well with the Italian Soave (for a reasonable $9 a glass). Promising start.
We debated getting some bruschetta which we saw coming out all around us. Grilled pieces of bread accompanied with a bowl of topping to slather on yourself (the baked ricotta at the neighboring table looked awesome), but wanted to save room for pizza. In retrospect, I wish we had gotten another salad or some of the gorgeous looking bruscetta, and split a pizza, rather than each order one.
I got the Margherita and BF got the Acciughe with anchovies, tomato, mozzarella, capers, garlic & basil. Both pies were similar looking, cut in square pieces rather than the triangles that i’m used to, with the anchovy one having little specks of the salty fish strewn about it.
We tucked in and soon had a consensus: BF enjoyed the substantialness and flavor of the sauce. I liked the lightness of the pie. But overall we were both underwhelmed. Of course this is a different style than the Neapolitan I’ve been ingesting lately. In contrast to the thin middle that spreads out to a light chewy cloud of crust like Motorino, or the all over thick and decadently chewy case of Keste, this was thin, light, slightly crunchy and . . . not all that interesting. It was fine, tasty even, and we certainly didn’t have any trouble cleaning our plates, but we did not do so with the joy and rapture that Motorino (and to a lesser extent, Keste) engendered.
Mildly disappointing pizza aside, it was Saturday night and we were having dinner at one of the hippest places downtown. It was impossible not to be in a jovial mood. As we finished our pizza and worked on our second (or was it our third . . .?) round of drinks and were well into our happy buzz, we looked up at the door. Unlike the simply bustling vibe of earlier in the night, the entryway was now a full-blown madhouse. The door was packed with people wanting in. The two door guys seemed to be holding back a stampede, as the crowd who wanted a taste of Nate Appleman stared in anxiously. Content, full, and a bit smug, I lifted my iPhone to snap a pic of the throng. Of course, any other night, that would have been me in the crowd, having been told it’s an hour and a half wait for a table, that there is no room at the bar, and craning my neck to see how fast the tables were turning and wondering if I could make it til 10:45 to eat.
From our privileged place at a precious cramped table, we counted our blessings that we had been hungry early and in the right place at the right time, avoiding what must have been for the rubberneckers at the door at least an hour long wait. Still, don’t let that stop you from going, the food comes out quickly, the service is wonderfully fast and efficient, and the tables seem to turn with alacrity. If you know what you’re getting, then you will go with a sense of humor and enjoyment. This place is not only a fun scene, but only a few months from being opened, it runs with the efficiency of a well oiled machine.
There’s a quote I heard once about pizza years ago that has stayed with me: Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad, it’s still kinda good. Pulino’s certainly wasn’t bad by any means, I guess just not my type. Maybe it would have been, had we met earlier.
The deal here is that Nate Appleman (the chef, a transplant from San Francisco lured to New York by Mr. McNally) is a meat guy. He grinds his own meat and cures his own prosciutto (Oh how I miss prosciutto. Sigh.) in-house. So it makes sense that the emphasis would be on the pizza toppings here, rather than the crust. Several of the sausage topped pies that wafted by us as we were standing at the bar got our attention and envy. Still, with so many lovely vegetarian salads and bruschettas it is a shame that he doesn’t extend such creative vegetarian toppings to the pizzas. But I shouldn’t complain– at least there are several attractive and enticing veg sides, salads and bruscettas, a nice surprise. There was a roasted beet salad with pickled fennel and a beautiful, generous, glob of fresh mozzarella that kept coming out to tables around us and much like an Avett Brothers song, I still can’t seem to get it out of my head. Now that I’ve been once and know the drill, I may just have to go back and order more heavily from the rest of the menu and perhaps split a pizza, or even skip it altogether in favor of the lovely seasonal sides, starters and salads.