Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pizza Quest: Queens

Nick's in Forest Hills –
Eric and I ordered a half plain/half pepperoni (fresh mozzarella). While a huge step above Angelo's (very fresh mozzarella, nice, bright tomato sauce, fresh basil), the crust wasn't quite there. Though charred and blistered, it wasn't crispy enough (from hell's heart, I stab at thee, zoning restrictions on coal ovens!), and, frankly, there was too much of it (toppings ended way too close to the center of the pie...I like crust and all, but c'mon). Happiness: Cheap beer. Split decision on: The pepperoni. It was too damn thick for me, and reminded me of the pepperoni "chunks" one finds on a frozen pizza. Eric didn't mind it, but, then again, he's an ignorant savage.

Thirty-One in Astoria –
Pizza: **
Other Pizza-like thing: ***

I was afraid I'd tricked everyone (including myself) into a crazy, two-hour subway ride into some desolate warehouse district in Queens, but it was only half hour to a commercial area in Astoria (Hooray for geography!). I'd been expecting something along the lines of a cliched trattoria (murals, miniature replicas of Michelangelo's "David," Venetian plaster, etc.), but instead we were confronted with something that looked like, umm, Pax ("But I don't want to 'Make my own salad.'"). After a minute of confusion, we were led to the back of the restaurant - a sparsely decorated dining room with wine bottles and photographs on display and no murals (It did have a killer soundtrack - including a Spanish language version of the Laura Branigan number "Gloria"). We wound up eating four pies among us (even the large pies were fairly small). Two were "regular" pizza. Meaning: crust, sauce, cheese, toppings (in that order), and were good, but not exceptional (we had one Margherita and one with sausage, peppers, and onions). The sauce on both pies was an excellent "plain" sauce (barely cooked, crushed tomatoes), the cheese was a pretty good fresh mozzarella. The Margherita came with plenty of fresh basil and a crust that, while tasty, didn't really stand up to the toppings (knives and forks made an appearance). The "busy" pie's crust, weirdly, held up much better. There was a split decision on the sausage (I liked the fact that it was somewhat plain, with a nice pork flavor; Jorge was unimpressed).

The other two pies caused some debate. Though listed as "Foccacia," they were not the greasy, doughy type I think of, but something closer to a split and stuffed Roman-style pizza bianca. The first one we had was this airy, crispy crust stuffed with robiola cheese and drizzled with truffle oil (we badgered our waiter to give us something to compare robiola to when we ordered, but he would not. The closest analog is cream cheese - but not as dense, gummy, or overpowering). It was delicious, rich and oozing with cheese. The second one added prosciutto and arugula. Also delicious, though Matt said the cheese and truffle oil were so strong that it overpowered the additions; I disagreed. And now the debate: Does this count as pizza (someone derisively threw out the word "quesadilla")? It was round, flat, it was bread, it had Italian ingredients in it (but not on it) My feeling: If Chicago counts, so does this...but it doesn't count as "New York Pizza."

Random things: 1 - While the menu says "wood-burning" the prominently located oven is clearly gas. The good news is that it appears to be ceramic and the temperature display said it was over 650 degrees inside. This is a good hundred degrees hotter than a standard pizza oven (and a good hundred or two hundred degrees cooler than a coal-fired one). 2 - The pizzas on display in the front are Roman-style, meaning, long oval pies sold by the inch...the pies we got when we sat down was your standard round ones. 3 - On the subway, the PR guy for the restaurant heard us discussing the place, and gave us business cards on which he scribbled his initials. He claims we'll be able to get free wine with them if we go back (digression: the wine selection was small, but very reasonably priced). While I'd like free wine, I'd kind of prefer that he was just a crazy person who stole a bunch of business cards from the restaurant. We'll see.

Update: Thirty-one was gutted by a fire shortly after we ate there, which is terrible. I include the review, because (apparently) the same food can be had at Da Ciro in Manhattan.

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