Kesté Pizza & Vino | 271 Bleecker St. (Bet. Jones & Cornelia), Manhattan | 212.243.1500 |

FIRST THINGS FIRST; there is absolutely no way that I am going to eat pizza every day of this week! Not even close! That's why the title of this post ends "Part 1" and not "Day 1". Regardless of the quality, it would be impossible to enjoy these pies and/or slices by the second day; I'd be running the risk of hating pizza altogether by Friday.

Especially since many of the places I would go don't serve by the slice. I'd be ordering whole pies—usually alone since I prefer to take my PHUDE pictures during sunlight hours when most of my (working) friends are working—and bringing home boxes of leftover 'za.

But I do vow to become more "Pizza Aware", that is, to become more informed and knowledgeable about the decent pizzerias in NYC, traditioanl standbys and revisionist newcomers alike. (Maybe I should start a Facebook movement and have my FB friends update their statuses with their favorite pizza places!)

And if I'm going to have a food-related blog and claim to do so to better inform my friends and readers who trust and value my opinion, I was going to have to go out in the field and do my homework.

So I chose this National Pizza Week as a time to explore the popular, mostly new, pizza options that have been nejoying a lot of ink and word-of-mouth over the last couple of years. Most of them places I had yet to explore.

One of those places is called Veloce Pizza, which I was excited to try since it was (A), in my new favorite foodie neighborhood, the Lower East Side, and (B), because it was co-opened by the woman behind the extraordinary pork at Porchetta (also on the LES).

Camera in tow, I hop the 5 express downtown from 86th, transferring at 14th, and hopping out at Astor Place, taking photos, of course, all the while.

Passing by the Astor Place Cube, camera in hand, I clicked away as I made my way east to 1st Avenue and 6th Street, where I found Veloce Pizza.

Walking in I was shocked by how dark and empty it was. There were two guys who were looking at me weird, so I asked, "Are you guys open?"

"We don't open til, like 6-ish...?", the dude at the far end said, using that common inflection that makes sentences sound like questions. I turned around and walked out, thinking to myself that Veloce is deceitful in calling themselves a pizzeria. A pizzeria is open for lunch, most of them making a large chunk of their money between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. So, Veloce isn't a pizzeria, it's a restaurant. A restaurant that serves pizza as their main dinner dishes.

A terrible start to National Pizza Week, I quickly gathered myself a jumped into a cab, telling him to take me to Bleeker and 6th, to a spot called Kesté Pizza & Vino, another popular, oft-written about, and well-received pizza place of 2009. I smartly phoned ahead to make sure they were open, hopping out of the cab a few blocks from my destination due to increased vehicular traffic.

Oddly, I almost missed Kesté, whose facade looked least like a pizza joint than the rest of them.

I walked in and was warmly greeted, and accommodatingly seated by the front window. I quickly perused the menu—they sell pies only—handed to me, although I usually see the word TRUFFLE and go straight for that dish, having recently learned from making that mistake (truffle can overwhelm the taste of anything else in the same bite of food), I went for the house Kesté pie, with tomato, prosciutto di parma, arugola, gran cru (a type of wine), and extra virgin olive oil.

They were also kind enough to let me take photos of the space, which I did as inobtrusively as possible, since there was a decent collection of customers at the tables. The room is thin and long, but very comfortable and homey, warm and unhurried, and a little bit rustic, with its yellow washes, wood trims, framed black & white photos, and exposed rock walls.

Near the back, I find the kitchen: A wood burning oven and two pizziolas.

They were glad to give me a surprisingly quick pizza pie-making demonstration, which I caught on video and can be seen HERE.

Getting back to my table, it literally was only a matter of minutes before my pie, which was the very one I watched them put in the oven, arrived at my table.

The first I have to tell you—after how outstandingly delicious this was—is that if you're a thin & crispy crust kind of person, the first thing you'll notice is that this crust, although thin, is not crisp. This is, at the very, least a two-hander and many will opt for the readily available knife and fork.

This is not a New York pie, but Euro (if not fully Italian). The toppings get put on the pizza after the crust and tomato sauce come out of the oven. This keeps the proscuitto from drying out and getting that gamey flavor and keeps the arugula cool, and crisp. The heat of the pie made the parmesan give off a nice aroma. Flavor wise, the pie as a whole was a triumph. The ingredients were obviously fresh and of high quality, and the tomato sauce was rich but light, with the natural sweetness of the tomatoes present nicely.

I hastily downed half the pie before my stomach had to call it quits. I got the remaining half to go and even at room temperature I was still able to enjoy the rest, at room temperature, over the rest of the day.

But not before getting distracted on the A train back uptown, going through the pictures on my camera. The A train runs express, which I remembered as I watched the local stations pass my by from my window. I was able to get out at 125th street, transferring back to the downtown side. At least it afforded me the opportunity to snap a few extra subway stops while thinking about what pizzeria I would being trying later in the week.

Bun Apple Tea!


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Kesté Pizza & Vino | 271 Bleecker St. (Bet. Jones & Cornelia), Manhattan | 212.243.1500 |