Nobody in New York seems to eat dinner before 7pm. It just doesn’t happen. If you eat dinner before 7, you haven’t gotten the memo. Or maybe you’re just old. Old people eat dinner early. Whenever I go visit my grandmother in Florida, dinner is at 5pm sharp. 5:00?? I just finished lunch, for Chrissake!!
For years, I didn’t eat until 9 or sometimes 10. I would go to the theater or happy hour and then go out for dinner. It just made more sense – keep the night going as long as possible. Just like they do in Europe.
But now, I’ve become an old person! Now that I’m over 30, my metabolism has slowed and the cramps and acid reflux start early. Or maybe I’ve just stopped playing by the rules. Lately I try to eat dinner at an early bird’s hour, especially if it’s going to be something as artery clogging and calorie rich as pizza.
And on this new schedule, I discovered if you want to eat at a popular, impossible-to-get-into restaurant, go around 6:00 and you’ll probably be able to score at least a seat at the bar, if not an actual table! And this brings us to Kesté.
Kesté was recently named Best Pizza Pie of the Moment by New York magazine. I definitely questioned the integrity of their list since classic pies like Totonno’s and Lombardi’s were absent. And the inclusion of Artichoke Basille’s on any pizza list makes me a little sick to my stomach. I tried their artichoke slice once and thought I was going to have a heart attack right there on 14th Street. Imagine a very heavy spinach artichoke dip placed on top of a pizza. Nothing fresh about it – just greasy, heavy, and nauseating.
But I was more than willing to give Kesté a try. I’ll give just about anything a try.
We got to Kesté around 6 and I was excited that we scored a table near the pizza kitchen. I heard this place has a long line at all times. John’s across the street was also line-less. I guess my new habit of eating out early has finally paid off.
I was amazed at how quickly our 12 inch pizzas were dropped on our table. Wood oven pies are supposed to cook for no longer than two minutes and this promise was fulfilled here.
We ordered the funghi, which was a standard margherita pie (tomato, mozzarella, basil) with mushrooms. And I picked the pizza del papa, which I learned was originally made for the Pope (hence the name Papa). It had a base of butternut squash cream, artichokes, red and yellow pepper, and a special smoked mozzarella cheese.
I realized I had never tried true Neapolitan pizza before this night. Roberto Caporuscio, who is the head of the American chapter of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoltetani and teaches classes on how to make this speciality 100 year old dish, popped my Neapolitan pizza cherry. And like an 18 year old hormonal girl, I never want to go back.
I was blown away by this crust – it was amazingly bready and chewy and had a yeasty fluffiness. This was a far cry from the thin crust pizza we’re used to in NY. The bread sort of melted in my mouth and had a woody, earthy, buttery flavor. It also had a nice char on the bottom from the wood oven. It reminded me of a delicious edible pillow. If I hadn’t eaten it all, I might have taken a quick nap.
The flavors were all bright and lively. The ingredients on the funghi were all very fresh and the tomato sauce was slightly sweet and slightly acidic. However, the pizza del papa wins for me because of that amazing smoked mozzarella. It was like taking a bite out of a campfire, but with gooey cheesy goodness. And without the actual burning sensation of a fire in your mouth. So maybe not like a campfire at all.
We were all very pleased with the pizzas. And we would have kept eating more, but we finished our two pies and knew that if we ordered another, it would taste delicious but our stomachs would not be too pleased later.
And we got the sense that the wait staff wanted us out. I didn’t take it personally and attributed it to the fact that it was now after 7 and the line had begun to form outside. The rest of New York had finished happy hour and were now flocking to those hot dinner spots, including Kesté.
It took us a bit to maneuver through the crowd to get back onto the streets of the West Village. But we had a successful stress-free (except for the lack of water refills) dinner with some pretty amazing pizza. And we were satiated and back into the world with the whole night still ahead of us. Isn’t there some saying about the early bird catching the worm? Now if only these NY destination spots would take a nod from the Florida establishments and adopt the bargain price, I’d never eat past 5:00 again. Grandma, I’ll see you at dinner.
Is Kesté the best pizza in New York? It still remains to be seen, but I give it a solid 9 out of 10. The flavors excel and the textures are spot-on. And that smoked mozzarella gets a good 5 or 6 points all by itself.