Friday, June 22, 2012


I would typically never attempt to try a restaurant on its first night.  But the plywood up on the corner of 10th and 2nd had been tempting us for far too long not to make a go at it.  While we were quoted a two hour wait, the crowd outside the restaurant wasn't so bad, so we left our number and retreated to Rob's apartment to wait it out.  Thankfully, they're willing to take cell numbers; a few places I've visited lately have not had such a policy, which I just don't understand, particularly when the establishment doesn't have a bar area large enough to accommodate those waiting. We got the call that our table was ready just about an hour later, and nary five minutes later were seated at our table in the center of the restaurant.

The interior is spacious, with high ceilings, spare exposed brick walls and more space between tables than one would typically find in an East Village establishment.  As we were perusing the menu, Martha Stewart left the restaurant, looking exceptional for 70 years old, I should note, and Michael White raced out to bid her adieu.  White was clearly in and out of the kitchen all night, and stopped by each table in the place to say thanks and get reactions from the first-night crowd.

We started with a liter of the house wine, a light red, the name of which escapes me but which I guzzled nonetheless.  The menu is divided into four sections: snack-sized Assagini e Sfizi, Antipasti, Insalate and Le Pizze.  The three of us had been waiting long enough for the damned place to open, so we figured we'd go big.  We started with two orders of the suppli, the tiny fried risotto balls (which was one order too many; we'd been told by the waitress that there were four small rice balls per order, but it turned out to be five, which would have been plenty).  As far as fried things go, they were pretty delicious.  The coating was paper thin and perfectly greaseless, harboring a scalding hot filling of risotto, molten mozzarella and itty bitty pieces of sausage.  They sat in some sort of deliciousness that merited a dunk and a re-dunk (and later a super classy swipe of a pizza crust).

We also ordered the calamari, which was stuffed with summer squash, soppresata, bread crumbs and oregonata.  Though I've found baked calamari preparations hit or miss in terms of doneness, here it was incredibly tender, not even chewy in the least.  Though the pork could have played a bigger role, it didn't stop my greasy little mitts from reaching in for more well past my point of satiety.

carrozza, or, fried, breaded cheese puck
Rounding out our appetizers was the carrozza, which was described to us as mozarella encased in bread - you know...because we didn't have enough mozzarella and bread in our order already.  The dish we were ultimately presented did not quite fit the mental image I'd conjured up, but it was indisputably tasty.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that breaded, deep fried high-quality mozzarella is satisfying at a base level to all but the lactose averse.  Indeed, this was better than breaded cheese need be; the shell was crisp and didn't lend unnecessary greasiness to the rest of the plate, which was bright and acidic with basil, olives, peppers and anchovies.

But we were just getting started.  Our gluttonous asses still had pizza on the way.  Our waitress told us that, as the pies were 12", she recommended one per two people.  Being the disgusting humans we are, we decided that three was the perfect amount for the three of us.  What can I say, it was hard to make a decision since all the pies sounded awesome, so we each chose one, plenty aware that we'd be feasting on leftovers.

The pies are somewhere between a thin crust New York pizza and the thicker, DiGiorno-thickness pies ubiquitous in much of the country.  I'd read that White was going for a midwestern bar pie, but these sported a far thicker crust.

The tables are equipped with these rather ingenius metal rods that pop out of the marble and to which the wait staff attaches a metal disc to hold the pizzas.  They achieve the dual purposes of 1) not compromising table space and 2) looking awesome.

side effect of the pizza stands: shadows,
this photo of the tartufata fell victim to the LoFi effect;
may it rest in peace
The first of our pies was the Tartufata: mozzarella, mushroom cream, roasted wild mushrooms and procsiutto cotto.  A pleasant funk from the mushrooms dominated this pie, but I far be it from me to bitch about it.  There was truffle in the mix, too, and the prosciutto cut through the earthiness of it all with its salty heft.


We also had the carbonara, with cream, pancetta, pecorino romano, scallions, black pepper, crowned with a runny-yolked egg.  This one was Robbie's favorite (though he may have been biased since he ordered it).  All of the elements worked well together, and it was at once rich, salty, meaty, and bright.  Another winner.

My favorite (again, I may be biased, but it was the majority favorite as well) was the fume, which was not met with a great amount of fanfare when I announced it as my choice.  What can I say, though, I am a sucker for smokey, salty flavors, and the fume delivered.  The smoked scarmaza cheese was the star of the show here, playing well with the mozzarella, it flavored the pie with a hint of smoke without smothering, as smokey flavors so often can, and it paired quite well with the speck.  The radicchio cut through the richness with its bitter edge, while the thyme gave it all a bit of pop.  The flavors were a bit unexpected, but a total home run.

The crust on the pies was great, too, and was a great base for the assertive, high-quality ingredients placed atop them.  The pizza arrived to the table a deep golden brown, crusts glistening with a generous coat of oil.  The crusts themselves crackled and gave way to a pillowy soft interior breadier than a typical New York slice, but no less awesome because of it.  The pies were much thinner in the center, but never approached the drippy-wet interior of a Neopolitan slice.  Purists may scoff at these pies, as they can't quite be pigeonholed in a distinct category.  I typically like nothing thicker than a New York thin crust, but I can't argue with what Michael White is doing at Nicoletta.  Midwestern-New York-Neopolitan-Bar-Whatever the Fuck You Want to Call It style, this is some delicious pizza.

photo courtesy Kathy YL Chan via Serious Eats

Edited to add: WHOA! I cannot believe I forgot to talk about dessert.  Yes, we somehow also managed to cram some dessert down our greedy little gullets. The dessert menu at Nicoletta focuses around the fior de latte soft serve, which you can get in a float (root beer or fanta) or in a cup with two toppings (or more at an extra charge; we chose whipped cream and chili peanut toffee sauce).  The soft serve was a bit icy on our visit, but had the bright, unmistakable flavor of fresh cream.  And who gives a shit about a little iciness when there's peanut chili toffee involved?  Nobody, that's who.  This sauce kicked so much ass that we requested some extra on the side.  The waitress probably had to tell us that there would be an extra charge (50 cents, big whoop) for it, lest we get all pissy, but this stuff was like crack, and our order was already so over the top that no up-charge was going to stand in our way at that point.  In any event, if you go to Nicoletta (and you should), you owe it to yourself to finish your meal with peanut chili toffee topped fior di latte soft serve.  And a root beer float, because damn right we got one of those too, and it was awesome.

160 2nd Avenue (at 10th St.)
(212) 432-1600