June 5, 2006

Review: Pala

I'd been reading about Pala's pizza since it opened up this past winter. After some mixed reviews (Eater said Pala is "the newest best thing to happen to NY pizza" and The Girl Who Ate Everything gave it an enthusiastic review). So, needless to say I was excited about eating there.

My dad and stepmother came into the city to belatedly celebrate my birthday and after walking around for 7 or 8 hours, it was 10pm and we needed to eat. In my food blog readings, I'd seen a lot of ink on the Rivington/Stanton area, so we took the J (oh god) up to Essex.

The area around this stop isn't merely unphotogenic and almost completely devoid of food, the whole place smelled like dead fish. We were happy to leave it as we got closer to Riv/Stanton. I kept trying to pry out preferences from them, so we'd know what we wanted when we got there, but they finally told me that because it was my special day, I could choose whatever restaurant I wanted. Thirty seconds later, we came upon Pala.

They were surprised and, audibly disappointed that I'd chosen a pizza place. We were seated immediately and ordered some antipasti: marinated eggplant, artichokes, and baked fennel. Each of us were excited about one particular antipasti, mine was the artichokes, but the marinated eggplant was the overall, phenomenal, winner. Eggplant is a hard sell with me, but these guys made the most tender, pleasant eggplant I've ever eaten. The fennel was much better than I'd expected, as the cooking reduced the intensity if its black licorice taste. Aand the artichokes were dry and uninspiring.

Then on to the pizza. The pizza at Pala comes by the foot and is made to order, with a 20- to 40- minute wait. One foot per person is about right for most normal people - we had to leave one lonely piece at the end. Our orders were the Bufala Cruda (buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato sauce, fresh basil, and olive oil), Mediolanum (gorgonzola cheese, asparagus, fior di latte mozzarella, and tomato sauce), and the Ubriaca (ubriaca cheese, pancetta, fior di latte mozzarella, parsley).

Bufala - standard, needed more cheese
Mediolanum - great but a bit dry
Ubriaca - nearly perfect in every way. The saltiness of the pancetta really added a punch.

The best part of these pizzas, as most reviewers will tell you, is the crust. It's apparently made with 12 different flours and is left to stand for 24 to 60 hours to develop the flavors. It comes out tasting wheaty and yeasty; excellent mouthfeel, which to me means tender with a moderate amount of chewiness; and about twice as thick as the standard, thin, New York crust (which is to say up to a 1-inch thickness).

The wines, we got an Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain, hit an awesome price point, with most bottles going for under $40 (low end was mid-$20s, I think).

Overall, Pala is an amazing place, though not somewhere to go if you're in a hurry.

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Joanie said...

Did you just say mouthfeel?

skip said...

That's a word that people who love food use. Mouthfeel. There, I said it again.