Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Plum Pizzeria: Crust-lovers rejoice!

Plum Pizzeria & Bar (157 Second Ave., East Village)

In the East Village alone, Urbanspoon cites over fifty eateries offering their spin on pizza.  In the five boroughs, a mind-blowing total of over 2,100 pizza ovens are listed.  It's no secret that New Yorkers take their pizza very seriously, but with competition like that, you have to offer something pretty spectacular to tempt loyalists away from their longtime favorites.

Sharing the neighborhood with such pizza powerhouses as Motorino and Luzzo's, Plum Pizzeria & Bar arrived on the scene a mere five months ago, with quite a challenge cut out for them.  Though at initial glance, Plum appears no different really than any other joint; exposed brick walls, wood floors, vintage posters from around the world.  But closer inspection reveals that Plum is anything but an ordinary pizza palace or neighborhood underdog.

Plum owners Alex Alexopoulos (also the Executive Chef) and Adonis Nikoloulis have known each other for over a decade, and the path that initially crossed these two restaurateurs is one which extends nearly all the way back to the NYC pizza garden of Eden.  The two met while working at a popular outpost of Patsy's, and as New York pizza fanatics know, in the genealogy of pies, Patsy's is only one branch from the trunk of the pizza family tree.  Lombardi's is commonly acknowledged as the first pizzeria in not only New York, but all of the United States; and Patsy's was conceived by a team that got their start at Lombardi's.  That makes Plum Pizzeria third generation royalty in the New York pizza dynasty.  But do not plop down at a table in Plum expecting a Patsy's pie, because it seems these guys have honed their pie even more, if that's possible, adding a few key elements that elevate this pizza to praiseworthy perfection.  Even more impressive, much of the staff at Plum also made the transition with the owners, testifying to their faith in Alex and Adonis's vision.

The crust alone is the stuff of which legends are made.  Reminding me very much of the famous crunchy crust at Denino's in Staten Island, this buttery-delicious pastry is crispy at first bite, and then just ever-so-slightly-tender inside.  We held a slice loaded with pepperoni, garlic, and cheese perpendicular to the table, and not a single topping so much as budged.

Tip sag is one of my pet peeves, and I usually use a knife and fork on my pizza until I've eaten enough to lift my slice without an avalanche of toppings on my shirt.  At Plum, even the tip of the slice is crispy.   With oven temperatures ranging from 680-700ºF, the pies cook in just four minutes.  Pizzas can be personalized from crumbled sausage with fennel seeds to sopressata, sundried tomatoes, and ricotta.  The sausage and red onion stole the show, though it was neck and neck with the pepperoni blanketed with sprigs of fresh basil.  Splurge and get a bottle of the '05 Basarin Barbaresco (actually a steal at $60) and watch how it makes all the flavors pop even brighter on the pizza.  An impressive list of international wines run the full gamut, beginning with glasses starting at $8.  A full bar is also available, along with a selection of draft and bottled beers.  Margherita pizzas and calzones range from $10 to $17 with toppings for an additional cost.  There's even a mozzarella-loaded burger with tomato sauce and applewood smoked bacon on a brioche roll.  You really won't find a better selection with better prices anywhere, and certainly not for this quality.

Though the pizza is the star of the show, it doesn't arrive on a table stand merely for extra elbow room.  The secondary characters on the menu are equally delicious, so plan on choosing from their selection of antipasto and pastas to accentuate your feast.  The Insalata Caprese is one of most delicious versions I've tried, exceptionally fresh home made mozzarella served with the requisite sliced beefsteak tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic reduction,  but taken to an exquisite new level with the addition of roasted peppers and a dollop of pesto (available in individual or family portions).

The Insalata Italiana is an ideal way to start the meal and warm up your palate with fresh Italian flavors, all ingredients at Plum imported or sourced locally. A colorful mix of mesclun leaves is jeweled with roasted bell peppers, sliced olives, capers, carrot slivers, tender and tangy artichokes, crumbled mozzarella, and zesty Italian dressing.

Spoil yourself with the absolutely outstanding yellow pumpkin ravioli blanketed with a buttery, yet surprisingly light pistachio cream sauce.  A decadent harmony of sweet winter squash and savory, smooth cream sauce, with tender crushed pistachios, this is the sort of dish that creates regulars.

Plum serves a fantastic version of penne alla vodka, their rendition loaded with salty bits of pancetta in a light tomato cream sauce with a slight kiss of vodka.  Unlike other restaurants that drown the pasta in a mediocre sauce, Plum tosses these al dente tubes in a superb coating, making a fantastically light version that disappeared from our plate in seconds.

The Italian bacon reprises its role in yet another surprisingly light, yet flavor-loaded version of an Italian-American classic, fettucine carbonara.  More of a cream sauce than a traditional egg-base, this velvety dish is heightened with the addition of green peas and wild mushrooms, the shitake adding a splendidly steaky depth to the plate.

Bolognese sauce is the standard by which many Italian-American kitchens are judged, and at Plum, their exemplary rendition reduces for nearly two hours, creating a tender ragu of tomato and beef loaded with intense, robust flavors and aromatics.  Served with perfectly cooked rigatoni, this famous classic stood out as one of my favorites of the entire evening.

A refreshing spin from a kitchen that admittedly focuses on mains and sides, Plum showcases a perpetually revolving selection of sweets as "desserts of the day", sourced locally from favorite confections discovered and recommended by staff and friends of Plum Pizzeria, so be sure to ask what treats were rounded up the day of your visit.

Open daily from 11:30AM to midnight (2AM Saturday and Sunday), Plum also serves up a weekend brunch until 4PM.  The rustic Benedetto bread loaves which accompany dinner service are transformed into french toast infused with maple and cognac, topped with blueberry compote and fresh whipped cream.  They even serve a benedict of their bolognese, with poached eggs atop the hearty meat ragu and rustic toast.  Rarely do I travel very far for Sunday brunch, but Plum's mouthwatering offerings just might be reason enough to hop on a train.  And you had better believe you will be seeing me there a lot more for one of the best pizza pies in the city.

Plum pizzeria and bar on Urbanspoon

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