FROM A VERMONT MAPLE SYRUP TO UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA: MOTORINO MANHATTAN

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 5:04pm

So I’ve been off the cayenne/maple syrup diet for quite a while and back onto Neopolitan cuisine. And it should be little surprise to most of you that I love to eat, talk, write and photograph my food. This morning I arrived at 349 E. 12th Street in East Village, new home of chef Mathieu Palombino’s Motorino Brooklyn sequel – formerly chef Anthony Mangieri’s praised Una Pizza Napoletana, the first of several DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) pizza joints to populate New York City about 5 years back.

I’ve had several consistently perfect meals at Una Pizza Napoletana before Mangieri got fed up with the the rising number of aspiring (albeit less meticulous) pizza wannabes that have been emerging onto the scene in the past several months (Anselmo, Luzzo’s, Fornino et al), and he set off to San Francisco attempting to replicate his praised San Marzano tomato infested gold mine once again. He began his success in Point Pleasant, New Jersey after his migration from Naples and prior to the opening of the East Village location.

Chef Anthony Mangieri (Una Pizza Napoletana)

Chef Anthony Mangieri (Una Pizza Napoletana)

You have to respect a business owner who can set his own uber-limited hours (Thurs – Sun on, from 5pm until dough runs out) and slugglishly takes his time crafting the perfect pie while overeager bourgeouis Manhattanites anxiously wait in line for up to 2 hours for their chance to try a $24 pizza! (And it’s most certainly worth the price as well).

A man who eloquently writes an almost pompous, but beautiful manifesto educating Americans on what real Neopolitan pizza is, and also should never be. A man who believes service isn’t nearly as important as the freshness of ingredients and consistency of the highest quality process. I remember first entering the tightly-packed 34-seated space back in 2006 noticing a small sign above a crucifix written in a Neapolitan dialect that stated this obsessive mantra in just a few short words – something about details and quality always preceding good or friendly service.

(For those of you unfamiliar with D.O.C. guidelines, it’s pretty straightforward, but few do it right. Requirements are as follows:

1) A Wood-Burning Oven: Pizza Napoletana must be cooked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at roughly 800ºF.

2) Proper Ingredients: Tipo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, all natural Fior di Latte or Bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast — only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients.

3) Proper Technique: Your pizza dough must be kneaded either by hand, or with a low speed mixer. No mechanical dough shaping is allowed, such as a dough press or rolling pin, and proper pizza preparation. Pizza baking time should not exceed 90 seconds.

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/dining/09matt.html for more info).

And so, as I aim to combine years of my marketing/advertising experience with a deeply engrained passion for wholesome, well-prepared food (and proud ‘Napulitan’ heritage/ pristine pizza training from my father), I stumbled upon Motorino back in February 2009. With an even more noticeable obsession for detail, Belgium-born chef Mathieu Palombino set out to compete in the D.O.C pizza revolution that’s been rapidly raising a new bar for the even less conscientious foodies of this city. He studied under the acclaimed David Bouley and was the Chef de Cuisine at one of the famed BLT restaurants before deciding to open the Graham Avenue, Williamsburg-based Motorino in 2008.

In addition to a rekindling affair with Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo of Frankies Spuntino, Prime Meats and Cafe Pedlar, I’ve decided to participate in the opening of Motorino Manhattan which is set to start serving early next week. I’ve been given an extremely warm welcome, as my food, marketing and client service experience was instantly embraced and will hopefully be handsomely rewarded!

Today I met with Mathieu, general manager Schotland McQuade and the 4 other servers who’ll I’ll be joining in the launch of this electric new venture. Under Mathieu’s strict, but enthusiastic guidance we quickly and turbulently prepped the newly refurbished space for a NY Magazine shoot that was scheduled for early this afternoon.

Chef Mathieu Palombino (Motorino Brooklyn)

Chef Mathieu Palombino (Motorino Brooklyn)

Shortly after, Mathieu sat us down (his ‘handpicked’ team) to brief us on his stringent expectations for the next several weeks to come. Beware of Frank Bruni, but more importantly the critics who’ll arrive en masse and incognito as we prepare to pace ourselves for what’s expected to be a rather tumultuous stream of diners, foodies and former Mangieri evangelists.

We’re expected to be ready for sub-par reviews that will inevitably compare us to the pedestalized Una Pizza Napoletana, but will plow forward with the most natural, friendly and sophisticated service that Palombino has managed to maintain at the hipster-inhabited Motorino Brooklyn.

Motorino Storefront (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Motorino Storefront (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

The menu was specifically designed to accommodate the significantly smaller location and aims to turnover as many as 15 rounds per night. No delivery, but pickup encouraged. Some antipasti features include a fire-roasted mortadella, heirloom tomato and sliced vidalia onion salad, mixed greens with parsley, chives, balsamic and Frankies’ branded olive oil.

The pizza is limited to 6 variations from the classic Marinara (for the pizza-challenged: tomato, oregano, garlic and olive oil only), Margherita, Prosciutto di Parma, Pommodori, Sopressata Piccante and a Buffaline Bianca. An interesting addition will be a Pizza ‘Libretto’ (Italian for ‘booklet’) or an entire pie easily tri-folded in a to-go format for those on the run. I imagine this will surely elicit some really entertaining press.

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

D.O.C Pizza Margherita from Motorino (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Finally, I’m extremely stoked to receive personal training from Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer – 1 of only 100 total Master Sommeliers in the country! Like most people I know, my wine knowledge is sparse, so I hope to embark upon a complex, new education. Maybe now I’ll actually know what I’m talking about when I take that first sip and nod in approval to my equally uninformed NYC waiters.

In the meantime, I’ll also be working under the Franks and Portland-based phenomenon Stumptown Coffee at Frankies 17 and Cafe Pedlar on the Lower East Side (17 Clinton Street).

I want to invite you all to stop by one of the locations anytime and sample some of the best, but modest eats this city has to offer.

I’ll keep you all posted on the days to come.
Justin D.

For more info check out today’s NY Times article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/dining/09matt.html

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