It’s an unenviable task to replace a local legend, but that’s just what Una Pizza Napoletana became during Anthony Mangieri’s run from 2004 – 2009. When the Jersey-born pizza artisan decamped for San Francisco, he left his Italian-built pizza oven in the hands of Motorino owner Mathieu Palombino, who built his own rep across the East River in Brooklyn. My interest was in determining how much could change in the same space, in a little over a year, considering it was the same oven.
Palombino has clearly made an effort to make the space his own, which is probably a good idea. The room now features black tile floors, a silver pressed tin ceiling and marble tables.
Diners experience a high energy rock soundtrack that, during my meal, included Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.”
The manager said the name evidently sprouted out of Palombino’s interest in Vespas and motorcycles.
Last year, my friend Matthew “Mattatouille” Kang visited Motorino as part of his New York/New Haven pizza tour, and the sopressata pizza was his favorite, but my choice was the Margherita ($14). In my opinion, every pizzeria should initially be evaluated based on their mozzarella, tomato and basil pie, since the simple, classic toppings still allow the crust to star.
In this case, they cooked basil with the rest of the pie, so it gets wilted, unlike at Luzzo’s – an earlier stop – where the leaves are applied after baking. Cooked basil seems to have more intensity, probably due to the application of wood smoke. The final ingredient is sea salt, which is sprinkled onto the pizza prior to baking and fused with the crust to increase the Margherita pizza’s savory quotient.
Motorino definitely made a very good Margherita pizza, and if the addition of sopressata improves the experience – as Kang claims – sign me up. However, it didn’t leave me with a pizza high, as Una Pizza Napoletana did on my November trip to San Francisco. Anthony Mangieri set the bar for New York when he constructed his East Village oven, and he’s left it in capable hands, but he’s scaled new heights (with a new oven) on the West Coast. But that’s another story for another post.