Filed under: Drink, Eat | Tags: Adam Platt, Bowery, Keith McNally, LES, pizza, Pulino's, reviews, Schiller's
It was rainy. It was windy. It was cold. I was dressed inappropriately for a wet, blustery day such as this, and there were no taxis to be found, the bus was nowhere to be seen, and the subway wouldn’t get me close enough to home to escape the treacherous outdoors for very long. As I trudged home from work, umbrella threatening to turn inside out, drenched from the sideways rain, I kept hoping for a taxi to save me from my misery and carry me home. It did not happen. Apparently, all of the taxis on Houston were busy saving other lazy, miserable people.
Salvation came in the form of Pulino’s. After writing about Motorino Brooklyn earlier in the day, I had begun yearning for pizza. More importantly, it was warm inside, and there was no rain and no wind to beat me down.
The host was a spectacularly good looking black man with graying dreads, and he informed me that there was no wait for a table for two around 6:45 pm. Phenomenal! We were squeezed into a tiny table for two, the backs of our chairs flush against the backs of other diners’ chairs. Such is the crowded but convivial atmosphere of Pulino’s, as with Schiller’s, where you go with friends for the bustling ambiance and inexpensive wine and food is just something that keeps the booze down.
Our waiter brought us the menus and got us started with water immediately, and after a quick glance at the menu, we decided to share the roasted carrot salad ($12) and the Bianca pizza ($13). We decided to refrain from wine, which is served either by the glass or the carafe ($19) and your choice of light, medium, and fuller bodied red or white – similar to McNally’s LES establishment Schiller’s.
While food critics have been hating on Pulino’s, calling it uninventive, inconsistent, and underwhelming, I liked it. I had a great white pizza there. I’m not sure if it was a fluke, or if I’m just less forgiving, but it was exactly what I wanted. I don’t care much for tomato sauce, and opted instead for the Bianca Tradizionale pizza served with mozzarella, pecorino, black pepper & pork strutto (semi-solid pork lard). The crust was unbelievably thin, but maintained its chewiness, did not get soggy, and was in good balance with the amount of topping. I repeat, the center of the pizza was not soggy at all, which can be a problem for many thinner crust pizzas as the oils tend to aggregate in the middle of the pie). I’m not normally a huge fan of the crust, but I happily gnoshed away on the lightly charred edges of the pizza. Because the pizza was so thin, I didn’t feel overly stuffed afterward, though I definitely slowed down towards the end of finishing my half. I don’t think I have an especially dainty appetite, but a half pizza and half salad was perfect for me.
The carrot salad, however, was definitely a letdown. I expected a beautiful salad of roasted julienned carrots topped with toasted nuts, jammy figs, and a tart dressing. Instead I got a mess of greens (not enough to make it a green salad), poop-colored over-roasted heirloom carrots (I couldn’t actually tell they were carrots at first), a few slivers of julienned carrot (if it’s called a carrot salad, there should be more carrot), sweet figs (good), and some deliciously crunchy nuts (the best part of the salad). When I cook at home, I don’t care so much about presentation. After all, as Sara always says, it’s all the same inside. But this salad was rather ugly, and it did not have the redeeming merits of being exceptionally tasty as it was woefully overdressed.
Despite the lackluster salad, I wonder if the reviews have been slightly misdirected. I do not approve of the low blows that restauranteur Keith McNally took at NYMag’s Adam Platt following a less-than-flattering review, though I felt Platt was too focused on the noise, which I find to be an essential element of the McNally charm. The critics are treating Pulino’s as a restaurant where food is the main attraction, while in my mind (though perhaps not McNally’s), McNally’s specialty is in creating really great places to socialize and meet friends over a carafe of wine, which places also happen to serve decent (Schiller’s) to good (Minetta Tavern & Balthazar’s) food. It is not fine dining, and I don’t think it should be treated as such. There is a buzz there, an undeniable energy. When you look around, friends and families are talking and laughing loudly, wine flows like water and the food is clearly not the star. I’ll be back if (a) I’m in the mood to be somewhere fun and downtown-y, (b) there is no wait, and (c) it’s on the way to wherever I’m headed. Otherwise, I’d rather go to Schiller’s.
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