Motorino isn't just my favorite pizzeria in New York City; it's probably my favorite pizzeria in the world.
Not that I've, like, eaten all the pizza in the world. And of course, that opinion is highly influenced by their pizza probably being the pizza I've eaten the most in my adult life*. Which is also influenced by its convenient location. (I'd call Paulie Gee's my very-close-second favorite pizzeria; I just don't go to Greenpoint as much as the East Village. My last dinner there was in September. It's been too long.) Or maybe it's because hours before my latest visit there last Saturday I had been steeping in grumpiness, and the first bite of sweet, creamy buffalo mozzarella on the just-chewy-and-thick-enough crust erased all the grumps, along with any ability to form complete sentences.
At least, that's what it sounded like in my head. Greg was sitting across from me; he could tell me whether or not I spoke in complete sentences. I think I did. A few times. (Thankfully, the success of our conversation doesn't rely on complete sentences. Our friendship is mostly based on sound effects, awkward pauses, and topics relating to poop.)
We shared the margherita ($14) and cherry stone clams ($17) pies. The mozzarella took the margherita from, "Mm, this is good, yup," to, "I see flying pastel rainbow ponies, magical ponies, omg it is so beautiful." You know how sometimes baby animals taste good in ways that older flesh cannot compare? This tasted like...baby mozzarella. Light, tender baby mozzarella plops, replete with the the flavors of youth and innocence. In buffalo milk-based cheese form.
Um, yeah, anyway. Good cheese would be all for naught without a good crust. Of course, the crust is awesome: puffy, light, flavorful, soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, not so chewy that it makes my jaw hurt, not so thick that it drowns out the toppings, not so thin that it can't stand up to the toppings or become a puddle of soggy dough. Sometimes when eating pizza I can't finish the outer rim of crust (erm, I mean cornicione), but at Motorino I made sure every bit of crust found its fizzling death in my belly of stomach acids.
The cherry stone clam pizza topped with mozzarella, garlic, parsley butter, olive oil, and shucked clams is now one of my favorites at Motorino (the other favorites being the margherita and brussels sprouts and pancetta). Read this review on Slice to find out why. I can't write a better review of pizza than Adam, so I won't bother.
But what I will talk about that Adam doesn't is the slice of squeeze-it-yourself lemon that comes with the pizza. Have you ever been presented with a one-third cut of lemon like the one above? I haven't. My first impression was, "What the stuff?" Then I used it and realized this is how all lemons-for-squeezing should be cut. Unlike a typical wedge where you're likely to get lemon juice on your hands and a seed dropped on your dish, this seedless cut keeps the pulp away from your fingers and the shape gives you more leverage for easier squeezing. It might be dumb of me to be so amazed by the way the lemon is cut, but...I sort of am. Because it's so simple. The only question may be, "What happens to the rest of the lemon?" I didn't ask, but I'd assume they use leftover lemon in other dishes or for some other purpose.
I'll also mention West Village pizzerias Olio Pizza e Più and Kesté Pizza & Vino (warning: Kesté's site opens with a Flash animation featuring a volcano-explosion sound effect, which no sane person wants to experience...do you hear me, web designers and restaurateurs? MAKE THE SUFFERING STOP), but I don't have much else to say besides that I don't like them as much as Motorino. They're not bad (although Immaculate Infatuation says Olio is terrible, which makes me wonder if I ate the same pizza or don't know how to rate it), but not as memorable.
For something unique, Olio's mezzaluna ($19) is a nice choice for the indecisive eater. Or the eater who wants a pizza and a calzone on the same plate, because that's what it is. (Peppino's in Bay Ridge also makes a pizza-calzone hybrid called "Pizza I Dunno.") One half is a calzone stuffed with salami and ricotta, while the other half is a pizza topped with cherry tomatoes, smoked mozzarella, and basil. It's a good combo. Kathy wrote more about it at Serious Eats.
Another thing I liked at Olio and hadn't eaten elsewhere was the angioletti ($9), light-n-chewy fried pizza dough sticks topped with tomato sauce. Not that you need more dough to go with your pizza. But...it's fried!
I wouldn't label my opinion of Olio as well informed since I've only been there once. But I've been to Kesté there times and while I would recommend it if you're in the West Village, I wouldn't rate it as highly as Motorino. After eating at Motorino so many times, I've found that Kesté's crust is doughier than I prefer, although it's otherwise good—light, chewy, crispy and soft in the right places. The toppings are sometimes less successful. On my last visit, I found my filetti di pomodoro ($16) pictured above quite...sloppy. Er. Well. You tell me. Is the buffalo mozzarella supposed to be that gloopy and not melted and unevenly placed on the crust? Shouldn't the grape tomatoes be distributed better? Blah de bluh blee bluh? Sure, I'm not expecting Una Pizza Napoletana's version of filetti, but it seemed off.
If I went back to Kesté I'd stick with the regina margherita or their calzone ($16) filled with tomatoes, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, salame, and extra virgin olive oil. Ricotta, you are awesome and ought to be in more pizza-y things. (Note to self: Go to Paulie Gee's and get the "In Ricotta Da Vita." It's got crispy prosciutto, arugula, and ricotta. Pizza teleportation device, where are you?)
I guess I lied about the "I don't have much else to say" bit. I wrote less than I originally planned though because writing about pizza makes me nervous; having seen the comments on Slice, I know pizza critiquing can be intense. My weakly trickling stream of pizza knowledge is no match for fanatical New York City pizza lovers. I feeear theeeem.