Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Best Pizza In New York and Donatella's Other Delights!

By: Anne M. Raso

Using the phrase "Best Pizza In New York" is a serious matter especially if you are a New Yorker (sadly, tourists' opinions do not count much in a pizza contest that started with the real Ray's back in the day and goes to now). New Yorkers know their pizza, and feel as strongly about it as they do for the Yankees and Statue Of Liberty. Chelsea's Donatella (owned by restaurateur extraordinaire Donatella Arpaia) has won awards for her all-veal meatballs so when you put them on one of her pizzas--yowza! We are very specifically speaking of her Polpette Pizza, which includes freshly made Caciocavallo cheese (not mozzarella although it tastes similar and a staple in Puglia, Italy from raw cow and sheep milk curds), topped with fresh pieces of basil and a darkened-just-right crust baked in her custom-made brick oven. Did we fail to include mention of Donatella's homemade old-school marinara? Sorry about that. We like the way the crust is very dark and even black at parts--it's very old school and even beats our previous #1 (the old-school Neapolitan pies at Eataly).
Pizza Polpette

But do not go to Donatella just for the pizza. On our visit--despite being full from the Polpette, we tried the pasta special of the day, Homemade Cavatelli with pea pesto, thick-cut pancetta pieces and Parmesan cheese. We have never had pesto not made with basil before, and this pea pesto has a thicker consistency with much less olive oil added. The cavatelli is served al dente, so if you prefer your pasta softer, speak up when you order. This is a highly memorable dish and you might actually decide that you want to make the switchover to this type of pesto at home since it is much less caloric (but with a lot of flavor).
Homemade Cavatelli
We go the Chopped Vegetable Salad in an attempt to "be healthy," and it was served simply with olive oil and a few different types of vinegars mixed, including balsamic and rice vinegar. The vegetables include sugar snap peas, golden and red beets and scallions and were very flavorful. We gave up being healthy once Donatella's Arancini (rice balls) came out, which featured her famous meatballs and gooey mozzarella in the filling.
Chopped Veggie Salad
We went hog wild at dessert time, ordering the Bittersweet Chocolate Parfait (consisting of bittersweet Valrhona chocolate pudding, and topped with raspberries in a gelee, mascarpone cream and caramel sauce).  It was rich but not overwhelmingly so and not as sweet as it might sound. This parfait is definitely a winning choice for chocolate dessert lovers.
Bittersweet Chocolate Parfait
We had to tip our hats a little deeper to the Sfogliatelle Riccia, served hot out of the oven. This multi layer Italian classic with fresh ricotta cheese filling seems to rarely be on Southern Italian menus anymore, so we jumped at the chance to have it (the only place is it commonly sold in Manhattan is at the pastry shops in Little Italy and those "sfogs" tend to have been sitting around in a refrigerator case for weeks). We will go back again and again for this until they do not make stretch pants in our size anymore. Of note as well are the Zeppoli which have a lemony flavor and are filled with lemon cream, amarena and pistachios and the Cannoli, filled with fresh ricotta, orange blossom, credo, pistachio and bittersweet Valrhona chocolate.
Sfogliatelle Riccia
We also ordered the vodka and juice -based specialty drinks Infidelity and Royal Romance (since those two titles seem to go so well together although we only wish the best to Catherine and William. They are small (about six ounces) but strong and cost about $16. That is rather pricey for a drink but overall, the food prices are reasonable as entrees are in the $15 to $25 range including pizzas, which serve 2-3 people and cost $14-$19. Desserts run $9 each.
Donatella's space is clean and modern with an open-air feeling--be sure to check out the glitzy copper pizza oven in the back that bears her name. It's one of the coolest we've seen--and she deserves to have her name on there due to the high quality of her pizzas. Ms. Arpaia is expecting a baby next month and we are wondering how long it's going to take to turn that little one into a Southern Italian culinary wunderkind!

184 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Donatella on Urbanspoon
[Photos: Anne M. Raso]

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