Last night I met a friend at Kesté, which New York Magazine rated as making the best pizza pies in New York City. Kesté is on Bleeker between 6th and 7th, on a stretch that includes numerous restaurants including New York Hot Dog, Amy’s Bread, Murray’s Cheese, the Lobster Places, the venerable John’s Pizzeria (literally right across the street from Kesté) and Rocco’s. Among many other restaurants. It is a testament to both Kesté’s word of mouth as well as the actual awesomeness of the food that on a rainy and horrible night there was a wait of over an hour for a table. And yes, my friend and I waited that hour. And yes, it was absolutely worth it.
Kesté is old school Neapolitan pizza: San Marzano tomatoes, sparingly used mozzarella, fresh basil, delicious and cheesy crust, all baked in an oven whose construction was porn for the food world even before the restaurant had opened. Kesté’s owner and head chef is the president of the American Society of Neapolitan Pizza or the American Neapolitan Pizza Society or some variation on that name, so he takes his job seriously.
The restaurant’s owners are clearly intelligent and care about what they do and their clientele. The host, a dapper Italian man, was constantly popping outside to check on the line of patrons waiting in the rain. On some of these jaunts he’d come baring pizzas sliced into mini-pieces, which the hungry crowd descended upon like wild wolves. I tried a white slice, which was covered in a deliciously tangy cheese (maybe goat? I couldn’t tell, I was too hungry) and then a mushroom slice. Really excellent, and very smart of the restaurant in terms of keeping the crowd semi-satisfied.
We were seated after about an hour of waiting and were immediately taken care of by a cheerful Italian waiter with curly hair. We ordered promptly: a house salad, a magherita pizza with mushrooms for me, and a sausage pizza for my tablemate. The house salad came quickly and was dressed in a light vinaigartette and pleasantly studded with grape tomatoes and small chunks of mozzarella cheese. I also really liked the bread served on the side: it was chewy, with a lovely yeasty flavor.
The pizza was really divine. The sauce with flavorful and sweet, the cheese really mellow and fresh, and the fresh basil gave the pizza a lovely punch. The dough was fantastic and really well charred, and the crust was huge and chewy and especially flavored with a lovely smokiness from its char. Even the mushrooms were great. Sometimes mushrooms can get lost on a pizza but these had a meaty, woody taste that added to the overall flavor. Really fantastic, fresh, Italian tasting pizza. Don’t get me wrong, I love the New York City slice places, but this was an excellent change. Definitely a great pizza, and worth the wait.
While waiting my friend and I had ogled two women splitting a dessert pizza which looked like pizza dough stuffed with nutella and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The dessert looked amazing but by the time we were done with dinner we weren’t hungry, so we skipped said carbohydrate-filled-nutella-goodness dessert. If anyone tries it, let me know. In the meantime, get thee to Kesté for an affordable, extremely New York City food experience.