A year in the making, after a full demo of the space and rebuild of the basement, with the installation of beautiful pizza ovens, plenty of hype and breathless "First Looks," chef Michael White's new East Village pizzeria Nicoletta was revealed to the press last night after having undergone the usual review by friends and family. The verdict? The pizza, though not Neapolitan, New York-style, or anything that's going to crack an "America's Best Pizza" list, is pretty good. More interesting were the small bites, and news that White might be trying to reboot the now-closed Convivio.
"The pizza at Nicoletta is changing," said Michael White, gamely noting that all he had to do to in order to succeed in New York City with a pizzeria acting as an homage to the Wisconsin pizza of his childhood was to replicate the flavors everyone ever had for pizza growing up and then pull them all together into one style.
"When we make eggs and flour, we make pasta, we think we're supercool with that," said White. "But it's easy compared to pizza. Pizza is very, very difficult to make it right. And so I wish for all of you to come back and have great pizza."
White said there would be 10 to 12 different toppings along with the small bites served as amuses at the event hosted by Esquire and its Editor in Chief David Granger. According to White, the pizzeria "completes the circle for the Altamarea Group." It was an idea he knew he had to follow through on after opening Al Molo in Hong Kong. "That's where I really got the bug."
The pizza passed during the event in the corner spot's well-lit, brick-walled space featured toppings including potato, vegetables, mushrooms, pepperoni, and a rather salty carbonara that was commendable for its healthy portioning of egg. There wasn't much of a crust on White's pies, which were the size of the Neapolitan versions that can be found throughout the city. But they were light, flavorful, and able to stand up to ingredients being piled on.
New York is a big enough place with enough pizza enthusiasts and White fans for Nicoletta to have a good run after it opens on June 15th. Currently it's not good enough for New Yorkers to crave. But it deserves a visit, and a revisit a few months in after things have settled. For now, meatballs, fried eggplant, and arancini were perhaps more intriguing. So too the great food T-shirts servers were wearing that featured the different stages of dough, that the beer features wild oregano and coriander, that White was promoting Nicoletta's "fantastic root beer," and the idea that a Convivio relaunch might be in the making.
In other news, the chef offered, "New York doesn't need Michael White to do any burger shops. Although I'd like to do a burger shop."
(Expect that next.)
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor.