Brand New Love: Motorino
Chef Mathieu Palombino Stands Watch
Late Saturday morning, Hiroshi called and said he was heading into Williamsburg for brunch and did we want to come with him. "Where?" I asked hesitantly. Most of Willyburg makes my skin crawl these days-- it's a toxic combination of self-certified hep cats and thinly veiled economic opportunism (or not so thinly veiled).
Motorino, he said. It's on Devoe at Graham.
I imagined some pseudo modern place with a too loud soundtrack of pounding music and lackluster service. "Great," I said weakly and headed out.
At the center of the action is the beautiful wood-fired oven against the back wall facing you directly as you walk into the dining room. It was a cold, raw day and the warmth of the fire hit us in the face (in a very pleasant way) as soon as we stepped through the door.
I immediately asked Chef Mathieu what kind of wood he stoked the fire with and was thrilled when he immediately replied Oak, Cherry and Birch. That was a good sign. The staff at some bbq places don't know what kind of wood they use and it drives me up the wall. A subject for another time. He was also hands on with the fire and the cooking, with just one other cook working with him at the main station in the dining room in front of the roaring oven.
The main attraction is Neapolitan Pizza-- thin, airy and light crust with some char on the bottom and edges, toothsome but with a nice crunch. Pizza Margherita (the classic tomato, mozzarella and basil pie), is available as well as some more creative combinations including a pie featuring Sopressata and Chile Oil, and some seasonal creations such as the Brussel Sprout and Speck with Fior Di Latte and Parmigiano Reggiano.
The Chef wisely chose to keep the non-pizza menu fairly brief, with a few cheese plate and Salumi course options and a handful of sophisticated Antipasti such as the Mussels in Saffron Chili Broth. The focus on clean, bright flavors, seasonal ingredients and carefully chosen and sourced products allow simple combinations to catalyze.
The Wife: White Pizza w/ Uovo (eggs)-- minced Prosciutto Di Parma, basil, Fior Di Latte.
Light and fragrant, with a nice play between the crust and the hot melty toppings.
Hiroshi: A goat cheese fritatta topped with baby arugula and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and Romano cheese. He also had a side order of double applewood smoked thick cut bacon. The fritatta was hearty and rich, but not leaden or soggy. The bright, peppery snap of the arugula created a lovely punch to the more gentle flavors without overpowering.
I had the Pizza Margherita and the double smoked bacon as well-- THIS WAS AMAZING BACON with a deep perfume of smoke and rich porky flavor that was cooked in the wood fire bringing it to another level. I almost ate this too quickly to taste it. The crust stood up perfectly to the toppings without sagging and the fresh creamy cheese rounded out the soft fruit of the sauce delightfully. All I can say about the bacon is don't order it. That leaves more for me.
The kitchen made an extra order of baked eggs by accident that they gave to us gratis. The eggs were cooked in a light, fruity tomato sauce with goat cheese, topped with fresh oregano and served with toasted bread wedges. While I'm not a huge fan of goat cheese, this was a lovely combination-- the cheese gave a rich foundation of earthiness to the whole dish, balancing the acid of the tomato and highlighting the silky eggs.
But this was much more than just a local pizza place. The well focused flavors, refined combinations and attention to detail ensure that Motorino will become a destination. I admit my trepidation when Hiroshi said we were eating in the 'Burg, but I'm so glad he called.
319 Graham Avenue (Devoe Street)
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