Monday, March 22, 2010

Pulino's - Finally!

There's been a lot of buzz about this place.  Keith McNally's (owner and restaurateur extraordinaire of Balthazar, Odeon, Lucky Strike, Pastis, Schiller's Liquor Bar - to name a few) newest baby finally opened this month.  Eater has been tantalizing me for weeks with tiny snippets of news, updates about the status of construction, the menu, and photos of the bathroom even.  I was thrilled and surprised to be able to make a reservation for Sunday brunch very easily (12.30pm seating too!) about 2 weeks in advance, for its first week of service.  I was excited to go, mostly because of the hype.

I was a tiny bit skeptical about the food.  I enjoy going to the McNally restaurants, but, it's always more because of the scene and atmosphere than the amazingness of the food (the one exception is Balthazar's fries and beef stroganoff).  It didn't help that there didn't seem to be any overwhelming food review for Pulino's during the first few days of service either.  Nevertheless, the executive chef, Nate Appleman, seems to brought along a bit of goodwill from his days cooking in California although he still has a bit of notoriety in my mind, partly due to his armful of tats and partly due to his badass attitude in The Next Iron Chef.

I showed up for my reservation on time and relatively open-minded nonetheless.  We were seated right away once our party was complete.  The place was hopping.  There were many walk-ins who were told that the wait would be almost an hour.  Thank goodness we scored a reservation!  The interior of the restaurant is very much like Schiller's liquor bar.  There were the same white bathroom tiles, the similar bottle display.  According to one of the staff, the first level of wall-to-wall display of liquor are fake, while the rest above that are all inventoried.  So even though the display looks random, they're all been quite deliberated.

The waitstaff were all dressed in baby-blue t-shirts with police-barrier-type font printed on their front and back (can't remember what were the words).  There were a handful of picnic tables that were constructed from police barriers.  Service was really pleasant and relatively quick and attentive.

The menu gave quite a few options of eggs (on pizza, baked or on its own with sides).  There were sides and also a list of regular non-breakfast pizzas and other oven-cooked foods (roast chicken etc).  Be sure to look at all sides of the paper printed menu, we almost missed out a short list of baked goods printed right at the back.

The nutella fat baby (puff pastry stuffed with a nutella/chocolate/ganache mix) was sweet, tasty, buttery and flaky but would have been even yummier if only it was served warm.

The sable fish appetizer was a nice, light menu choice.

Grapefruit caramelized with muscovado sugar was another refreshing choice.  Although one of our two grapefruit halves turned out a little burnt (not pictured).

We also tried a salad with roasted hen-of-the-woods mushroom.  This looked run-of-the-mill but it tasted better than it looked.  The mushrooms gave a great texture and the lettuce was surprisingly buttery.

For our entrees, the first to arrive was a pasta dish (the salsiccia) that was crepe-like and layered with a very hearty and meaty ragu.  I liked this dish, it was almost lasagne-like.

Then came the pizza.  A large pie with two beautiful eggs with perfectly runny yolks.  Additional fresh cheese was grated on top.  It was really good.  The crust was so delicious!  It was crispy, very thin crust but still robust enough to hold all the hearty ingredients.  This was the winning dish for me.  I'm usually the one with a pile of pizza crust edges remaining on my plate but I actually ate all of the crust from this one!

Our final entree was the polenta and eggs.  2 eggs (cooked the way you like) over-easy served in a cast-iron skillet with creamy polenta verde (mixed with spinach I think), mushroom sauce and a spiral of spicy sausage.  I enjoyed the juicy sausage but otherwise, I thought this dish was rather meh.

Moving on to dessert.  The warm chestnut cake was definitely a treat.  It was comforting, not too sweet and definitely a flavor you grow to love more and more.

Another dessert we tried was less impressive.  It was the panacotta with burnt honey.  It came with a crisp cookie on top that had an interesting taste to it (that I can't define) but overall, the flavor was really mild and not particularly memorable.

I'm glad I finally got to try Pulino's.  Even though not every dish blew me away, I'm pretty sure I'd try to be back soon, especially for the pizzas.

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