A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Monday, March 07, 2005

Mar. 7.




Dinner
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Fornino - 187 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Arugula, pear and gorgonzola salad; Margherita Classica pizza - tomato, mozzarella, basil, parmesan cheese and olive oil; Patate e Salsiccia pizza - fennel sausage, fingerling potatoes, fontina, cherry tomatoes; spumoni; bottle of Banfi Centine 2003
$36.50

I am a trendwatcher. I admit it. I follow the fads and phases of the New York dining cycle and try to diagnose them before they become passé. Some of the big ones I noticed in 2004 were the explosion in bar dining, the small plates craze, specialty restaurants only serving one thing, and the rise in ultra-premium Japanese food. But perhaps the best trend of all was the ascendance of the artisanal pizza.

All of a sudden, out of the mist sprang Una Pizza Napoletana (see Jan. 6, Feb. 6), Fornino and Franny’s, three upstarts determined to reclaim a food we all thought we knew so well. All of a sudden, critics were mentioning these new places alongside the usual suspects that perpetually dominate countdowns of New York’s best pizza (Lombardi’s, DiFara’s, Grimaldi’s, Patsy’s, Totonno, Denino et. al). All of a sudden, paying up to $17 for an individual pie when a slice is $2 didn’t sound as egregious.

My friend Lindsay had just moved to Park Slope and we were going to have dinner to inaugurate her as a first-time New Yorker. When she said she was in the mood for pizza and salad, Fornino came to mind as a good place for the occasion. So we met at the restaurant, situated on a stretch of Williamsburg’s bustling Bedford Avenue. We ordered a bottle of Banfi Centine wine from the very cheaply priced (nothing over $20) Italian list and started to peruse the verbose descriptions of available pizzas. Our hipster waiter was very helpful with explanations, which Fornino sometimes needs.

The menu is split into three categories, First Generation, Second Generation and Third Generation, indicating the range from authentic to nouveau that the pies run. The First Generation are the simplest and most classic Neapolitan-style, the kind of pizza that won’t keep Anthony Mangieri up at night, gnashing his teeth. The Second Generation takes some wider liberties where the Third Generation runs the most wild. After obliging Lindsay her salad, we decided to sample opposite ends of the spectrum with a First Generation Margherita and a Third Generation Patate e Salsiccia.

The salad was a nice start, with its deconstructed ingredients of pears, arugula and cheese all occupying separate spaces like a family having a fight. Everything tasted fresh and wholesome, not surprising considering chef-owner Michael Ayoub’s tendency to get many of his ingredients from his garden or greenhouse. Still, while I appreciated the organic element, eight dollars seemed a little steep for such a simple salad. I guess Williamsburg is in the Lower East Side now.

From there, we advanced hungrily to the pizzas. The Margherita was indeed plain and traditional, not to mention delicious. It disappeared without effort, with a nice equilibrium of ingredients. Still, it was slightly diminished by the overly charred crust (a pro for some, a peeve for me) and the inevitable comparison between Una Pizza Napoletana’s Margherita. As good as Fornino’s was, it was no match for the heavenly pie being put out at its East Village competition.

I actually preferred the Third Generation pie, which I had nothing similar to compare it to. That’s because the Patate e Salsiccia, along with its other innovative counterparts, is offering something unique and special. Kind of how ‘Wichcraft has gourmetized sandwiches with its walnut pestos, red dandelion greens and marinated cauliflower approach, Fornino has given pizza back its pizzazz with premium offbeat ingredients like lemon slices and black truffles. With that said though, some of the pies seemed offbeat for the sake of it and the fingerling potatoes in our Patate seemed poorly chosen, because they were very hard to detect. The great fragrant fennel sausage and the soft cherry tomatoes compensated nobly though.

For dessert, we finished up with spumoni. It proved too ordinary an end for a pizzeria that stakes its claim on originality. Still, the situation is much the same at Una Pizza, which offers no dessert, and Franny’s, which only has three simple options. Perhaps the next trend will be artisanal desserts at artisanal pizzerias. Until then, I’ll be quite happy to keep enjoying the current trend. 7/10

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