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Monday, July 14, 2014

A Margherita Made in Inwood

a Margherita is always the first test

IF you've been following this blog for long (you're still unemployed?), you probably know just how much I love sparkling wine... and a good Margherita pizza! Hence, I was thrilled when I'd learned that the latest restaurant to open in my neighborhood was serving an authentic-seeming pizza Margherita!

My first bite at Maranello Trattoria (no website as of yet) was about 2-3 weeks ago. With suspicions, David and I walked the few short blocks to the new eatery which currently has the closest semblance of a white-tablecloth, sit-down restaurant one can find in Inwood--save for New Leaf Restaurant. (Yes, I am a snob; and yes, I will judge you if your napkin is not in your lap at least by the time any sort of food arrives at the table.) David was not really eating, but I was; and I placed an order for a simple Margherita pizza to start. (After a short stint working for Neapolitan-inspired chef, Donatella Arpaia, I've concluded that a pizza Margherita is the true test of any self-proclaiming pizzaiolo; if Maranello's Margherita could pass muster, then I'd be willing to try one of their other pies.)

When my Margherita pizza had arrived I had my Canon S95 at the ready, but with a somewhat lackluster presentation, I instead reached for my fork. But at first bite I was humbled by a pie that tasted as pure as the volcanic-stone baked pies I'd enjoyed just a few years prior, working with chef Arpaia (there are strict guidelines one must follow in order to claim their pies "Neapolitan"). Pleased with the pie, I carried on with an order of arancini; yet, while I could tell that the arancini were, in fact, handmade, they also came across as a bit bland.

HOWEVER, living in New York City for more than half of my life now, pizza is in my blood (along with black coffee and my unlimited MetroCard). And following my late lunch/early dinner at Maranello, I was counting down the days to my return (being just three blocks away, how could I not be excited?).

fried calamari at Maranello

This afternoon I returned for "brunch" (even though it was 5 o'clock, it was my first meal of the day). Having just opened, I had free range of the entire dining room and opted for a Broadway-facing window seat. And since it was also my day off, I decided to start with a glass of prosecco. Following my order, I looked forward to Maranello's bread service which consists of your choice of fresh baguette or focaccia served with oil.

Again, I ordered a Margherita pizza which arrived much quicker than I'd expected it would and while its presentation appeared more photo-worthy than on my last visit, the product ultimately seemed a bit off. First, there seemed to be an out of place aroma... was that truffle oil that I was smelling? And just beneath the surface, the dough seemed to be a bit undercooked. Yet, the pizza still proved to be one of the decidedly better meals one could get in the neighborhood. And the service was pretty much on point and friendly. Finishing both the wine and the pizza, I decided to order one more item (as to not have to cook later). Examining the menu, I eventually narrowed down my selection to fried calamari, paired with a glass of the house rosé (decidedly drier than the prosecco).

As my 'reverse starter' was placed before me, I thought that it looked well enough; and it mimicked Maranello's theme of freshness, with circles of steam wafting upward. I was also glad to see a fair number of tentacles included on the plate, as well as two choices of dipping sauce (a cilantro-garlic aioli and a fresh mint marinara sauce). The squid itself tasted fresh and the batter was nice and crispy. But as for the flavor: the dish could have benefited greatly from a fresh squeeze of lemon, or at least from a bit more salt. However, the rosé kept me placated and in the end I benefited from knowing that next time, I'll simply stick with a Margherita pizza. Perhaps over the next few weeks, Maranello will iron out some of its kinks.

Maranello Trattoria, 1 Nagle Street, Inwood (212) 544-7400
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