Sunday, May 24, 2009
Getting it Right-Pizza Volante in the Design District...
Chef Jonathan Eismann doesn't want to leave anything to chance. Although he is a noted risk-taker-he races his own Ferrari and flies his own planes (although the planes are rentals, for now)-every detail at Pizza Volante, his new pizzeria/mozzarella bar in the Design District, has been well thought out and planned, right down to the height of the pizza oven (52", although he wishes it were lower now). He has had the same recipe for making pizza dough since his New York days, where he was possibly the prototype for Rocco DiSpirito, as he was the first chef for Jeffrey Chodorow's China Grill. He even had a nineteen year old Bobby Flay on his line at one time-ah, those were heady days.
And his eye for detail means that he is the one who gets up on a step-ladder to change some prices on the chalkboard menu. Is that a little too hands-on, maybe a little obsessive? "Not really," Eismann deadpans. "It's just that nobody here has really good hand-writing." The best thing about Pizza Volante for Eismann, is that it is just steps away from his flagship Pacific Time restaurant, on NE 39th St. He is trying to bring more movement to the 'west side' of the DD, and hopes Pizza Volante will accomplish that. He can also help set up at PV, make some sauce, do some prep, then go work lunch at PT, literally walking back and forth. Of course, for fun he could also drive his tiny Fiat back and forth the hundred or so feet (according to the chef it came from Italy "in a box"), but it probably will remain planted in front of PV for the foreseeable future.
The mozzarella from Italian transplant Vito Volpe (who is himself quite a character) has been rightly praised, especially right here. http://dailycocaine.blogspot.com/2008/04/italian-man-makes-pizza.html
And here http://dailycocaine.blogspot.com/2008/02/shutupayoumouth.html I knew Vito would become legend, and I'm proud to have been his earliest booster for all his great products (more whey butter, please?). But more on the mozzarella bar at a later date. I ate a great pie here, the 'Cacciatorini'. The meat toppings-a meaty 'California' pepperoni; the wild boar sausage that gives the pizza its name; and the guanciale, oh jesus the guanciale, were draped over a good-sized round of wood-smoke-charred dough, that had enough 'wood-char' on it to bring a smile to a lumberjack. In fact, the first, and most overpowering aroma of the pizza is that of the wood-smoke. The oven burns at about 800 degrees, with a wood-fire inside. The pine adds not just heat, of course, but the pies, when you have a live fire in the oven, must be turned constantly or they will burn. This takes technique and diligence, and makes sure that the pie can not be ignored.
The wines are very, very, cheap, and are served in tumblers. This helps prevent 'chef-shudder'-when a bunch of wine stems can be heard breaking, and the chef 'shudders' as he adds up the dollars he just lost. It also helps keep costs down, and I had a perfectly serviceable Chianti for $4 /glass. The bottle was $16. In fact, all of the wines are $18 or under/bottle. The pie ($11) had two slices left, which I took to go, so it was a pretty reasonably priced lunch, and would be an even more reasonable dinner. All of the DD heavyweights, like Craig Robbins, Michael and Tamara Schwartz, etc., had already been in before Saturday, when I stopped by, and I think Chef Eismann may be on to something here.
There are chefs (Michael Jacobs, Clay Conley) moving, or planning on moving, into Wynwood, and Pizza Volante sits at the juncture, almost, of the Design District and Wynwood. A gateway restaurant, if you will, with low prices, that also may have the effect of driving diners to try the chef's more upscale Pacific Time. So in the end, the risk-taking will have paid off. And maybe that's why the chef seemed so relaxed and expansive when I spoke with him on Saturday. He was already where he wanted Pizza Volante to be about 60 days out, and on just his second day. In this economy, maybe pizza is king.