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Dinner at Apizz, 4/18/08

Prior to my friend’s band’s CD release party on Friday, my friend Linda and I decided to grab a bite of Italian at Apizz, which just so happened to be located blocks from the music venue’s Lower East Side address.

I didn’t have to wait long for Linda to arrive, but five minutes was more than enough time. Apizz is located, or should I say surrounded, by housing projects (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I did feel slightly unsafe). Once inside, however, I felt transported to another world. The space is housed within burnt red exposed brick walls, wood beamed ceilings that felt 20 feet tall, windows strategically built towards the roof in order to bring in just enough sunlight and none of the urban views, and a skylight illuminating the dining room that must have been the size of a circular “kiddie” pool. What seemed like hundreds of twinkling votive candles kept the atmosphere romantic and serene, while their flames seemed to dance to the subtle background music. I was quite impressed to see a full bar, but was very unimpressed with the 1980’s-style grey office-building-esque carpeting.

After announcing our arrival, Linda and I were whisked to our two-top in full view of the lively open kitchen. What a spectacle it was to see the chefs preparing meals and utilizing the vast brick oven that hugged their back sides.

Our adorably handsome waiter brought us each a dinner menu and before he could place the wine list on our table, Linda and I blurted out what we’d like to drink (it was Friday, for God’s sake!). When he returned with our goblets of wine, we placed our food orders. To start, we chose the pizza Bianca, which would be baked before our eyes in Apizz’s brick oven. Linda ordered risotto for her entrée and I went with the gnocchi with honey-braised beef short rib ragu. Moments later, a basket of crusty white country bread, a bowl of whipped ricotta cheese and another of warm marinara sauce was placed before our very eyes. OK, so I’ve had my bread served with butter, olive oil, infused olive oil with spices and garlic, white bean spread, you name it! But I’ve never been served both ricotta and marinara dipping “sauces” a gratis! The fresh bread and timidly mild ricotta was a perfect match for the robustly spicy tomato sauce. What a treat!

After consuming three slices of bread in a hungry rage, I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t enjoy the pizza as much as I would have had I not had a carboholic meltdown. No need to worry, folks…I was just fine! Presented on what looked like a wooden cutting board was a cylindrical shaped golden crust not thicker than ¼ inch topped with parmesan, ricotta and fresh mozzarella cheeses, and finished with sautéed spinach. It’s truly amazing what culinary magic a brick oven can do to your pizza! The dough was cooked to a crisp that I’d compare to matzo crackers (but much more flavorful). The trinity of the cheeses was beautiful; each type brought something so unique and different to the pie, thus creating a creamy, spicy, pungent and salty first layer. The addition of the spinach provided an earthy, garlicky flavor and textural grit.

After two culinary homeruns, our pastas arrived. I was shocked by how ample the portions at Apizz
were! We’re talking like lumber-jack-sized plates of food! I instantly smiled when I saw the gorgeous homemade gnocchi. The pasta was imperfectly cut in to bite-sized pieces from its long pipe-like-shaped origin and covered with a hearty, burgundy-colored ragu dotted with Italian mirepoix and velvety shreds of short rib. This dish, however, was not a culinary homerun. While it looked perfect, I found the sauce to be too sweet, due to the meat being braised in honey. I’ve heard that people in the Midwest eat their spaghetti noodles with brisket and barbeque sauce, and after the first bite of my gnocchi, I felt transported to the Dakota’s. I get the whole “butternut squash ravioli” concept (you know, topped with crushed nuts and a semi-sweet gorgonzola cream sauce), but for some reason, this sweet and savory dish wasn’t doing it for me.

Perhaps it was me…Maybe I just ordered wrong. Next time, I’ll go with my gut feeling and order the meatballs. Regardless of my entrée let-down, I truly enjoyed my experience at Apizz and would absolutely return. I couldn’t think of a better place for a romantic date or dinner with the parents (unless they’re scared of the scenery outside).

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