The noise. The din. This is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Napolese. I even did a two visit review this time before writing this one just to make sure the first time wasn’t an aberration. Man, is this place loud. It’s a cute little place and I like the modern décor, black walls, open kitchen—but it is buzzing for sure. And the second time we went, shortly after the restaurant opened for the day, it wasn’t full on noisy yet, but by the time we left, as one of my dining companions put it, “it was prohibitively loud.” Now, the other person in our party later told me she really liked the atmosphere, and described it as "lively." She also commented she liked being able to talk without being overheard by the people at the next table. So I guess it depends on how you look at noise. It is a fine line for me, you don't want the restaurant to be a tomb, but I go on sensory overload when it is too noisy.
But on to the food. Both times I had the bruschetta appetizer to start. The first time I liked it better than the second. It was fresher and riper tasting, and I liked all the olives mixed into it. The second time, the tomatoes seemed a bit underripe and it didn’t have the tangy vinegar taste that I got the first time, and there weren’t nearly as many olives mixed in. We also had the warm goat cheese in marinara sauce. These dishes are served family style and are big enough to share. The bread is served on the side with them and you dish them out yourself. Which inherently, I do not have a problem with, but the pieces of bread (obviously slivers of the pizza dough) were far too skinny to be proper for topping or even dipping. They were probably an inch wide, and not crispy at all, so it was somewhat challenging to get the stuff on top of the bread--epecially the bruschetta. And actually, thinking about it, the word “bruschetta” means toasted or grilled bread (read crunchy) topped with various things. Yes, usually the most common topping is a tomato mixture when you see this on a menu around here. But the bread should be crunchy. That is all I am saying. Or at least wide enough that you can put some stuff on it. We also had the warm goat cheese in marinara sauce as an app. The goat cheese was really tasty. The marinara at Napolese has a great flavor. And at least it was easier to scoop up with the little pieces of soft crust. On my first visit I also tried the arugula salad. It is certainly large, and big enough to share, but it was underdressed and really all you could taste was the very peppery arugula. There was a lemon wedge on the side, which helped a bit, but more dressing is really what the salad needed.
As for pizzas, I have tried a few. I will say, one thing about Napolese, this place is dialed in to really interesting sounding toppings (at least to me). Two pizzas feature sunny side up eggs, which is a favorite of mine since the first time I had one in Rome. The first time I went, I had the “broken yolk” pizza with the chicken egg (as opposed to the quail eggs) which was nice. It was a margherita pizza, just tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella and basil with the egg in the middle. It was a little challenging in that you had to cut it yourself (I assume so as not to break the yolk before its time) but a big knife and a pizza are sort of awkward. Honestly, I am not sure how to remedy this situation, and I can’t honestly remember if the pizzas I have had with egg before were cut or not, but I certainly don’t remember cutting them myself. This may have been my favorite of the bunch that I have tried so far though as far as flavor.
We also had the Meridian Kessler which was the basic red pie (tomato sauce and cheese) with spicy sausage and mushrooms and aged provolone. This was tasty (my dining companions were quite happy with it for sure). The sausage certainly had a bit of spice to it, and while maybe not all would agree, I enjoyed the whole button mushrooms here. This was a traditional combo for sure, but still came across as a bit unique.
Finally, we had a special pizza of the day. This pizza was explained as morels, fiddlehead ferns and ricotta. It was a white pizza (i.e. no sauce) and was described by our server as “amazing.” Now, she pretty much had me at morels, even though they were Oregon morels… I was very excited to try it. Unfortunately, this one didn’t come together for me. I thought the morels were a bit sandy to really enjoy (even though they were cut into pieces) and the fiddlehead ferns a bit too crunchy. It was also a bit too dry for me too, and I often love a pizza without the traditional marinara. Both of my friends agreed with this assessment and declared they liked the sausage/mushroom pizza much better.
The thing that makes this kind of pizza for me is the crust though, and this was good. I enjoyed mopping up the leftover goat cheese and marinara with my crusts. And again, the marinara on the pizza was quite good as well. But the goat cheese app was so much better with the crusts, because they were so much bigger than the bread that was served with the apps. They really need to come up with a better plan on the bread they serve with these kind of starters.
We also had a dessert pizza, which was the crust drizzled with Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread) with a scoop of gelato (from Zingerman’s). Man, this was sweet. Super sweet. Maybe just a little over the top even for me, and I love Nutella. I would love to see something using the crust and maybe the chocolate sugars from Petite Chou and then a little Gelato on top. (What? A girl can dream)-- Something just a little less gooey I guess.
Ok, Napolese has some things that bug me, but the good news is, some of them are at least potentially fixable (the bread the bread the bread!) (and my guess is there is something they could do about the noise if they want to). And there are some positive things too--I love the sound of a lot of the pizza combos--the “BLT,” or bacon, caramelized leeks and Taleggio sounds delish as does the “PFG” which is pancetta, roasted fingerlings, and gorgonzola. That’s what I mean-- nearly every pie has some intriguing and interesting topping combos that really make you think you need to try them all. And hey, next time I want to go somewhere with my kids and not worry about the noise, I may just take them here.
114 East 49th Street