Keste: All Bread, No Taste
For better or for worse, I held high expectations for Keste Pizza & Vino, a wildly popular Neapolitain pizza joint on Bleecker. An electric combination of media-fueled hype, publicized comparisons between Keste, Co, and Motorino, constant crowds milling around outside the narrow storefront, and my own personal fascination with ‘haute’ pizza put perhaps undue pressure on Keste to perform. Unfortunately, it fell short. In fact, very short when put alongside Sifton’s pick for best pizza Motorino.
On Bleecker near Cornelia, Keste evokes a basic pizza joint with little charm. The long and narrow dining room packs in standard wooden tables for 2 and 4 wherever they possibly fit; bright almost flourescent lights cast a familiar unattractive glow over patrons; a certain lack of knick-knacks or decor at all prevents one from feeling truly comfortable or at home in the cramped space.
The pizza selection is impressive with both normal and gluten-free crusts and every imaginable permutation of traditional Neapolitan toppings. The pizza itself was very hit or miss. The meatless options (Margherita, Marinara) pleased with soft high-quality cheese that melted deliciously in the your mouth. The zesty tomato sauce and beautifully soft and fluffy crust added the icing to the cake. Unfortunately, the meatcentric pizzas (Keste special, Salciccia) were bland and uninteresting. While the same crust will please bread-lovers like myself, the meat toppings were atrocious, utterly lacking in flavor. The italian sausage on the Salciccia pie was almost tasteless, totally bereft of spice, texture and pizzazz; similarly, the prosciutto slices tossed over the Keste pie were salty and stringy yet not savory at all.
The pizza itself wasn’t the only disappointment. The service was flat-out bizarre. Our ‘Italian’ waiter practically scoffed at my mangled pronunciation of pizza varieties (listen, you try flawlessly annunciating salciccia with no Italian background), refused to maintain eye contact at any point, leisurely leaned against the wall behind our table while taking our order (forcing us to speak loudly to ensure he actually heard us), and didn’t care to tell us the special pies without prodding. It was a ‘what gives’ situation and had to stop myself from asking whether or not we weren’t Italian enough for him.
All in all, Keste can’t hold a candle to the growing competition in the Neapolitan space (what is all the hype about?). Without argument, Motorino alone scores higher on ambience, service, and food. Not to mention, I get better service at the cheap $0.99 pizza joint on my block (without the attitude). The $15-$19 pizzas are just average for the steep price tag, leaving room for vast improvements on the flavor front.
Good for a quick meal dining solo, throwing money away on fancy pizza, or for mingling amongst the well-heeled huppie (hipster/yuppie) crowds of Bleecker.