BY ELENA MANCINI
Pizza and pasta–those hearty and humble components of a deliciously satisfying meal that New Yorkers are so fond of, don’t often get the respect they deserve. All too frequently, respectable, well-executed pies and good pastas are saddled with carafes of cheap house wine and generic appetizers and desserts. Many of you will be quick and right in pointing out that the artisinal pizza trend that has monopolized New York food news the past two years. And, sure there’s no denying the fact that NYC has witnessed a flowering of upscale pizza ovens and the masses of seemingly overnight pizza cognoscenti. And a good many of them are run by vertiable pizza masters, and surely churn out a damn good pizza Napoletana. But in many instances, the hype outweighs the value (read Co. and Pulino) and actual output. Not to mention getting a square inch of table space and the time of day from overworked, frustrated or snooty service staff often costs patrons interminable waits and walk the plank-like treatment.
Plum offers a refreshing updated take on both of these beloved foods. Championing the premise that pizza and pasta can well be main characters of a fine dining experience, indeed the heart and soul of one, and easily accommodated with an excellent bottle of wine. Co-owners and long-time friends and New York Pizza veterans, Alex Alexopoulos and Adonis Nikoloulis, deliver on this principle by taking a number of thoughtful, inventive and consumer-friendly approaches that are reflected in the menu, winelist, decor and friendly service. One of the first thing that stands out when getting past a rather non-descript storefront, is a pizza oven and a bar area housed in a dimly lit, sleek, but cozy dining area. The decor is warm and tastefully understated with internationally-themed vintage posters adorning exposed brick walls. The penchant for things international is also prominently reflected in Plum’s extensive wine list. Its selections represent a variety of price points and by-the-glass wines options featuring twenty reds and whites from around the globe. With prices ranging from $8-$13, selections include Chilean reds, Alsatian Rieslings, Lambrusco, premiere champagne options and a range of prosecchi (prices range from $8-$13). The full bar at Plum also features a wide range of imported brews and cocktails.
At a temperature of about 680-700 degrees, Plum’s gas fueled oven churns out pies that are baked to perfection. Evenly baked with a thin crust that can not only withstand the weight of its toppings without sagging, but can easily be folded and eaten straight out of hand without making a sloppy greasy mess. The baking technique and a judicious topping distribution, ensures that no excess pools of oil, so much so that a tipped slice will produce no drops. The pizza entrees come in three sizes (mini- $9.95; small -$15 and large – $17) and are fully customizable with an array of fresh, seasonal toppings. Some of the standard ingredients that help make Plum’s a truly memorable pie is the fresh, plum tomato sauce, the fresh homemade mozzarella and the Greek-imported olive oil. The sauce has a medium viscosity and has a naturally sweet flavor with a slight hint of acidity. Toppings are subjective, but a great, flavor-packed combination is the sausage, red onion. The lean pork sausage is released from the casing and crumbled onto the pie, and the thinly sliced onions and a measure of textured, sweetness that generates mmmhs of pleasure. A vegetarian favorite of mine is the arugula-topped pie, which features a fresh thicket of wild baby arugula placed onto the tomato-mozzarella based pie.
The pasta menu features numerous Italian-American inspired classics, often in a lighter, updated guise, as well inventive pasta dishes. The Fettucine Carbonara is a case in point for Plum’s innovative spin on a standard favorite. A generous bowl of perfectly al dente fettucine came glistening under a thin coating of white wine reduction cream sauce instead of the usual egg based condiment. A rich handful of shitake mushrooms, strips of pancetta that irradiated an irresistable smoky flavor to the whole and a dash of fresh peas for color made this an inspired, thoughtful, and above all delicious dish. While I am a lover of Carbonara, the liberties taken here positively enhanced the dish to make it lighter, more edible and exciting.
White sauce also stands to take a well-deserved bow at Plum with its Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli with Pistacchio Sauce. The dish comes with seven toothsome pumpkin-flavored dough ovals filled with a velvety, lightly spiced pumpkin filling under a thick, satiny sheen of white wine sauce and a generous sprinkle of whole pistacchio nuts.
The beloved Italian-American classic of Penne alla Vodka is also an excellent choice. Prepared with a light pink sauce with a tomato sauce base imported from Italy. It’s favorably reinterpreted with some sparsely scattered strips of pancetta, giving it more depth and personality.
While Plum takes inspired liberties on some Italian and Italian American classics, it also executes the staples in their traditionalist form. Their Rigatoni alla Bolognese would certainly withstand the test of any genuine Italian Sunday feast, as well as do the nonninas proud. The sauce is prepared in the traditional slow-cooked tomato-based ragu fashion, loaded with lean ground beef, minced celery, carrots and herbs.
Most pastas are $16.95 for individual portions and in the low $30 range for sharable platter-size portions that serve four.
APPETIZERS AND DESSERT
The appetizer menu includes an array of fresh salads, including a Caprese made with homemade mozzarella over thick slices of Lucky’s tomatoes, platters of Italian-imported charcuterie and a variety of bruschette.
Meals can be finished with a $7 dessert of the day that features a rotating specialty from a variety of local bakeries and dessert shops.
Emphasizing premium-quality ingredients, an inspired combination of Mediterranean culinary tradition and innovation, and warm, contemporary ambiance, Plum will appeal to discerning palates and their wallets too.
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
Plum is open for weekend brunch (11:30 – 4), and features a popular Cognac and Greek honey infused French Toast.
*Note this review is based on a series of visits to Plum over a six month period, one of which included a Press Tasting Dinner Event.