I was wrapping up lunch at Pizzeria Vetri when a gentleman approached my table. He was skinny and stooped-over and appeared to be in dire straits. Very politely, he asked for help getting a little food. I handed him the last slice of my rosemary-and-mozzarella pie.
A black blister had erupted from the only part of the wedge that wasn’t overburdened with cheese. The slice flopped over in his grasp, as the rest had in mine.
“Is this what they gave you at this restaurant?” he asked.
“Yes,” I nodded, attempting a reassuring smile.
His brow creased. “Were they angry with you?”
That was a little less polite. Save for one flighty server overcome by the dinner onslaught, Pizzeria Vetri’s staff was exceptionally pleasant on all four of my visits. And doubly so when my lunch date required a kiddie cup. Yet my unexpected visitor wasn’t totally off the mark. Pizzeria Vetri has many things to recommend it, but consistently good pizza isn’t one of them.
You might get lucky. I did. Once. It was with the Melanzana pie—creamy clumps of stracciatella and richly oily eggplant slices complementing the perfect tang of crushed San Marzanos, all on a masterfully crispy yet pliant Neapolitan-style crust. It was as good as any pizza I’ve had at Osteria, which sets the standard in this city (and is the inevitable measuring stick for any restaurant bearing Marc Vetri’s name).
The problem, though, was the other five pizzas I tried. One was okay, but four were literal flops—a problem whose origin became clear one day when I sat at the spiffy white-marble pizza-assembly counter and watched anxiously as a dough-stretcher strained the center of one 13-inch disk after another into a barely visible film. I couldn’t believe they weren’t popping. No wonder my margherita and fennel-sausage pies kept collapsing under their own weight.
The further away I got from the pizza menu, though, the better Pizzeria Vetri got. There are lovely salads: arugula and roasted fingerlings slathered with killer pesto, and a “wood oven” salad that’s a belly-filling medley of corn, chanterelles, blistered green beans and top-drawer ham, studded with ricotta salata. There’s exceptionally fresh-tasting kegged wine from the Gotham Project, and bottled sloe-gin fizzes and Americanos that serve two for $12. The rotolos are instantly the best savory pastry in town: crispy pizza dough coiled Cinnabon-style around mortadella and ricotta, doused with pistachio pesto.
I also loved one of my two Sicilian-style slices of the day, which played like a puffy, crispy focaccia decked with roasted pears and gorgonzola. And I’ll go back for all those things.
But in the future, I’ll order the pizza with lower expectations.