We celebrated Stevie’s 26th birthday at the opening night of dinner service at Pulino’s. Its enormous eye-catching red neon signage stole the spotlight at the bustling intersection of Houston and Bowery. In an otherwise quaint food scene, home to the likes of Cafe Habana and Cafe Gitane, Keith McNally fused a bit of his Lower East Side Schiller’s and Meatpacking Pastis, to bring this hopping pizzeria to the rising Nolita district.
It was a pretty vibrant crowd – as much as all the buzz in the food world had promised. The maitre d’ and wait staff were obviously very well trained. We had a large party of 12, which might have caused a little trouble since we all trickled in from work and it was two more than originally reserved – but the staff was somehow both sternly professional and coolly accommodating in getting everyone settled. All in all, they’re no newbies to the restaurant business, and with the McNally name behind it, they by no means needed to be nice to get attention. In the 10 minutes we waited for our table, we saw about five couples politely turned away.
As for the food, neither the meatball nor sausage pizzas really lived up to the hype. While nicely hand-tossed, with that homemade feel to each individual pie, the flavors were nothing extraordinary. I wasn’t a fan of the tomato base, which was too sparse on the edges of the pie and too heavy at the center, making the thin layer of dough underneath soggy.
What did come as a nice surprise, however, were the salads. The red cabbage with roasted sunchokes was unexpectedly sweet and tangy. My favorites of the night were the hint of mint in the caesar romaine and incredibly gooey homemade mozzarella.
But as a pizzeria, you’d wish its dinner pies could have offered something more inventive. I think its brunch menu is a step in the right direction, and something I definitely want to try. But with the beautiful lights on at night, illuminating the bottles of scotch and whiskey showcased against the walls, they may want to rethink what the heart of their operations has to offer.