I'm embarrassed to admit how rarely I go out to eat in the East Village. Given where I live and where I work, the East Village isn't the first neighborhood that pops into my head when I need to pick somewhere to meet up with friends for dinner. But after attending a press dinner at Plum Pizzeria and Bar, I realize just how short-sighted I've been.
Greek owners Alex Alexopoulos (also Executive Chef) and Adonis Nikoloulis prepared a generous tasting menu for us that featured some of their most popular dishes and house specialties, including pastas cooked in the home-style Southern Italian tradition and New York-style pizza.
Despite European tradition, we started our meal by simultaneously tasting two of Plum's salads, the Insalata Caprese ($9.95 for individual; $19.95 for family), with homemade mozzarella, Lucky's tomatoes, roasted peppers, pesto, balsamic reduction, and Greek-imported extra-virgin olive oil and the Insalata Italiana ($9.95 for individual; $20.95 for family), with red leaf mesclun, roasted bell peppers, black olives, capers, carrots, artichokes, homemade mozzarella, and a house Italian dressing. Both salads were beautifully plated and were well-balanced in terms of flavor and seasoning. With the Insalata Caprese, I enjoyed having the basil in the form of pesto in addition to the fresh basil leaves arranged on top. The pesto added a layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward dish. And, the homemade mozzarella was a treat, very mild.
The Insalata Italiana truly showcased the traditional flavors of Italy, from the olives and capers to the artichokes and roasted bell peppers. The dressing was extremely delicate and pulled everything together, making the dish more than just a plateful of meticulously arranged vegetables. The salads were paired with a glass of 2009 Fattoria di Magliano Vermentino and were the last light dishes we'd eat.
From there, we progressed to the first of four (yes, four) pasta dishes of our meal, both paired with a glass of 2003 Bodegas Casa de la Ermita Jumilla from Spain, a wine that goes well with dishes featuring heavy cream. The Penne alla Vodka ($14.95 for individual; $32.95 for family) was spectacular, as the sauce embodied the smokiness from the pancetta without being completed overwhelmed by it.
Next came one of my favorite dishes of the night -- Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli ($13.95 for individual; $32.95 for family) with pistachio sauce. In a regular individual order, you get seven ravioli, but after eating just one, you'll be protecting the other six with your life. The dough is made fresh every day and is stuffed with a filling that's spiced in a way that reminds you with each bite that you're eating something savory and far from a slice of pumpkin pie. What really stood out for me, though, was the pistachio sauce. Although it is a cream-based sauce, it doesn't taste as heavy as it should because it's thinned slightly by a white wine reduction.
The secret to a heavenly cream sauce is a white wine reduction! Tell your friends. Hell, tell your enemies. This knowledge is way too valuable to keep to yourself.
Moving on! The next two pasta dishes were paired with a glass of 2008 Deloach Pinot Noir, a spicier red wine, and represented two of the house specialties. First, Fettucine Carbonara ($13.95 for individual; $31.95 for family) prepared without the traditional egg yolks. Everything about this dish is special -- the fresh green peas, the wild mushrooms (including shiitake!), the applewood-smoked bacon, and the cream sauce, again, made lighter with a white wine reduction. Chef Alex told us that they use shiitake mushrooms because of their texture and their ability to soak in the meaty flavor from the bacon. Clearly, he knows how to put his own spin on an Italian classic.
To round out our tasting of pasta dishes (and to round out our expanding waistlines), we tried the Rigatoni alla Bolognese ($14.95 for individual; $33.95 for family), a signature dish of the establishment made with ground beef and veal, carrots, celery, rosemary, and thyme and garnished with parsley for freshness. In this case, the sauce is made fresh every morning from Italian-imported canned tomatoes (for consistency in water content) and simmers on the stove for a good two hours. The depth of flavor of the sauce was intensely divine, and had I more room in my stomach, I would have asked for seconds.
But we had to bid farewell to the pasta dishes and mentally prepare ourselves for what was coming next: three (yes, three) different types of pizza.
All of the pizzas at Plum, available in three different sizes -- 9" (mini), 12" (small), and 16" (large) -- begin with their homemade mozzarella, plum tomato sauce, and fresh basil. From there, you add on toppings of your choosing. We tried a 12" Pizza with Garlic and Pepperoni, a 12" Pizza with Sausage and Onions, and a 12" Pizza, Half Plain, Half with Mushrooms and Peppers. Seriously, at this point, it hurt to think about eating. But I couldn't leave the pizzeria without trying the pizza, right? My favorite of the bunch was the pizza with garlic and pepperoni. It wasn't heavy or oily and the pepperoni, which is made in-house, had a spicy kick to it that was balanced by the glass of 2005 Angela Negro Barbaresco Basarin I was sipping.
What makes the pizza really stand apart from other pizza available in the city is the crust, achieved by baking the pizza in an extremely hot gas-powered oven (680-700°F) made from old, old bricks for no more than four minutes. Old bricks are used because they have a low water content and won't adversely affect the texture of the crust. This crust is thin and crisp and has just the perfect amount of chew. I loved everything about it.
Can you believe we had room for dessert after all of that? Once the pizza was cleared away, we were served generous slices of Chocolate Mousse Cake. The desserts at Plum are not made on-site and are actually purchased from local bakeries in the neighborhood, so what you see one night may be completely different than what you see the next. Only one or two dessert options are offered to make it easier for the diner to choose. Smart, smart, smart.
A few more notes about Plum:
- Menus are kept as seasonal as possible.
- Brunch is served on the weekends. I've been told to order the Blueberry and Maple French Toast because Greek-imported honey is mixed into the maple syrup, which makes the dish to-die-for.
- Beginning in April 2011, Plum will offer diners the option of dining al fresco. Weather-permitting, of course.
- There is talk of adding a tasting menu option to the regular menu, with or without paired wines.
If you haven't been already, then I highly recommend you check out the scene at Plum. Tell Alex and Adonis I sent you.
Plum Pizzeria and Bar
157 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 375-9555 | Map
Taste As You Go Disclaimer: I was provided with the opportunity to dine at this restaurant at no cost. I do not accept monetary compensation for writing about my experiences. All opinions expressed are my own.