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The Cheap List

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Rhong-Tiam  

If you like your pizza served at an actual table as well as baked by a Salerno-born hotshot pizzaiolo named Riccardo, you can do no better than to leg it up to the Bronx and visit the sprawling trattoria Zero Otto Nove (2357 Arthur Ave.; 718-220-1027). That’s where Riccardo Risvaldo has been practicing his pizza voodoo since late last year. His twelve-inch margherita pies ($14.95) are the real deal—light and fragrant, tender to the bite, dabbed with melted blobs of buffalo mozzarella like a painter’s palette, and in the same pristine Neapolitan class as the ones at the great Una Pizza Napoletana in the East Village. That Riccardo has taken a temporary leave of absence, and is set to return in September, is no reason to postpone a visit: The U.G. has done his pizza-eating homework and sampled pies cooked by both the young master and his faithful understudy, and we can say that Riccardo has trained his staff well.

The Bronx, of course, has nothing on Brooklyn in the pizza-making department, as recent additions to the U.G. checklist attest. At South Brooklyn Pizza (451 Court St., Carroll Gardens; 718-852-6018), an annex of the Irish bar P.J. Hanley’s, you can get a lumpy pie ($12) baked in a restored coal-burning oven by a real-estate developer turned pizza baker named Jim McGown. He serves these ovoid disks one way and one way only—with a crust that’s heavily charred (some would say burned) and topped with nothing more than a simple sauce of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, a little fresh basil, and a medley of four cheeses. South Brooklyn, incidentally, is the only place in town that serves coal-oven-baked chocolate-chip cookies (unburned) for dessert.

The trend toward disguising Brooklyn pizzerias as Irish sports bars continues at Toby’s Public House (686 Sixth Ave., South Slope; 718-788-1186), where the management, instead of setting up a rack of potato chips behind the bar, has seen fit to install a shapely beehive brick oven and enlist the services of a Calabrian pizzaiolo named Nicola Bertolotti to stoke its wood-burning fire. Here, you can tuck into your Bufalina D.O.C. pie ($15)—which has a fine balance and a flawless cheese-to-sauce ratio—while watching the game du jour on one of three flat screens, or, if you like, you can just observe the athletic gyrations of Bertolotti and his team as they flit about the open kitchen, twirling rounds of dough and turning the pies around the oven’s hot spot.

Tribeca has never been anyone’s idea of a pizza mecca, but things are looking up for the neighborhood with the addition of the third branch of Dean’s Family Style Restaurant & Pizzeria (349 Greenwich St.; 212-966-3200), which has a loose connection to the great Greek-American pieman Nick Angelis, of Nick’s and Adrienne’s fame. It’s already become a bustling social center for the drooling infants and gurgling tots who gather there nightly for a taste of the grandma or “old-fashioned square” pizza, which is served on a big sheet pan along with a handy pizza spatula.

When Gonzo’s Vincent Scotto died last year, the restaurant world lost not only a great Italian chef but the man often credited with introducing grilled pizza to New York. His legacy carries on at Gonzo, which is run by his sister, Donna, and also at two new Italian restaurants that dabble in the mysterious art of plopping dough onto a hot grill and not having it fall through the cracks and into the fire like an errant campfire marshmallow. At Campo (2888 Broadway; 212-864-1143) on the upper Upper West Side, Gonzo alum David Rotter does his old boss proud with a telltale crisp crust made from a mix of flours (including whole wheat) and a restrained hand in the toppings department (pizzas are $9.90 to $11.90). And over in Williamsburg, the natives are getting their first taste of the grilled stuff ($9 to $11) thanks to Fiore (284 Grand St., Williamsburg; 718-782-8222), a homey, budget-minded trattoria with a dining room festooned with all sorts of Italian-grandma tchotchkes and a breezy backyard garden. You can wash these wafer-thin, featherlight pies down with any number of regional Italian wines, some priced so refreshingly low you needn’t worry too much about the fact that the house policy is cash only.

Rising Thai

When we first encountered the enterprising Andy Yang, he was ladling up fish-ball soup under the watchful eyes of his godmother at the short-lived East Village Thai joint Rochjin. Earlier this year, he surreptitiously converted the Greenwich Village branch of his partner’s family’s Malaysian chain, Penang, into Rhong-Tiam (541 La Guardia Pl.; 212-477-0600), an inconspicuous little spot that has been building a slow but steady buzz on the food blogs, even earning the occasional (and inevitable) comparison to Sripraphai, the Woodside wonder. But while Srip is Thai through and through, Rhong-Tiam, with its Malaysian vestiges, like a nicely spiced roti canai ($4), plus some Chinese-tasting black-bean-and-oyster-sauced stir-fries, has more of a Pan-Asian feel. As if in atonement, the menu takes a hotter-than-thou approach, daring chile heads to prove their mettle with such accelerants as “Pork on Fire” ($13), “Watercress on Fire” ($10.95), and the southern-style chicken ($12)—not officially on fire, but plenty hot nevertheless. There is a certain pleasure to be had from debilitating pepper-spiked pain, it’s true, but we’re just as happy to play it a bit safer from time to time with kao soi ($12 to $14), also known as Chiang Mai noodles, which buries soft and chewy egg noodles in a rich, savory curry under a thatch of deep-fried crispy noodles, accessorized with onion, bean sprouts, lime, and pickled greens. When it’s too hot for hot soup, we’ll share the yum pla dook foo ($13), a chile-and-lime-dressed salad in two parts: fried grated catfish and cashews on one plate, crunchy slivered mango on another, united by a lively dressing. Although some swear by Singha or Thai iced tea with these flavors, you might find a glass of Hermann Wiemer Dry Riesling or Monterey Bay Gewürztraminer, both on the brief list—or even a bucket of water—do just as well.


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