New York City's 'best pizza' opens in Manila

Posted at 05/19/2014 6:32 PM | Updated as of 05/21/2014 10:44 AM
The cool interiors of Motorino in Greenbelt. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA – Motorino, the New York pizzeria which was dubbed “the city’s best pizza” by the esteemed New York Times, is now serving its Neapolitan-style pizzas in the Philippines with the opening of its restaurant at Greenbelt 3 in Makati on Monday.

Since it opened in 2008 in Brooklyn, Motorino has been careful in expanding its pizza empire. Time Out New York’s best new pizzeria in 2009 opened another branch at New York’s East Village before heading out to Hong Kong, where it has two branches at Soho and Wanchai.

Manila is only the second overseas market for Motorino, which has bypassed the usual American markets like California and Chicago, in favor of the Far East.

“I’m more interested to open a pizzeria in Hong Kong than I am in Las Vegas. I don’t care about going to Las Vegas or Los Angeles. They have plenty of pizzerias that are good too,” Motorino’s founder, Chef Mathieu Palombino, told ABS-CBNnews.com during a preview over the weekend.

“I prefer to be in Manila. It’s an experience for me and my staff,” added Palombino, who is also planning to open a restaurant in Singapore.

For the Makati restaurant – Motorino took over the spot that was once occupied by Capricciosa, an Italian restaurant concept from Japan – Palombino and his Philippine partners had to import a wood-fired oven from Napoli, Italy that weighs a whopping three tons.

The wood-fired oven is at the heart of Motorino. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

Palombino explained that the oven is made from Sta. Lucia stone, which he noted retains heat very well.

“They had to deliver it in the middle of the night because they had to stop traffic to get it unloaded. It was crazy,” he said about how the oven was delivered to Motorino’s third-floor Greenbelt location.

Not interested in New York style

Palombino, who was born in Belgium to an Italian immigrant father before moving to New York 15 years ago, doesn’t claim to have started the Neapolitan pizza trend, crediting chef Anthony Mangieri’s Una Pizza Napoletana.

New Yorkers, of course, have their own style of pizzas dating back to the early 1900s. The New York style is known for its large, thin and foldable yet crispy crust.

But Palombino is not interested in creating another New York pizza. “It wasn’t my thing. There’s something I like about the very original. New York-style pizza is what happened to Neapolitan pizza after the first Neapolitan came in. They decided to make it longer, bigger, cut it in slices. People can buy it by the slice which is better for New York business at the time,” he explained.

Chef Mathieu Palombino flew in for Motorino's opening in Manila. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

“I wanted to work with the original. I like working with wood-fired ovens; it’s something that attracted me. I wasn’t interested in working with gas, I wanted to do the fire thing,” he added.
Motorino’s pizza is all about the soft and chewy crust, with welcome hints of charred goodness, and tastes good even when it cools on the plate.

“This is not about making everything new. It’s about making it the way it was made before. And the right way is the best way anyway,” Palombino said.

Guests can choose their own toppings which range from onions and cherry tomatoes to sausage, meatballs and Manila clams, or select from the seven set flavors listed on the rather short menu.

(Clockwise from top) Margherita, Mushroom & Sausage, Soppressata Piccante and Prosciutto di Parmi. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

The Margherita is a good gauge of the overall quality of a pizzeria and Motorino’s version of this classic with basil, tomato sauce, fior di latte (Mozzarella), pecorino and extra virgin olive oil feels just as rich and flavorful on the mouth as the more complex pizzas.

If you want a spicy pizza, the Soppressata Piccante has slices of spicy Italian salami and fresh chillies, while the Mushroom & Sausage fully embraces the rustic quality of Motorino’s pizza creations.

But for a more sophisticated pizza, the Prosciutto di Parmi with arugula leaves is a definite winner.

Palombino said he isn’t interested in experimenting with trendy toppings, such as bone marrow or foie gras. “It’s all about the tomato, the pecorino, the crust, the sausages, the herbs that we have,” he said.

But he did come up with the Brussels Sprout pizza, which also includes bits of American bacon.

Brussels Sprout pizza. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

“We did it in New York. It’s our signature pizza. That’s our contribution, our new thing,” he said, noting that “everybody loves Brussels sprouts,” he said proudly.

Specialty restaurant

While Filipino diners usually equate Italian meals with pizza and pasta, they may be disappointed to discover that Motorino doesn’t offer any pasta.

Apart from the pizzas, Motorino offers some antipasti, which are mostly salads like the classic Caprese, and Caesar, and simple appetizers like meatballs, roasted prawns served with garlic bread, steamed mussels and roasted Mortadella -- just so that diners can “get started with something,” Palombino said.

It also has a few desserts, including a tiramisu and a Torta al Cioccolato with crème Inglese, as well as gelato sourced from Manila.

Tiramisu. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com

In fact, Motorino’s beverage list is longer than its food menu, with several wines, including both red and whites reserves, as well as beer, whiskey, and espresso.

Asked why they don’t serve pastas, Palombino simply said, “We’re a pizzeria. This is our specialty, Neapolitan pizza. That’s all we do. Don’t come here for pasta, there’s no pasta.”
“You can’t specialize in everything,” he stressed.

But what Motorino does best should be more than enough. This isn’t called New York’s best pizza for nothing.

Motorino
3/F Greenbelt 3
Ayala Center, Makati