Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 24 November 2010
A Restaurant Review: Pala

198 Allen Street and Houston Street, Lower East Side, (212) 614-7252
Getting There: F,V to Lower East Side- Second Avenue


Niche pizza restaurants sit on seemingly every corner in Manhattan.  Many of them share similar interior attributes: the traditional looking, fire burning pizza oven, some romantically dimly lit tables, and some relatively casual seating setups.  Pala manages to hit all of these connect on each of these warm and inviting characteristics, but for a change, it’s the food that makes the small Italian spot stand out from a pack of imitators.

The restaurant itself is very approachable- in warmer weather, the entire front is open- and nestled on bustling Allen Street just off of Houston, provides a youthful energy from the surrounding area.  Inside, the exposed brick, and kitchen like bar countertop personify a restaurant that truly feels like a homemade experience.  The tables and chairs are both wooden and are lit by small white candles, which draw attention away from the sometimes uneven seats and somewhat cramped layout.

Walking in without a reservation was a huge mistake on our part, as the predicted 25 minute wait time exceeded an hour, and just as we were ready to pack up and leave, the appeal of the delicious and innovative looking pies proved too magnetic for our impatience.  Once seated, we were served some fresh bread and some of the tastiest, richest olive oil in recent memory.  Perhaps our memories were cluttered from pangs of extreme hunger, but the basket was legitimately that delicious.

The most striking part about the extensive menu is its flexibility and its affordability.  With half of the menu dedicated entirely to Vegan eaters, and with many of the pizzas and pastas available gluten free, choosier eaters can dine out knowing that their needs are being met.  The regular half of the menu is broken down into four main portions- antipasti, insalate, pasta, and pizze.  Each section has some delicious highlights- “spiedini” ($9)- grilled lamb sausage, skewered with peppers, zucchini, and onions, “bucatini alla matriciani” ($14)- pasta tossed with pancetta, pecorino, and a spicy red tomato sauce, and our favorite “gnocchi” ($12)- silky smooth potato gnocchi, cherry tomato sauce, and topped with parmigiano cheese.

While the remainder of the menu looked terrific, the pizza was the lure for Pala.  The fluffy, soft crust of each pie was draped atop an old-fashioned wooden pizza tray.  Rumor has it that the crusts are baked for roughly three days prior for each day’s meals, as the dough is made to naturally rise.  The ingredients were fresh, and we knew at first bite that we were tasting something exceptionally savory.  There are so many different pizze options, that there is no wrong choice.  Adventurous tasters can opt for the “zucca” ($18) a butternut squash puree, with pancetta, the “cipollotta” ($18) sautéed potatoes, pork sausage, and onions or even the “zucchini” ($15) marinatez zucchini, goat cheese, and mozzarella cheese.  After much deliberation (and some outright arguing), we carefully selected the “fungata” ($17), a tasteful collaboration of three distinct mushrooms (porcini, Portobello, and shitake), parmigiano and mozzarella cheese and a hint of fresh rosemary.  The warm cheeses oozed along the freshly heated crust as the tender mushrooms exploded with each juicy bite.  We also tried the “bufala cruda” ($18)- creamy buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato sauce and fresh basil.  While the latter sounds entirely basic, the taste was far from ordinary.  The sweet tomato sauce and the soft white hunks of cheese combined for an altogether distinctive yet savory compliment to the mushroom pizza.  And the sizes were so generous that packing two separate to-go bags became a necessity.  Maybe next time we’ll have more discipline when faced with baskets of tasty bread.  On second thought, cold pizza does taste awfully good the next day…especially when it’s this delicious.

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