Co. Pizza: Tradition in Modernist Clothing

09-co-pane-pizza-1I got the chance to finally eat at Co. Pizza last night.  Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery fame had opened Co. relatively recently but I had not yet been.  But an old college friend was in town.  Out-of-towners tend to eat earlier than we do.   Restaurants with no reservations tend to have shorter waits for tables the earlier you go.  A cosmic restaurant alignment happened.  So we took advantage of the opportunity.  And succeeded to get seats with only about a two minute wait.  I say seats deliberately because we did not get a table to ourselves.  We got three seats at one of Co.’s two large communal tables. We ended up interlocking with another group of three diners.  Fine with us but for some reason this seemed to confuse the wait staff a little.  Most times they brought something to the table their eyes would glance nervously around the six of us wondering where they should set the food.  It became a little tricky when we had already gotten half of our food and the last ’special’ pizza that my friend ordered was brought to the table.  The server put it in front of our neighbors who had not been served anything yet.  I said “I think that’s ours”.  The server said, “this is the special”.  The neighbor said “I ordered the special”… awkwardness ensued.  Our neighbor was very good natured about it all when he discovered that my firend had also ordered the special pizza and he was the only person in our group that had not gotten his food.  I offered to let him pay for our meal but quickly found out that he wasn’t that good natured about the whole thing.  Anyway, everyone had a good laugh and problem solved.  But I would have thought that the servers would have worked out some sort of system by now for keeping diners and orders straight at their communal tables.  Oh well.

09-co-pane-pizza-2So a little more about the space beyond the communal tables.  At first blush the space is finished in a sort of warm yet austere modernism.  Concrete floors, a recess-lit wood wall behind the banquette and a clean white background.  A few nice light fixtures and the space seems pretty good in a modernist-sensibility sort of way.  But upon further inspection I noticed a couple incongruities.  First, for such a small space, I think there are too many different table varieties.  If a restaurant wants to go the communal table route – fine.  That is a completely viable concept.  And at Co. the communal tables are very nice.  But then the line of two-top tables along the wall are white surfaced.  I am sure they are lovely tables but their whiteness visually breaks up the floor to ceiling wood-y warmth of the north wall.  Why not construct them of the same hardwood that the communal tables are made of so that everything matched?  Or even gang some of them together into bigger tables to continue the communal-ness?  And even less fitting are the two larger round tables at both ends of  the banquette.  Not only are they also white but they are the only round pieces of furniture in the joint, throwing a visual wrench into the rectilinear machine that is Co.’s space.  A better solution, in my opinion, would be to populate the north row with the same sort of communal tables as the ones that create the main organizational ’spine’ of the restaurant.  It would visually simplify the space as well as reinforce the communal concept.  Making it a sort of modernist Italian country trattoria.

Of course an argument might be made for the round tables in that they were meant to relate to the two round light fixtures hung above them.  This detail brings me to my next point.  In this restaurant there are a total of only five hanging light fixtures.  Not very many.  But they are of two different designs.  I am not sure I understand why.  Sure, the long rectilinear fixtures are probably meant to accentuate the horizontal lines of the communal tables.  But then why not pick up on the horizontality of the north row of tables?  A missed opportunity I think.  Personally, I much prefer the round light fixture.  It is beautiful in it’s simple utility, straight-forwardness of function and chrome-y bigness.  Really nice fixtures.  I might have placed them in two rows of four or six marching along each line of tables.  A sexy grid of simple shiny modernist lighting.  And then maybe done one big splashy light fixture over the bar that would be a visual punch when coming through the door.  The long rectangular fixtures over the communal table have a fussy ‘modernist-pool-hall’ feel to me.  But… it’s not a deal breaker.  And I have seen much worse.  Oh, and it doesn’t bother me if a round fixture hangs over a rectangular table.  Round is a logical shape for a light source and rectangular is a logical shape for a table in a rectangular room.  Logic is so modern.

One of the other things that struck me is the relationship of the mirror behind the banquette and the mirror/window at the back kitchen wall.  Why are they detailed differently?  And why are they placed at different heights?  In a space this small one can’t help but see architectural elements as they relate to each other.  And these pretty much do not.  I think much more compositionally pleasing would be to raise the long mirror panel so that it felt like it was part of the same horizontal ‘cut’ that punctures the kitchen wall.  If the wood of the communal tables and banquette and north all all line up, why not the glass too?

One last thing about the design.  I think it is a bummer that the pizza oven had to be in the back enclosed kitchen,  relatively out of the sight of the diners.  A major aspect of the appeal of pizza places is the diner’s close connection to the fiery oven that blisters their crust.  Being able to see the pizza artisans expertly handle the choreography of pie movement and transformation in and out of the oven is lovely to watch and great dinner theater.  I missed it at Co.  But maybe it was all the better that I was not distracted by the pizza making.  I had to focus all of my concentration on the act of hearing my friend’s conversation.  The place is loud.

But…  I was there for the pizza, so to the pizza we will now turn.  I have reviewed several of the other ‘new-ish’ pizza places that Frank Bruni mentions in his extensive pizza article in the New York Timesa couple months ago.  And Co. was next on my list.  I will say right off the bat that I was very impressed.  My margherita pizza was super good.  Maybe could have used a little more salt, but super good.  The olives we got at the beginning of the meal were a stand-out also.  Done dead-simple in a bowl of wildly good herbaceous, grassy olive oil we really enjoyed them.  Though the olive oil might have used a touch of salt to make it sing a bit more.  But very nice.  The pizza bianca that came was our first experience of Co.’s much talked-about dough.  And it was awesome.  Chewy, not too heavy.  A little char on the bottom.  Really Nice.  And ample amounts of that great olive oil on top.  But not enough salt to tie it all together.  And no rosemary.  I love the smell of fresh rosemary scattered across pizza bianca.

But, as I mentioned, my pizza was very good.  A straight-up traditional pie done very well with great ingredients.  I will say… that there was not as much olive oil on the crust as there was on the bianca so it was a little drier.  But, otherwise, very good.  Unfortunately I think a few little mis-steps happen when creative liberties are taken with ingredients.  Some of the copious amounts of spinach on the Popeye became dry and burnt from the oven.  And the heavy garlic and lack of saucy-ness didn’t really balance everything out.  The special pie of the night featured several types of German sausage as well as sour crout and mustard.  A fun idea to be sure.  But way.  Too.  Much.  Sausage.  My friend could only eat half of his pizza.  Maybe that was a good thing since I got to take the extra home with me.

Overall the pizza at Co. is of superior quality and taste.  And it has great promise.  I will definitely go again very soon.  I will probably, though, stick to the more ‘traditional’ pizzas.  Just because a restaurant is trying to be modern does not mean that it should turn its back on on traditional ingredient combinations.  There is probably a good reason why some typical pizza compositions have been around for so long.  Here’s hoping that Co. is around for a while too.
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