04_05_piola.jpgSo we've already told you all about various purveyors of Italian-style, wood-fired-oven pizza coming to New York in recent months, but now you can add another joint to the list, and this time, it's a chain restaurant. That's right, Piola, an Italian pizzeria chain, has locations in Brazil and Argentina (with Chile soon to follow). In the U.S. Piola first hit the shores of Miami and now has decided to take on New York City.

Piola's approach to pizza is to make traditional Italian-style pizza, with both traditional-topping options (margherita, Sicilian, etc.) and unusual, internationally-inspired toppings ("Sarajevo," and "Buenos Aires," for example). The approximately 14-inch-wide pizzas are big enough for two people to share if wanting a lighter meal (or combined with salad or pasta) or small enough for one person who's really hungry. The price range runs from $7.25 for the cheeseless marinara pizza to $14.95 for a couple of the pizzas with more expensive toppings such as shrimp and arugula.

Given New Yorkers' strong opinions about pizza, Gothamist finds it somewhat amusing that an Italian pizzeria chain would choose to throw its hat in the ring given all the stiff competition. But maybe they just figured that we New Yorkers eat plenty of pizza and they could grab their share of the pie (pun intended--sorry).

Upon entering Piola, the first thing we noticed was that while it did have a bit of a pre-fab feel to it that many chain restaurants do, it was much more well-designed and welcoming than your typical U.S. chain restaurant. Perhaps the discriminating taste of citizens of Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, etc., has encouraged Piola to go for a stylish, modern look. The walls are painted bright red, photo art adorns the walls, and colorful lamps hang from the ceiling. We were happy to hear Brazilian music playing (although some of the songs distracted with their strong percussive beats).

While we liked the setting, Gothamist was more excited to see the fire burning in the oven and the pizzaiolas making our pies. We're always fond of an open-kitchen approach for a restaurant, but especially for pizzerias. So at we watched our pie get assembled and cooked, we started to wonder whether Piola could measure up to other truly Italian pizzas of New York.

When the pie we were splitting with a friend arrived at the table, we gave it a visual once-over, looking for the telltale charring of the crust that serves as one way of judging the quality of the pie. Unfortunately, we didn't really see much charring on the bottom of the pie slices (though there was some on the outer edges of pizza crust). As we tasted our first slice, Gothamist noticed that the dough was indeed a bit underdone--not entirely gummy, but not as crisp as it could be, either. With pizza this thin, an underdone crust very quickly becomes droopy and watery from the cheese and sauce.

Because our "Rio de Janeiro" pie ($13.95) was carrying both mozzarella and catupiry (Brazilian cream cheese), things got particularly mushy. In addition, the chunks of chicken that adorned our pie were very white and flavorless; perhaps a grilling could have done the chicken some good. All in all, this pie tasted as if it had potential but hadn't reached it.

As others in our large group got their pizzas, however, we began to get jealous; it seems their pies had come out much better, with all their crusts completely charred (but not burned). Could it be that we got the one pie that was taken out a minute too early? From what we saw, Gothamist would guess that Piola gets it right more often that not; we've heard similar complaints by critics of other Italian-style pizzerias that the cooks don't always have 100% consistency over their product. It's not as easy task, but of course the best pizzerias will get it right most all of the time.

Gothamist hopes that Piola's still getting a hang of its new digs and new oven and will iron out the inconsistency problem. We figure we'll go back and give it another try in a few months, given how much we liked the atmosphere, prices, and central location.

, 48 East 12th St. (between University Pl. & B'way), (212) 777-7781