If I'd reviewed Franny's in its opening weeks, I would have slagged the place. This upscale pizzeria, mounting a pretentious but ultimately unambitious menu, seemed to do everything wrong. The crostini were coarse and badly seasoned, while the pizzas, almost in defiance of the gorgeous wood oven, arrived doughy and undercooked. And the preening pizzaiolo appeared more intent on flashing his pearlies at the eager crowd than watching the pies. I'd have never returned, except that a pal who lives a couple of blocks away called recently to rave about the place. "I think your opinion is dead wrong," she enthused.
The minute I retasted the crostini, I knew she was right. The bottarga version ($5.50 for three) now deployed a thin, crisp, well-oiled piece of toast. On a subsequent visit the same crostino was further improved. Now the schmear of tuna roe was planted on chopped egg and lovagea tart relative of carrot known as "love celery" that reached the height of popularity in medieval Europe. There was also a lightly dressed salad of pea shoots and pecorino, a combination made in heaven. Equally amazing was another starter that featured asparagus and a still-gooey egg, both battered and deep fried. That the egg remained generally spherical in shape made us wonder how the hell they did it. But the appetizer that stole the show was soppressata ($9.50). Odiferous and rich-tasting, the sausage was not made at a Bensonhurst salumeria, as you might have guessed. Rather, it was cured underfoot in the pizzeria basement. The only appetizer that bombed was the fried baby 'chokes, so tough and lifeless that even a table of artichoke fiends left them untouched.
In a blatant attempt to trick you into eating pizza, the waitress is likely to warn that the pastas are available in appetizer portions only. Maybe the spaghetti cacio e pepe (pecorino and black pepper, $12) looked small hunkering in its shallow bowl, but one serving of this rich Roman specialty could have made an entire meal. As with the appetizers, the short list of pastas changes frequently in an ostentatious display of the kitchen's newfound mettle. Penne with peas, prosciutto, and parmesan ($13.50) flaunted a plethora of fresh peas one evening, with good results. Normally, seeing so many peas on the plate would have made me get up and run. But wild experimentation can also go awry. Like some raw-food experiment gone wrong, ricotta- and-spinach gnocchi suffered from a blobby texture and bland taste, and they were overwhelmed by an acrid black-butter sauce.
But Franny's is first and foremost a very good pizzeria, and any meal ought to end up in that lush domain. From a shifting menu of 10, my permanent favorite is the one that arrives streaked with pungent green-garlic pesto, like spring's first foliage peaking through dazzling white snowdrifts of ricotta and mozzarella ($13). The still-pretentious menu informs us that the green garlic comes from the Finger Lakes Organics Farm Cooperative. The more predictable pizza choices all feature a good layering of tomato and fresh mozzarella, adding such extra ingredients as fennel sausage or anchovies and capers. The four-slice pies can easily be shared, except for one problem: Perversely, they arrive uncut. The half-sharp knife that comes with the table setting is of little help. So bring scissors.
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