Lievito is an Italian restaurant. No, I mean a real Italian restaurant, as if it had been picked up by a spaceship in the mid-calf part of the boot and deposited right on Hudson Street, with no concessions to American sensibilities or tinkering with the menu to make it more Yankee.This attitude (or lack of one) begins with the décor: tables topped with very plain blond wood, dark-veneered walls, a diffuseness of light that creates a feeling of spaciousness even though the dining room is actually cramped. The even illumination allows you to inspect everything on the table in front of you as if in a microscope, yet so flattering that your dining companions resemble zit-free movie stars.
A picture window looks into a finger-shaped kitchen with a white-tiled hearth, and there's a bar to one side with a pair of metal cocoons overhead cradling wine bottles from a devastatingly good and relatively low-priced Italian wine list. An excellent bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano costs just $33.The place is the work of three partners—two fromFlorence and another from Milan—at least one of whom can be seen bustling around the dining room and jollying up the guests at all times. Most of the diners are actual Italians, who shake the snow off their Prada boots and take their places at the tables with merry musical chatter, showing they're very pleased to be there.
Lievito ("Leavening") is nominally a pizzeria, but it's far more than that. In the early days (we're talking two or three months ago), it seemed to be trying to turn out the True Pie of Naples—an idiotic pursuit if ever there was one. But lately, a new pizza style has been evolving. The crust is more like what we used to call a Neapolitan crust in New York: the "bone," or circumferential edge, nicely browned but not charred, the undercrust relatively thin but not sopping, the toppings generous but not overbearing.This splendid crust serves as a vehicle for some of the most interesting pizza-topping combos seen lately, reflecting Northern Italian sensibilities and preferences. Sure, there's a Margherita ($14) made with imported tomatoes and fresh mozzarella as creamy as the face of a virgin in Le Mort d'Arthur, but there's also one called Wurstel ($16), which features little rounds of a sausage something like a hot dog, hence the Teutonic name. I've seen similar pies in Emilia-Romagna, but putting franks on a pizza is something no one would dare do here—until now. The pie is unexpectedly scrumptious, the franks like little smoky and salty islands in a sea of mild tomato sauce and cheese.