East Village Pitza Showdown: Balade and Moustache
Moustache, a Mediterranean restaurant with outposts in the East Village, West Village, and East Harlem, has long been my go-to for pitzas: essentially pizzas with oversized pitas as crust. But a few months ago, the Lebanese restaurant Balade opened only a few blocks away—calling themselves "Lebanese Pitza and Grill."
Two pitza spots within just a few minutes' walk? Clearly, an East Village Pitza Showdown was in order.
We started with the most pizza-like of Moustache's offerings, the Moustache Pitza ($12): roasted red bell pepper, tomato, onion, parsley and chili with mozzarella on top. Though the mozzarella was tasty, pleasant and milky, and there was some serious caramelized vegetable action, that base was quite sweet—like a tomato sauce that's been cooked down a bit too long. Good for a bite, less so for a whole pitza.
The Chicken Pitza ($12) was straightforward and satisfying, if not particularly thrilling: reasonably moist chunks of chicken, marinated in lemon and garlic, with red bell pepper and parsley. But the Lahambajin Pitza was our favorite and, at $9, the best value: juicy ground lamb with spices that tasted of cinnamon and cumin, plus onion and cumin.
On each of these, the crust was thin and, if not quite crackerlike, not exactly pliant, either. We wished it'd been a little less rigid, and had a little more salt—but all in all, a decent pitza experience.
Whereas Moustache is of the laid-back East Village mold—narrow dining space up front, big garden in back, service that's a bit slower than it really should be—Balade is the amped-up neighbor, with a beautifully adorned interior, enthusiastic waiters, and a lively crowd even past 10:00 p.m. on a weeknight. And we were won over instantly by the basket that appeared on our table: hot, oblong flatbreads with a delightfully fluffy interior. (We took this as a good sign.)
The pitza crust, though thinner, less rigid, and therefore a bit difficult to slice, was a big improvement upon Moustache's: tender dough, a bit more pita-like. The Sultan El Shawarma ($10) had strips of marinated beef and a generous, delicious layer of tahini; the Tarboush chicken ($10), though a bit sweet, will please any fans of honey mustard, as that's the base of the sauce—or any fans of garlic, with its aggressive use of toum, a Lebanese garlic sauce. Our least favorite was the Malak el Falafel ($8), falafel and vegetables; the falafel was a bit dry and lacked any crisp, though, again, a substantial amount of tahini helped that.
Cheaper, with a better crust and tastier toppings, Balade was, in our estimation, the East Village pitza champion. Any other pitza fans out there? Where do you get your pitza fix?