A year after he opened Pulino’s in the wake of Benjamin Wallace’s New York profile (now a finalist for a Beard Award), Keith McNally speaks candidly with Eater. Among his regrets: “I wished I hadn’t been in the press so much. It was wild. It very, very busy — too busy, really. We couldn’t really cope with it. Also, we had certain critics that were here in three weeks. I’m sure there’s an argument to say that ‘all is fair,’ but it was like taking your S.A.T.s at nine years old.” Here he is on his tiffs with Adam Platt and Steve Cuozzo, and the changes he’s made, starting with the new chef Tony Liu, who has added fish and antipasti, is making pastas in house, is cooking the pizzas at a higher temperature, and has scaled back portion sizes.
I sort of lashed out at the critics, and I probably shouldn’t have done that, in retrospect. But that happens. It’s much better — much better — to be some small, inaccessible place in Brooklyn that gets discovered, than to be some place in the middle of Manhattan that everyone knows about. We got reviewed, and they weren’t great reviews. And so then we had this slow, difficult process of rebuilding, of changing — we changed the chef, changed the manager, changed the pizza, brought in more salads, changed the desserts, made the place slightly more comfortable, and we changed the drinks program considerably. It was also loud, and we’ve done something to the acoustics. And the work begins all over again.
Though McNally says he “felt like crawling under a rock for a year” after parting ways with Nate Appleman (no hard feelings there: “I like Nate. His ex-wife still works at Balthazar with me, and I like his son very much. But professionally, it wasn’t working between us, and we only went as far as we could”), McNally says he and Liu may do a couple more Pulino’s around the city: “Smaller, as little publicity as possible, as inconspicuous as possible. Smaller somehow is better. With everybody on the internet, I’d like to build it slowly, softly and quietly, as much as possible. I would like to do it discretely [sic] — invisible.”