February 12, 2010 § 2 Comments
Tonight I headed into New York City to see “Race” on Broadway. My boyfriend, Daniel, surprised me with tickets as a gift for Valentine’s Day. The play was fantastic. James Spader gave such a strong performance, but the real brilliance was in David Mamet’s writing. As always, it was quick, smart, and fluid.
Before the play we went to my favorite pizza place in the city: John’s Pizzeria. The crust is perfectly thin and crispy and the whole wheat dough that they offer has an irresistible nutty sweetness. Last year I stayed in NYC for four days and went to John’s three times. I kept telling myself that I should be trying other restaurants because I was in a city with more than its fair share of amazing dining options. But what I truly wanted to do was eat half a large pie with peppers, onions, and mushrooms. And so I did.
Pizza is a food I am passionate about. I know it’s popular to make pizza at home, but I much prefer to purchase it. When I’m craving pizza, I want the real deal. I want the crust to crisp in a big ol’ brick or coal oven, I want the dough to be crisp at first bite but then yield to a chewy interior, I want a sauce with just the right combination of herbs and subtle sweetness, I want cheese that melts into a creamy oblivion, and if I’m lucky, a generous confetti sprinkling of fresh basil. So I call Pizza Hut.
My junior year of college I studied in Italy for four months. With Rome as my home base, I ate my way through Italy. The food was exquisite. I actually lost weight in Italy. I don’t want to get into preaching the principles outlined in the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” but it was something along those lines. The food is rich, portions are small, snacking isn’t a custom, you walk everywhere. You know how it goes. What I found was that all of the food shared a few common bonds: the focus was on fresh, local ingredients, prepared simply, and mealtimes were savored and enjoyed in good company. I bought food daily at local outdoor carts that featured fresh vegetables, fruits, and breads, something I came to love but had never done before. “Excuse me signore, where’s Costco?”
I remember when my parents visited, my mom remarked at how different the food was from what she considered “traditional Italian” fare in America. She was right. They are different. The dishes in Italy are fairly simple. It’s the freshness and quality of food that make it outstanding. In America, it seems that we’re interested in overloading our senses with richness. In fact, “30 Rock” makes appropriate fun of this American tendency when Liz Lemon sings the jingle for one of her favorite foods, “Cheesy Blasters.” If I remember it correctly: “You take a hotdog, wrap it in a pizza, stuff it with some jack cheese, you’ve got cheesy blasters!” Everything can be made more decadent.
When I visited Naples, our tour group had a dinner set up for us at a restaurant that touted itself to be the birthplace of pizza. I was thrilled. The chefs of the restaurant decided to make a variety of pizzas, including two “American” pizzas: one with hot dogs, one with macaroni and cheese on top. It was hilarious.
My favorite pizza place to date is Pietro’s Coal Oven Pizzeria in Philadelphia. They’re on to something there. When I lived in Philly last year I went to Pietro’s quite a bit. Their margherita pizza is very similar to what I had in Italy. Thin crust, light tomato sauce, fresh sliced mozzarella. It’s really good with sausage, ricotta, and spinach too.