As a person who’s devoted most of my life to food, I have certain beliefs that I fervently hold on to. One: never grill chicken breasts for a dinner party. That’s depressing. Two: When baking with chocolate, it’s important to eat a quarter cup of the chocolate in its raw state. Quality control. And three: there’s absolutely no reason to make pizza at home. Order in, it’ll be better.
Nicholas Bergus had a point. I never quite got the dough thin enough, giving up on stretching it while it still looked rather puffy. The resulting pizza was, as Nicholas Bergus says, “more like focaccia than pizza.” When the internet trolls are right, you know you’re doing something wrong.
I’m not normally quid pro quo when it comes to food, but when you make something as delicious as David Lebovitz’s mint chip ice cream, someone’s gotta give you something pretty good for dinner before you offer them a whole container. Good thing I’m friends with Harry and Cris. Cris is from Bordeaux (that’s in France) and he’s one of the best natural cooks I know. The other night, they invited us over for pizza.
Have you ever had the experience of eating at a restaurant, one that you sort of took for granted, and as you’re chewing mid-meal you realize that this isn’t just a good restaurant, it’s a great restaurant, and the whole world should know about it only you don’t want them to because that’d make it harder to get a reservation, even though this restaurant doesn’t take reservations?
That’s what happened to me last night at Hail Mary Pizza in L.A.’s Atwater Village (the village in which I live). In the space that once housed the beloved restaurant Canele, something exciting is happening. I knew it when I tasted the tomato salad, but I also knew it when the pizzas hit the table. Actually, I knew it when I stood at the counter ordering.
When I went to college at Emory 3,000 years ago, there used to be a spot in Emory Village called Cedar Tree that sold “pitzas.” It was basically a piece of toasted pita bread topped with pizza-like toppings and the surprising thing was that it was really, really good. A dinner at Cedar Tree was always a treat and when I listen to the Indigo Girls–who, incidentally or maybe not so incidentally went to Emory–their song “Cedar Tree” always makes me think about how good a piece of toasted pita bread with pizza-like toppings can be. Yet, weirdly I’d never attempted it at home until I hit upon a technique that makes so much sense for transforming plain-old-pita bread into something that resembles a pizza crust.
Some food people are real sticklers for words and what they mean. For example: pizza. I consider the pizza at Pizzeria Mozza (developed by Nancy Silverton) to be some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, but there are detractors out there who call it focaccia because it’s so puffy. I’m pretty sure it’s pizza for a few reasons: 1. it’s round; 2. it’s cooked in a wood-burning oven; 3. the name of the restaurant is Pizzeria Mozza.
Still, even I had to raise an eyebrow at the pizza I just made from the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit. The dough is a clever riff on Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. Though this one you knead, for 12 minutes, and then let it rest–and ferment–overnight in the fridge.
When someone has a target on your head, it can be a scary thing. But ever since I wrote that article “Ten Things You Should Never Serve At A Dinner Party,” Craig’s sister Kristin has been out to get me. She first made herself known in the comments: “Dear Amateur Gourmet,
Allow me to introduce you to two of my close friends I call Chicken Piccata and Chicken Marsala. They are delicious when made properly, and if you think they’ll always be dry, leathery, and inedible then you apparently have not spent enough time eating in Steve Johnson’s kitchen.” (Note: Steve Johnson is Craig and Kristin’s dad.) “I don’t get this vendetta against b-less, sk-less chicken breasts, I think it’s entirely too stringent. They’re the blank canvas of the meat world! (I stole that phrase from another blogger.)”
And so it came to pass that on a recent trip to Bellingham, Washington, Kristin totally and absolutely put me in my place.
If California falls into the ocean some day, and I find myself living back in New York, you might think that Pizzeria Mozza would be the last place I’d miss with Franny’s and Roberta’s and all the other individual pie places (Motorino, Co., etc.) that would fill that gap. You’d be wrong, though, because Mozza is a lot more than a pizza restaurant. As Amateur Gourmet reader (and Raoul in “Phantom of the Opera”) Kyle Barisich said to me recently on Twitter, “I really think Mozza is LA’s finest restaurant.” Can’t say I disagree.
One of the great joys of living in America is that, at any moment, no matter where you are, you can order a pizza. This was a fact well-known to me when I was in high school and college. “Let’s order a pizza,” is a phrase most of us are quite comfortable saying and it wasn’t until very recently that I realized I hadn’t uttered those words in a really long time. But hanging out with my friend John at his new house in Glendale, recently, we were talking about where to go to dinner and suddenly I found myself saying those magic words. Before we knew it, there was a knock on the door and our pizza had arrived.