Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Di Fara Pizza

Saturday November 27th 2010

Di Fara Pizza, 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, NY

I’ve said it before that New York is the only city in America where you can get a decent pizza. Sure there might be the occasional place hidden away in some other town (but definitely not Chicago) where they’ve got an acceptable one, but the ratio of consistency reigns far higher than anywhere else in the city of New York. In all my other visits to the city I’ve sustained myself on affordable slices from a variety of pizza joints within a convenient proximity to where I was hanging out, places that despite being far superior to anyplace I’d go in Providence or Philly or where ever, still were not even close to the best for New York. There’s been a few places I’d heard the folklore of, legendary, near mythical New York pizza places, but few had tales as impressive as Di Fara’s. Di Fara’s, as I’d heard the story, was a Brooklyn pizza joint run by this one guy who has worked there every day for like sixty years or something, and he’s the only one who makes the pizzas. He’ll have an assistant to take care of all the bullshit like stocking the soda cooler and sweeping the place up, just so all of his attention is concentrated solely on the pies, each of which is made entirely to order, taking an hour plus to complete.

Luckily the northbound traffic wasn’t as bad as the southbound and the Philly contingent arrived before we did, and they arrived just in time, placing the last order before Di Fara’s assistant locked the door. Apparently everyday at 4pm they lock the doors for a few hours to catch up on orders. We got there about a half hour later and mimed to the other half of our group through the windows, until when the time was right the assistant unlocked the doors, unleashing a trapped horde of people who had been forced to stand around waiting inside post meal. Stealthily, we swam upstream through the exodus crowd and got inside undetected. I was able to catch this glimpse of the owner taking a pie out of the oven, sprinkling a handful of freshly grated parmesan, and with a barbers finesse trim his handheld bouquet of basil with a scissors over the top. Despite the surly city crowds that congested his counter area waiting impatiently for their food, despite the state of disrepair they’d left his dining room in, and the gusts of cold air they brought inside with their selfish desires to leave, he remained focused, working very slowly, not allowing his natural pace to be compromised by the increasing demands and pressures. He strode between the oven and his prep area with a geriatric caution, balancing steaming pizzas at varying degrees of doneness on his paddle (some with crusts approaching the char-zone), almost oblivious to the wild crowd that nearly threatened to cross over onto his side. This is one of the only scenes I’ve witnessed that I would feel comfortable using the word ‘Zen’ to describe. I got the feeling that even if no one was coming to his restaurant and ordering the pizzas that he’d still just make them all day anyways, it just so happened that there were other people around paying him money. This is clearly his calling.

After what we estimated to be an hour and a half wait (which I came excited about, and proved to be fun), the pizza was born. Party Tom retrieved it from the counter and sort of plunked it on our table in which I felt was a rather disrespectful and negligent manner for something that had been so delicately and lovingly crafted. Could we go back in time, I would have gotten it from the counter, supported the box from each corner as I carried it to the table, laying it down like an infant child, peeling the lid back slowly, causing a shroud of steam to obscure the jewel bespectacled pie, allowing it to fade into focus in a dreamlike fashion as the mist dissipated, but hey, it didn’t work out that way. So in an unceremonious style we each separated a slice and began to eat. A silence befell the table.

The crust was quite thin, crunchy but not overdone, it had a slight stretch, provided a good chew, and had a nice sour tinge to it. The sauce was of the pulverized tomato variety, containing large tomato chunks, very simple and nice. The mozzarella cheese was portioned out not in a modest or skimpy way, but definitely wasn’t overindulgent. That combined with the dusting of parmesan provided ample cheese flavor. This wasn’t a pizza that relied solely on the cheese, it was entirely about all the ingredients combining to form one thing, all aspects were as important. Of course everyone just sat around the table saying things like “Hmmm…yeah this is good.”, but you could tell everyone knew they should be saying something more, its just that no one could tell what. You could give someone these very same ingredients, and they’d have trouble replicating it, there is a simplistic genius at work that has been perfected over decades of near constant practice that I don’t know could be matched.

Not to bring things down, but before you go to get a pizza here, be warned that one large, yet pretty regular sized, pie is $28 dollars. Split between five people it was pretty affordable, but no one got filled up, we all just had a tasting, a wonderful tasting, but yes just a tasting. You’d really be dropping some cash here to walk out food coma style. While eating, I noticed at least two newspaper cut outs they had framed on the wall in which defenders of their prices were interviewed. The headline of one was “$4 for a slice too much? This man thinks not.” And it’s $5 a slice nowadays.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gold Stone Noodle Restaurant

Sunday November 21st 2010

Gold Stone Noodle Restaurant, 226 Spadina Ave, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

After successfully escaping the stiff interrogations and vehicle searching of Canada’s grumpy border patrol, just barely managing not to laugh at the torrent of “Eh’s” that, yes, actually spilled from their mouths like a country wide case of tourettes, we rolled into the Toronto night for a glimpse at the other side of the border. I’ve always been a firm believer that southern Ontario, the part that juts rudely between New York and Michigan, should really be a part of the U.S., I mean, they’re coming down awfully far there, if you look at a map, that should be ours. We should trade them Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and a part of northern Maine and call it a day. Sadly however, the Canadian’s have it and they put up Tim Horton’s and Future Shop’s wherever they could. My first purchase across enemy lines was what sunk it into my head that we really were in a different country, two tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the bar. It was loud, I couldn’t hear the guy too well, so I just handed him a 10. He gave me the cans, poked around at the cash register for a while and that was it, no change. Five Canadian dollars for a tall can of Pabst! And I hadn’t been ripped off, well clearly I had, but that was the real price. I’m sure some goofballs in NYC pay that and like it, but I guess that’s why I try not to go there.

Price wise, I was pretty soured on Canada, until when our show had ended and we were hitting the road around 1:30 AM, I turned left on Spadina Ave and noticed the plethora of Asian restaurants, most of which still seemed to be open. I hadn’t really eaten anything since John’s pancake spread that morning, and simply not being allowed to fill up on beer, I needed sustenance. The Gold Stone Noodle Restaurant, as you can see, is a pretty eye catching place, brightly lit, large glass windows, it was clearly open and very inviting.

Their menu was lengthy, containing more dishes than I cared to browse through, it was the mention of noodles in the restaurants name that had really caught my attention. All their soups and noodle dishes, contradicting my expectations, were priced appropriately, actually maybe even lower than they needed to be. What I settled on, deciding that option offered the most variety in a single bowl, was the wonton noodle soup with pork and duck.

This bowl, this one here, this bountiful gift of noodles, duck, pork, and shrimp filled wonton’s (which weren’t even mentioned in the description) was $6.95 Canadian, which is about the same as the U.S.. I started comparing my, albeit limited, knowledge of Canadian item prices, and realized what an amazing deal I had gotten. If you think of Pabst as a currency, which I suggest you don’t do for long, I was only paying 1 and 1/3rd Pabsts for this amazing and completely filling bowl of food!

The broth, which I had several spoonfuls of first (the customary way to begin a bowl of soup, I think) had the flavor of rice and dark chicken meat, but was rather light and refreshing. The mass of noodles lurking at the bottom were not as I expected, thin, almost tough noodles of a dull orange color, which even with further submergence time in the warm broth refused to soften. Their flavor was strong, not able to be pinpointed, Val referred to them as “Gamey” which isn’t a word you hear thrown around in noodle speak too often.

Duck isn’t a meat I have a lot of experience with, which is part of the reason why I was excited about getting it, I wanted to give it another shot. I don’t want to say I don’t like it, but it definitely isn’t for me. Thick, oily, dense, slimy meat, cooked with the skin on, providing an extra wiggle on the way down. It tasted alright, but my attention was really consumed by the pork. The pork, which luckily resembled the bulk of the meat, was hard, compacted into flaking chunks, which peeled away in delicious layers. Sweet pig crystals, tangled up in the bowl.

Shrimp, yeah…I dunno, I never saw the big deal, sure I’ll have one, I guess. Honestly, if I knew there was gonna be shrimp in this, I probably wouldn’t have gotten it, but it actually took me a minute to notice they were in there. I popped a couple of the wrapped wonton’s, hoping they’d be filled with a slurry of sickly gray Asian mystery meat, felt satisfied enough, but after two when I went to look at how discolored the interior meat mixture was, there was just a baby shrimp all tucked away inside. I was indifferent.

I tried as best as I could, but I don’t think I made it even half way through the bowl, and overall I did like it, it was just way too much to handle. Shrimp, pork, duck, noodles, broth, woah, Canada, chill out! Toronto, based on this one experience, seems like a great city to eat in, but next time I’m gonna have to hit up the duty free shop on the way in, rock that BYOB style wherever I go.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fat Mo's

Tuesday November 9th 2010

Fat Mo’s, 351 White Bridge PK and 2620 Franklin PK, Nashville, TN

Fat Mo’s (spelled here at the White Bridge location as one continuous word) is a Nashville area burger stand chain which can be seen furthering the congestion at clogged intersections around town. Two drive up windows, instead of easing cars through in half the time, attracts traffic from all directions, often times resulting in two cars facing head to head attempting to order and people leaning out through the passenger windows, jumbling up the whole parking lot. I almost always opt for the walk up window.

The White Bridge Ave location, in the heart of West Nashville, is the most convenient Fat Mo’s to my house and daily life, yet I always hear it spoken of negatively. Someone’s always saying that one sucks and that the one on 8th Ave (aka Franklin Pike) is better. While driving about en route to the post office before a lengthy session in the EEG isolation booth at Vanderbilt, I found myself thinking of Mo, and unable to recall my last visit, swung by the one on White Bridge and picked up a Fat Mo with cheese.

What had gotten me thinking about Fat Mo’s again recently was this years Best of Nashville poll in the local arts paper, where (apparently clueless) readers vote on their favorite establishments in town. The Best Burger category was given to national chain Five Guys! I mean, yes there are a couple in Nashville, but theres a couple of those things everywhere at this point, and they are pretty decent, but I had imagined that the poll was supposed to feature, you know, specifically local businesses, like Fat Mo’s, which I figured would at least have been a runner up in that category. It was not.

Due to the oppressive sun which beat through the windows of the van in a seasonally uncharacteristic move, I consumed the burger rather hastily in the hotel next door’s parking lot and started to think maybe Mo’s didn’t really have a shot at runner up in that category after all. The burger had been crafted rather carelessly, it was kind of overdone, and with the condiments and accoutrements all huddled on one side, extremely hard to handle . I opened it up to take a picture of the inside, but no one would have wanted to see that, so I settled for the side shot, during which an unidentified juice leaked out onto the crotch of my pants. I chomped through the rest of it emotionlessly and continued on with my day.

A few hours later there I was, in the Vanderbilt isolation booth, insane cranial wire cap affixed to my head, doing a study on musical notation. My focus however lied on Fat Mo’s and the clumsy burger I had just eaten there. Thoughts ran through my head; Is the one on 8th actually better? Does a national chain actually make the best burger in this city? And then I realized as the study attendant yelled at me for moving too much for the third time, that when this was all over, which hopefully was going to be real soon, I was to be paid $35. That Fat Mo with cheese was starting to wear off, the onset of hunger was creeping back in, was a side by side, a Mo to Mo comparison in order? I shrugged the thought away at first. You can’t go to Fat Mo’s twice in one day you filthy bastard! What an awful idea! Go home and make some food, save the $35. But then the other side spoke up. Hey, a side by side would be good for the blog. There isn’t really anything to eat at home anyways. I’m already like halfway to 8th ave. What am I gonna do with this $35? Save it?

“I guess I’m really doing this.”, I thought to myself driving down 8th Ave, pulling into the Mo’s lot, and walking through the cars up to the window. I ordered yet again, the Fat Mo with cheese, and then with all abandon for my recent earnings, some spicy fries, and something I’d seen their marquee advertising which held by attention, the fried pickle. The first thing I noticed (besides spicy being spelled spisy and onions onoins on the menu), was that it was taking a lot longer to get the food, which I think is a good thing. Everything is apparently made fresh to order here, which had startled me a bit at the White Bridge one, because the burger was ready in no time, I half expected it rare which made its dryness that much more surprising.

Now lets talk about that pickle. $2.75 for one pickle dipped in some batter and made disgusting I thought was a little steep, but I was willing to try it, and actually you get your moneys worth, because you get a platter of spears, equaling I would assume close to one and 3/4ths pickles. It reminded me of a cheap mozzarella stick that had been under cooked in the microwave, where the scalding batter holds its form like a suit of armor and the chilled insides bounce around in the center. The soggy texture and strong vinegar taste of wilted pickle mixed with the grease soaked dull crunch of the battered shell did little to impress me, and in the end I found the portion to be quite too large.

The 8th Ave Fat Mo, was I gotta say, a lot better than the White Bridge one. For starters it had been made with some level of precision, the toppings (which included a few not seen on my White Bridge burger) were all evenly dispersed, and with all the weight distributed evenly, no threat of crumbling or spillage was detected. The only thing was, and I suspect this to be my fault and not Fat Mo’s, that I felt worse after eating at the 8th Ave one, even the next day. Yes, possibly because it was my second Fat Mo of the day, which I know is wrong, and maybe throwing in the fried pickles and fries didn’t help either, but what can I say, I had to find out which one was better, if the rumors were true, and now we all know.