Pizzeria Posto

Some people dream of steaks or oysters or cheeseburgers or pasta, but I think about pizza 24/7.  I’m like Kanye that way: “24/7, 365,” only he was thinking of a different kind of satisfaction.  Anyhow, I’m here to tell you that great pizza is only a phone call away.

Galleria Umberto is tops at mid-day.  Pinocchio is great in a pinch: Fresh dough.  I enjoy Armando’s: Square or round, maybe a few times each year.  I’m OK with Otto.  Iggy’s on a Sunday?  Could life be any better?  Is this a great pizza town or what?

It gets better.  Last night, famished and dreaming of pizza pie, I went over to Pizzeria Posto, which is just outside of Davis Square in Somerville.  A meatball pizza set me back $18, but how delicious!  Great cheese!  Great meatballs!  Great tomato sauce!  This isn’t the thin pizza of NYC, but the Neapolitan style pizza you find in Naples.  No wonder that Pizzeria Posto is the only place in Boston to have been awarded membership in the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which is the organization dedicated to ensuring that pizza is made according to the “official” standards of what they view as the perfect pizza pie.  The perfection is based on abiding by ingredients, preparation, presentation, etc.  See below for the regulations.

And you know what?  I woke up feeling good.  Not thirsty, as was true after eating the awful pizza at Coppa only one week ago.

Viva Napoli!

Certify your pizzeria or restaurant and join the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.

If you operate in full accordance with the following association rules:

1. A Wood-Burning Oven.
The real Pizza Napoletana must be cooked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at roughly 900ºF.
Gas, coal or electric ovens, while capable of produce wonderful pizza, are not conformed to the Pizza Napoletana tradition.

2. Proper Ingredients. Only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients (preferably imported from Naples or Campania region) are acceptable: Flour (Type 00),San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural Fior-di-Latte or Bufala fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, sea salt and yeast.

3. Proper Technique. Pizza dough kneaded either by hand, or with a low speed mixer (fork or spiral with revolving bowl. No planetary or vertical mixers are allowed).
No mechanical dough shaping, such as a dough press or rolling pin, are allowed. Pizza baking time should not exceed 90 seconds.

4. Proper Equipment. A proper work surface (usually a marble slab), a wood pizza peel to introduce the pizza into the oven and a long handle metal round peel to turn and remove the pizza from the oven.

5. The Final Product. Pizza Napoletana is not larger than 11 inches with a raised edge crust and thin center. The pizza should be soft and elastic, and easily foldable, .


Get A Load of Those Melons!

Del Monte is suing the FDA, as reported in the Business section of today’s NY Times.  The company is saying that restrictions on melon imports that are being imposed by the FDA are unfair.  Del Monte is saying the melons are safe.  The agency is saying they aren’t, and that they have salmonella. Produce companies and agribusiness are excited about the Del Monte move: By taking the government to court, the private sector is going to make the FDA reluctant to impose controls on food.  Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/business/del-monte-fresh-produce-resists-in-a-food-safety-case.html?ref=business

Here are the facts as reported in the NY Times:  “The Del Monte Fresh Produce tussle began in February when people in several states began to fall ill with a rare bacterium known as salmonella Panama, which can cause severe diarrhea. Eventually, at least 20 people were sickened in 10 states.  State public health investigators soon discovered that many of the victims had eaten cantaloupe bought at Costco, the large warehouse retailer.  Using data from Costco membership cards, they found that the melons came from one farm in Guatemala, called Asunción Mita, owned by Del Monte Fresh Produce.The early investigation involved 13 cases of illness, and officials found that at least 12 of them had a clear link to cantaloupes from Asunción Mita, a very high correlation.”

Del Monte resisted a recall at first, then agreed, then said no to the FDA’s request to stop imports of melons from the farm.  Del Monte went further.  Del Monte threatened to sue the scientist who led the investigation.  Again, according to the NY Times:   “(Del Monte) wrote to the State of Oregon, saying it was considering a lawsuit against the state public health division and its senior epidemiologist, Dr. William E. Keene, who had helped lead the cantaloupe investigation. In addition it filed a complaint against Dr. Keene with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. The state filings charged that Dr. Keene had defamed the company by identifying its melons as the cause of the outbreak.”

Scientists disagree with Del Monte.  The NY Times: “There’s no doubt the data are very tight,” said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “Del Monte caused that outbreak.”

Del Monte investigated the farm, but even when they found out the following they did not take any action.  From the NY Times: “(An) audit, done by a company hired by Del Monte Fresh Produce, found that a pipe containing raw sewage and wastewater emptied into an open ditch about 110 yards from the farm’s packing house. The ditch led into a lagoon containing additional sewage, more than 220 yards from the packing house. The audit recommended that the ditch be eliminated.”

Now I am as excited as you about the new daytime T.V. show, “The Chew,” but today I am thinking about those melons.   The melons are the canary in the coal mine, the tip of the iceberg, foreplay, an introduction, or the first signs of dementia.  If companies can intimidate regulatory agencies, it stands to reason that food borne illnesses will increase.

Here’s a quote from “The Chew,” by the way.  It’s Mario Batali, quoted in The NY Times, who in one sentence disses one in every six people on the planet: “If you have garam masala in your cupboard, you probably haven’t used it since you were smoking pot in the ’80s.”


Pass the Salt: Coppa

On April Fool’s Day there was always some kid who loosened the top of the salt shaker and returned it to the table.  Watching with restrained glee, the kid would then see unsuspecting diners pour salt onto their food.  That behavior still continues in some restaurant kitchens.

Leaving aside, however, the highly salted food at Coppa, in Boston’s South End, what else can be said about the restaurant?

For one thing, it’s amazingly overpriced.  Little bowls, each one the size of a softball that’s been cut in half, held cauliflower, broccoli rape, and burrata: At $7-$8 each, this was flat out ridiculous.  The burrata, which had no flavor, was a tablespoon.  (Just so you know: A full burrata, retail, costs between $8-$12, unless you’re buying one at Formaggio where you have to pay with your first born child, but that includes the fatuous song and dance by the clerks.)  The costs at Coppa were easily twice the price of comparable contorni elsewhere.  Anywhere elsewhere.

Leaving aside the sheer hodgepodge of a menu that has pizza, pasta, and large plates of protein, $13-$16 for a  1/2 portions of pasta?  $14-$16 for eight inch around pizzas for one?

Do the math: A couple goes out, gets two pizzas, two contorni, and four glasses of wine: $97, including tax, wine, and tip.  You have got to be kidding.

Back to the hodgepodge: With Italian food, it’s hard enough to get pasta right (Prizes to chefs Carmellini, Batali, and White), hard enough to get pizza right (Lombardi’s, Grimaldi’s, Pepe’s, Galleria Umberto), and hard enough to get protein right (Prizes to Chefs Pasternack, Batali, Carmellini), so what chef thinks he can do all three–pasta, pizza, protein–right?  That’s hubris, folks, and it just doesn’t succeed.

If the food was good, if it hadn’t been heavily salted, if it didn’t all the taste the same, the value wouldn’t be an issue.

So why is Coppa still around?  This was my second visit, and I doubt I’ll be back.  I think it’s around for three reasons:

1.  The lighting is really nice and the service is pleasant.

2.  There is buzz because the chef-owner has good P.R.

3.  There is no competition.  Think about it: Where else can you get decent Italian food in town?

But that’s really besides the point because this isn’t Italian food.  This is Salty Food.

Om or Wow

Wouldn’t you know it?  It was Friday night, tickets in hand to see “Porgy & Bess,” which I am here to say is by far the best theatre to hit Boston since “Mother Courage,” with Linda Hunt, and that was back in the Stone Age, and there I was in Harvard Square, ready for an early dinner.

Over the years, OM has been uneven, but since Patricia Yeo took over the kitchen, this restaurant is truly spectacular.  Start to finish.  We’re talking vegetarian momo’s; then fresh pasta strewn with an array of wild mushrooms;  appetizers of spicy pan seared beef to be rolled up in lettuce leaves and green mango-papaya-herb salad; and, entrees of lamb, trout, salmon, and beef.  The lamb was top-drawer: Jameson.  The pork was, too: Snake River.  The preparations were stir fry with tons of vegetables (lamb), planked (trout),  in a salsa with fried potato pancakes (beef), and glazed and roasted (salmon).  It all came to about $157 per couple with tax, drinks, and tip.  Worth it?  I’ll say!  This is the sort of food that Yeo perfected at AZ in NYC.


The End of the Restaurant Reviewer?

A Facebook friend, Mary Luz Mejia, posted a fascinating link on her page today (see below).  The piece takes off from Sam Sifton’s resignation as restaurant reviewer from the NY Times to take over the National desk at the paper.  From there it describes the decline of importance in the position of being a restaurant reviewer.  True dat.

Here’s the thing: If you’re going to a new city and want to eat well, how do you decide which restaurants are worth your time and money?  I recently had this experience in New Orleans.  I made the determination of where to eat by cross-referencing Frommer’s & Fodor’s, asking chefs what they knew, asking other folks who write about food–not critics–what they thought, and looking up recent James Beard award winning chefs.  I ate at 12 restaurants in five days, some low-key in the Treme, and some fancy-pants, and all were great.

If I was coming to Boston, I’d do the same.  You certainly can’t rely on the reviews written by local newspaper critics.  Honestly: They don’t know food.

Which raises the question: Who is qualified to be a restaurant reviewer?  Unlike chefs, cooks, wait staff, or hosts/hostesses, restaurant reviewers don’t have trainings, are not required to have worked in restaurants, and do not share a common understanding of what the job is about.  Tony Scott, at the NY Times, as a movie reviewer, is highly skilled, literate, and evidently knowledgeable about movies and literature.  Can you say the same about most restaurant reviewers?  Nope.

Compensating for limited knowledge of restaurants and chefs is the good writer.  If at least the reviewer can observe, document, demonstrate a good sense of humor, and recognize the hardship of running a restaurant, that is a good place to begin.








Is Pakistan Behind Today’s Big Food News?

So far, let’s be honest: There is no evidence to suggest that the Haqqani network is behind the resignation of Sam Sifton as restaurant critic at The New York Times nor the hare-brained review of Legal in today’s Boston Globe.  However, even an amateur sleuth, a village idiot like me, can spot clues of trouble and linkage.

First, Sifton.  He is leaving after less than two years as restaurant critic in order to become a national editor.  He’s pulling a reverse R.W. “Johnny” Apple here.  I’m sorry to see him go, his work was honest and well-informed.  Why would a terrorist group want to see him leave?  Hint: Look for an upscale Pakistani restaurant opening in NYC within the year.  Sifton notoriously is opposed to kebabs and Peshwari cuisine.  With Sifton gone, Haqqani can count on a good review in The Times.

Then the Globe: So, so many errors:

1. The reviewer refers to hiramasa as kingfish.  Um, hello?  My next door neighbor Michael, who is four years old, knows that hiramasa is yellowtail.  Sure, it can be kingfish, but only when it is farm raised.

2.  The reviewer says that abalone is a “rare” menu item.  Seriously: Does she get out much?  Google “abalone” and “restaurants” and you will find literally dozens of places, especially in Chinatown, serving this.

3.  The reviewer says that Legal is not Le Bernadin.  Well, duh.  Le Bernadin is easily the best seafood/fish restaurant in North America, and that level comes at a price: Dinner for two is easily $500+ with tax, wine, and tip.  It’s a three-star Michelin, for Eric’s sake!  You know what I say?  I say the reviewer for The Globe is no Sam Sifton.

Now what that all has to do with Pakistan is simply this: Is it possible, and I’m just asking, I’m not accusing anybody of anything, but is it possible that the Globe reviewer is secretly Maulvi Haqqani?  That would explain not knowing food.  If you’re busy planning terrorist attacks, do you have time to think about the food?  Of course not.

Monday Morning Blues

I have heard, just a rumor, that the new DSM-V, out in January, 2012, will include a diagnostic code for a disorder called, “Monday Morning Blues,” or 234.10 or MMB, as it is known to sufferers.  In an article related to his work on the DSM-V, the author of the section, a Dr. Franklin Goer (U-Penn Medical School) acknowledges “partial Pfizer funding” for the study that led him to conclude that the disorder exists and is “best treated” with Zoloft, a Pfizer drug.

I do not suffer from MMB, as every day for us village idiots is pretty much the same as every other day.  The world remains a mystery: Tides, sunrises, condensation, anything related to science is a miracle or a surprise.

All this is my way of saying that I am back to reality.

Here’s the thing: Left Kerala on Wednesday.  The house we stayed in was lovely and pleasant, as was the beach, but the food was two bites away from inedible.  Bland, monochromatic, and prepared with no love, interest, or care.  It was that deadly combination in a kitchen of inability and apathy with, top down, direction from a boss who was soused and deeply incurious.

So it was a thrill to arrive in Mumbai for two way too brief nights at the Taj on the harbor.  Delicious dinner at Marsala Kraft of tandoor chicken and dal!  Great breakfast of dosa and sweet lime juice!  Good Chinese food at Golden Dragon!  A final meal at Marautha at Peshwari of tandoor lamb, black dal, and onion kulcha.

The Taj is by far one of the most interesting properties I’ve ever stayed in: Views of the harbor, a tragic history, a noble history.  A history.  How many buildings have as rich a history?

Mumbai itself?  Can’t wait to return: Sidewalks where you can go for miles beneath arcades, through diverse crowds of suspects, and in view of Victorian buildings from the Raj.  Mumbai is a city that begs for inspection.

Meanwhile, back in black & white Boston, I’m seeing mental patients–two hospitals on the Saturday morning of our return–and running and cooking: Grilled Waygu, salmon burgers, veal polpetti.

MMB, take that!  Back, MMB!  Back!

Kerala Karavan: Onam Blues

So this is Onam, and what have we done?  Another year older, a new one just begun.  Well, it’s over for me, at least, as we fly to Mumbai today at 1:55 P.M.

Yesterday evening a boy nearly drowned in the sea.  Packs of wild dogs fought and barked and howled all night.  BJP ministers were picked up on corruption charges.   Just another 24 hours in Kerala.

Meen curry here last night, too:  What, no tamarind juice?  No black tamarind husks?  No care?  Well, at least the vegetables were delicious, as always!

Love the complexities in Kerala and the time to write: Finished a solid draft of the book’s first section on the psychology of chefs.

Mumbai: Good food, chaos!   And reading Adiga’s book set in the slums around the airport will add much, I think, to observation.  Isn’t that another song?  “Ob-ser-va-tion!”  No, wait, that’s: “I-so-la-tion!”


Walls of Water

Tropical storm here: Torrential.  It’s the very end of the monsoon season.  You can’t hear any sound, not the keyboard, nothing, as the water, which falls as a wall, drowns out everything.  It’s magnificent and unsettling at the same time.

Yesterday, however, it was calm enough for the boats to go out.

Talk about writing weather!  Speaking of which, I’ve written 71 pages while here, which means I’ve got 146 pages in total.  It’s a draft, but a good one, and I love the task of fine-tuning.  What follows is working in the restaurant a few months and tying up loose ends.  I’m aiming for 300-350 pages to distill down to about 225-250.

The sky just darkened even more.  From where I sit on the open veranda, the beach, only about 100 yards away, is eclipsed.

Last night the owner of this property invited us for drinks and snacks at a table he had set up near the gate to the beach.  That turned into a bottle of vodka, roasted and spiced cashews, grilled fish, and vegetable kati.  All delicious.  Enhanced by lively conversation.  Seems, too, that the problems with the kitchen are related to the chef having worked for the previous owner.  In what seems to have been a kind gesture, the new owner kept on the old chef.  The chef is amiable, but old school.
Here tonight and then to Mumbai tomorrow until 1 AM Saturday–flight back to Boston, arrives 1 PM on Friday.

Labor Day, Kerala Style

I haven’t seen any SUV’s loading up summer gear, signaling the end of summer, but instead lots of folks, MMID (Mostly Men in Dhoti’s) strolling the beach.  Packs of stray dogs, little holes in the sand with cocoa colored human poop, and strands of gray-green seaweed.

Other colors, too: The magnificent turquoise Kingisher; blue skies this A.M.; Halloween orange of the mango’s interior; the hot pink binding of the latest book I’m reading: ” Last Man in Tower.”  I picked this up at the Mumbai airport, was it ages ago, as I had enjoyed “The White Toger,” the Booker prize winning novel by the same author, Aravind Adiga.

You see, all is well in the Realm of Observation.

I wish I could say the same for other sensory realms.  That’s right, I’m talking about Taste.  Look, the two fish dinners and the two chicken dinners were good–one chicken dinner was flat out amazing and one fish dinner was very good.  But they all were made with the same spice paste.  So why were two better than the other two?  Better fish in one case; tandoor chicken (vs pan seared) in the other.  Here’s the thing: Why no curry?  Why no sauce?  Why nothing distinctively Keralan?

I can see I’d better return to writing.