Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Las Colinas Pizza Makes Me Sad

I'm in Irving, TX this week for a bit of project management training. It's a nice change of pace, good to be a little closer to home, and it's been a good class, but if there's good food here - food with soul and body, food made with love - I've yet to find it. Maybe there's some little diner out there, with good people who make delicious pies or something. There's a couple of days yet, there's still hope.

A couple of small illustrations from two area pizza joints, both highly recommended. First: I Fratelli. The Cookie.

Faced with a night of catching up on all the work I'd missed during the day's training, I opted for in-room dining. Not wanting to brave the downright scary room service here for a second night, I ordered dinner from a local pizza place right up the road. Everything looked good. And, to their credit, the pizza was pretty decent. Thin crust, a little crisp, hand-shaped, good cheese. All in all, solidly competent. But even competent pizza was not enough to redeem this cookie.

Here's what the website says:

Here's what they brought me:

I mean, good lord. They didn't even bother to take it out of the wrapper.

The second try was tonight. I was angling for tex-mex, but the team prevailed, and 6 of us headed out to Fireside Pies. More Pizza, this time in nearby Grapevine.

I'd heard from a few folks that this was a good local spot, a little upscale but not too fussy. And on entering the place, that seemed true: Fireside looks like a dark-wood-and-leather version of California Pizza Kitchen. It's got a delicious brick-oven smell, a small but not entirely terrible wine list, and cleverly named, memorably presented pizzas. But, like the I Fratelli cookie, the pitch doesn't really match the delivery.

The pizzas were giant and despite every attempt at making them fancy, they were almost impossibly greasy. I got a Hot n' Crumbled - sausage, ricotta, and chopped tomatoes, so maybe I was a little asking for the greasy, but as a group we got several different pizzas and shared slices across the table. Despite whimsical names and fancy ingredients each of the pizzas had exactly the same set of flavors - heavy on the grease, a little tiny kick to the sauce, a non-descript but decent crust, a flat sameness. The meatier the pizza, the harder it was to eat, but even the veggie options were without anything light or inviting.

Neither one of these places was bad, exactly. But neither was what they claimed to be. In that, they mirrored this little corner of this most corporate of suburbs, a thin veneer over a generally joyless landscape.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I Miss Bread: Revisited

I've been in my Tallahassee corporate apartment for a few months now, enjoying the space and familiarity after years of the Hampton Inn and Courtyard hotel.

More than anything else though, I love my kitchen. It's nothing special - standard issue new apartment appliances, cabinets and counters - but it's solid, well laid out, and it makes me happy.

This week, I finally made it back from work early enough to make a loaf of bread. It wasn't perfect, but the act of engaging the dough, the 10 minutes of kneading (tiring!), the quiet that comes from waiting for dough to rise, and the smell rising from the loaf while it baked were enough to tide me over happily into my long, drawn out week.

Making bread, especially here without the stand mixer or cooling rack or any of the other special gadgets I've got at home, connects me to something really elemental about eating. It's alchemy, the transformation of a few ingredients - this bread was just flour, yeast, water, and salt - into something completely unrelated to any of its parts. So Monday was construction day. While the bread baked I made a simple dinner and was happy to slow down.

Tuesday morning, it was on to bread deconstruction number one: French Toast. It was a simple deal - eggs, milk, vanilla, and a little sugar with the first slices of my bread and a few strawberries and grapefruit sections along the side. (Grapefruit life hack here - cut your citrus this way, and it'll change your life).

A couple of forgettable but decent meals got me through to Wednesday night, and Deconstruction Number Two: Fried Chicken.

What a blast. I took a couple of thick slices of the bread, cut them into chunks and had at them with the blender at a relatively low speed. Bread chunks in; bread crumbs out.

I cut my remaining chicken breast from Tuesday night into 4 thin, flat slices, and melted an obscene amount of butter in my frying pan. I also added some dried oregano, basil, salt and pepper to the bread crumbs, started up the rice, and got my assembly line set up.

Four slices of chicken, first into flour, then into egg, then into a gallon ziplock bag with the spices and breadcrumbs. Gave it a few good shakes, and then into the buttery pan. While the chicken cooked - which didn't take long on account of the thinness - I cut up the one tomato I had left into thin slices and layered them with red onion slivers and a quick little balsamic vinaigrette.

I'm not saying this was earth shatteringly good food. But it was Good, and it had the meaning that things get when you cobble them together with your own clumsy hands. Life is better with kitchen.

new camera should arrive next week - no more fuzzy cell phone shots!


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