Monday, September 05, 2005

Neapolitan Pizza!

9-5-05 Neapolitan Pizza!

Who are the Italians? Once a bunch of clueless sheep herders, they somehow became the world's first superpower following the Roman conquest of Carthage during the three Punic Wars. Eventually they succumbed to laziness, decadence, and butt fucking. The latter is a joke that writes itself: the Romans picked up the art of anal sex from the newly conquered Greeks! Marcus Cato the Elder, the Rush Limbaugh of his day, complained loudly and often about the vices the Greeks had introduced into Roman culture (some things really never change).

After the Goths (the bearded heathens who wore bear skulls as helmets, not the pansies who listen to Morrissey) sacked Rome in 476, the Italians took a 1000 year coffee break. Then Venetian merchants, sailing all over the Mediterranean trading with new people in far-off lands, started to find all these strange ancient texts, written by weirdoes that the Church didn't approve of like Democritus and Plato. The old Greek and Arabic technology that Europe had forgotten about spread across the continent, which of course brought about the Renaissance.

Food production increased with the development of the metal plow and the yoke. Yes, the yoke. The most important invention that can be strapped on since the strapon. Without it, horses couldn't be used to pull the plow, so the farmers either had to push the plow themselves or lash it to an ox. Horses were faster and smarter than oxen, so using them to pull the plow saved time and allowed the faster accumulation of surplus food. With more food and extra time, people were finally able to do faggy stuff like sitting around thinking and drinking espresso and creating art. Artists, using the new techniques of perspective, stopped drawing people the same height as buildings.

Yet the Italians were no longer a political force, just a cultural one. They were too busy with constant in-fighting to conquer anyone else, splintered as they were into regional kingdoms and duchies like the Piedmont, Tuscany, Venice, Florence, and Naples, that could never get along. While England and France had been unified as modern nations for centuries, Italy was late to the game. It took until Italy until 1861 to unify, and by then nationalism was old hat. Even the USA was already 85 years old.

So what do you do when all the cool kids have passed you by? Ride one of their coattails, of course! After squiggling out of being on the losing side of WWI they made the worst possible mistake: siding with Hitler! Why'd they do that? Honestly, did they really think the Nazis would tolerate being allied with a bunch of guidos if they won the war? Mussolini always reminded me of the kind of guy who bought Amazon's stock when it cost $100 a share. Always a day late and a dollar short. Buy high, sell low. We all know someone like this. The literal definition of a chump.

Anyway, though the Italians are now unified, the regions still find shit to argue about, but one thing those dagos don't argue about is that the modern pizza was invented in Naples in 1871 by chef Raffaele Esposito. The classic cheese pizza was originally called “Pizza Margherita” after Queen Margherita di Savoia, who proclaimed it her favorite. 134 years later, enter the European Union. Bothered by the dilution of the word “pizza” by shitheaps like Pizza Hut, a series of rules were created to properly define the true “Neapolitan pizza.” The rules set the size of the pie, thickness of crust, number and type of toppings, and the cooking parameters. For instance, only a wood fired oven may be used, and the dough must be kneaded by hand, not rolled with a rolling pin nor a machine.

Contrary to what libertarians might proclaim at 2:00 am on public access television, the new rules actually seem to have encouraged innovation, because now there are three pizzerias here in Seattle that follow the new EU rules: Tutta Bella, La Vita E Bella, and Via Tribunali (which I'm guessing is too new or too ghetto to have a website).

So, being the public advocate I am, I took it upon myself to try out all three of these, plus two control groups (just to make it scientific):

Via Tribunali

Via Tribunali is the closest one to my house, so I went there first. Obviously these motherfuckers are very dedicated to all things Italian, because not only is the menu written entirely in Italian, but the fucking waitress was Italian. The interior décor is goth (here I'm talking about the Sisters of Mercy- listening pansy Goths, not the burly berserkers who sacked Rome), and strangely like a church with its cavernous ceilings and stained glass everywhere. We ordered the prosciutto e funghi (that's ham and mushrooms for you gringos and borscht belt motherfuckers), which set me back $15.95. The crust was light and flaky, but I found the very center of the pizza undercooked. As in, drippy and not cooked at all. Plus the “prosciutto” they used was a clear impostor: real Prosciutto di Parma should be stringy and delightfully salty. The fake prosciutto seemed more like Black Forest ham, and while I'm not against Black Forest ham, when I'm told I'm getting prosciutto, I goddamn want real prosciutto! The biggest plus of Via Tribunali was the house wine, which at $15 per liter is a pretty good deal for a decent (though somewhat flat) table wine.

Tutta Bella

This place is located in the hinterlands down south. I had to stare down a crazed lunatic on the bus to get there safely. But braving the terrors of the evil Ranier Valley becomes totally worth it once you sit down at Tutta Bella. Here, as at Via Tribunali, the house wine is cheap and plentiful: they don't even let you sit down without handing you a glass as you walk in the door. We tried the prosciutto e rucola (prosciutto and arugula). At $9.95, this pie was the cheapest of the three by far. It was perfectly done, though there was quite a bit of arugula on there. As in, it was almost like a salad on a crust. Still, it was damn tasty and they used real Prosciutto di Parma! The distance of this place from civilization is a bit of a barrier though.

La Vita E Bella

My favorite of the three, La Vita E Bella is located conveniently in Belltown. While Via Tribunali only hires real Italians to wait tables, and Tutta Bella just hires whoever walks in the door, La Vita E Bella takes a strange middle route: they hire people who appear to be Italian but who are actually from other countries. The waiter we had last time I was there was from Lebanon. Another time I overheard two of their staff conversing in Spanish. Something you can count on at this place: the Gamberoni al Pistachio (13.95) is fucking delicious. This dish is simple: prawns sauteed in olive oil with pesto, parsley, pine nuts, and of course pistachios, served on a bed of arugula. Superb. The caprese salad ($9.95) is of standard quality, but the pizza is naturally the real standout. The prosciutto e funghi is $13.95, and the crust is bubbly and chewy, with a delightful smear of soot on the bottom from the wood fire. They use real Prosciutto di Parma. The specials are usually good, but don't bother with the Anatra al Balsamico ($16.95). It's a sliced duck breast sauteed with pancetta in a balsamic reduction. It's too salty and the balsamic heavily dominates the flavor.

Pizza Hut

Now the control group! We tried the Pizza Hut thin crust with pepperoni and mushrooms (do I need to tell you they didn't have Prosciutto di Parma available as a topping?). Absolutely shitty, and it cost $16.48! The crust was thin but still too heavy, like a roofing shingle (or a stale cracker), and the pepperoni smelled like anus. Pizza Hut sucks. May God have mercy on your stomach if you patronize those shitholes!

Pizza Passion

The second control group is a surprise contender! Pizza Passion opened in this convenience store on Capitol Hill at Broadway and East Harrison. The store once housed this Turkish gyro place, which unfortunately (unfortunately because those doner kebaps were fucking badass) closed after the guy who owned it got deported back to Turkey. You see, his wife was his green card sponsor, but when the dude started cheating on her she revoked her sponsorship. Then back to Turkey! Moral of the story: only American citizens should cheat on their wives. Anyway, Pizza Passion eventually replaced the gyros place, and it's actually worth it! A slice of cheese is $1. Pepperoni is $1.50. It's cheap, the slices have a good sauce and a decent cornmeal crust, and plus it's open until 3:00 am. So if you're out drinking until after Dick's closes, you've got a backup plan.

I'm tired of writing now, so to sum it up: go to La Vite E Bella. If you can't get a table, get in your car and drive down to Tutta Bella. If they're full, try Via Tribunali. If they're full, then there's always Pizza Passion. But if you're willing to drive all over the goddamn town looking for pizza, then you suck. Or you're pregnant. Though the conundrum here is that maybe if you had sucked, you wouldn't be pregnant.



What might one consider minimalist food? Could it be a single pea drizzled with a thin stripe of balsamic reduction? Or a grilled shrimp, topped with a lone flake of gari? Does it make sense to introduce the minimalist ethos into cuisine? After all, if taken to its logical conclusion, an adherent of minimalism would never own anything, do anything, or eat anything and would thus starve. Then I would label the deceased minimalist a chump, a fate worse than death to be sure.

I don't understand minimalism. That's because I'm a maximalist. Unlike minimalists, who don't want anything, maximalists want EVERYTHING. Even shitty things like cancer. I'm a true maximalist because I love everything that's complicated: HP Lovecraft. Baroque music. Taxes. The only thing I normally prefer slick and streamlined is pussy. And Japanese food.

Now that I've said all that shit let's discuss Elemental. Located in a condo on a cul-de-sac overlooking Gasworks Park, it's a tiny minimalist fantasy in brown and light brown. We tried to get into Elemental once before, but it was full. By full I mean that all 4 tables were occupied. If you don't get to Elemental BEFORE IT OPENS at 5:00 pm, you're never going to get inside.

Between 5 and 6 is cocktail hour. The chipper bald guy who seems to run the place took our drink orders. I already knew I wanted a manhattan. Some other poser overheard my selection and also got one. Lame. After we got our drinks, the bald guy brought out a clear glass cylinder of ice water, in which was floating a thin slice of cucumber. In the summer heat, the cucumber water was light and refreshing. With the ice water came a dish of popcorn, heavily peppered, perfectly crisp, and perfumed with truffle oil. A great accompaniment to a manhattan and a glass of cucumber water on a warm evening.

Finally we got around to dinner. The first course was figs with bleu cheese ($6). Three black figs were hollowed out, the pulp removed, then mixed with the cheese and stuffed back into the fig. The tang of the cheese contrasted well against the sweet fruit. Unfortunately the figs were less than ripe. My grandpa's figs are better, though my grandfather has never eaten bleu cheese. Or even knows that cheese comes in any color other than yellow. So fuck him.

Next came the cream of fennel soup ($6). Delicious! The cream was light but still smooth and rich, and the fennel flavor was very intense. In true minimalist fashion it was served without garnish in a clear glass bowl. This was my favorite dish of the evening. Following the soup came watermelon salad ($6). Slices of pink and yellow watermelon were drizzled in olive oil and served with goat cheese and arugula. Refreshing.

Then we had the tuna tartare ($12). Cubes of raw ahi were tossed with sesame oil and accompanied by a petite pile of cold buckwheat noodles. Yes, I know, we all hate the “pan asian” bullshit, but it was awesome. The fish melted in your mouth. It was served with a shot glass of very fine chilled sake. That sake was so good, in fact, that my raving about it prompted Elemental's bewildered proprietor to ask me if I liked the sake better than the tuna. The answer, luckily for my taste buds, was that I liked them both.

After the tuna came baked tomatoes stuffed with lamb, bell peppers and corn ($16). These were light and tangy, but were probably the low point of the meal for me. I generally don't like stuffed tomatoes because, like your mom's cunt, they're too drippy and the skin slides all around in your mouth when you try to eat it. Yes, I actually wrote that.

Following the tomatoes we had the cheese plate: three scalene triangles of hard, white cheese with the tiny holes and dry tang reminiscent of manchego. Maybe it was manchego? I lost track, because by this time I was so damn stuffed I couldn't believe it. I was also delightfully fucked up. We drank probably 10 glasses of wine, which is INCLUDED with dinner. Note to the bald guy who runs Elemental: you are one hospitable motherfucker! It's more like being invited to a dinner party at a friend's than like going out to eat. Our total bill came to $142, more than reasonable for the amount and quality of food and service, and best of all, gratuity is included!

Elemental is fucking awesome: simplicity in every bite. I was surprised to find my maximalist appetite tamed by their minimalist sensibilities. Maybe the two philosophies CAN be reconciled! Or maybe Elemental is really a maximalist restaurant in disguise, a wolf in sheep's clothing, because the menu changes weekly. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, my review will be out of date. But then, next week's menu will just give me an excuse to go back.

Rating: 8 dead minimalists out of 10

Elemental on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 04, 2005


9-4-05 A Fond Tribute to New Orleans

The following is a list of motherfuckers I will surely miss now that they're under 10 feet of water:

Fiorella's (45 French Market Pl)

We Never Close (10240 Chef Menteur Hwy)

Samurai (239 Decatur St)

Parasol's (2533 Constance St)

Central Grocery (923 Decatur St)

Siam (435 Esplanade Ave)

Manuel's Hot Tamales (4709 S Carrolton Ave)

Napoleon House (500 Chartres St)

I never scraped together the cash to hit Commander's Palace, and I regret the fuck out of that. And no, going to the one in Las Vegas isn't an option. With Siegfried & Roy out of commission (the only thing I love more than magic is a magician- eating tiger), Las Vegas has nothing to offer me. I hate gambling. The last gamble I made was fucking your mom without a condom. And I don't care that you can drink 24 hours a day, in the street. If I want to drink all night I'll go to, uh... New Orleans. Never mind.

In New Orleans you could walk into any shitty looking convenience store and get a sandwich that's offhandedly better than anything you can get in sandwich- deprived Seattle. Better than Honeyhole. Better than The Other Coast. And all for about 1/2 the price (and actually about 1/5 the price of the sandwiches at Salumi's ).

My experience in Seattle with so-called “New Orleans favorites” is a litany of disappointment. Behold: one time I went to Bad Albert's in Ballard. I was incredibly surprised to see a shrimp poboy on the menu! I was so excited, I ordered one immediately. I should've known better. The “poboy” didn't come dressed with the traditional diced iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, pickles, mayonnaise, and french's yellow mustard, but was instead covered in a gross miasma of the kind of cheap tartar sauce only available in middle school cafeterias. Even worse was the fact that THE FUCKING POBOY ONLY HAD TWO SHRIMP ON IT! Yes, TWO. One. Two. I counted (all those years of watching Sesame Street finally paid off, I guess). I couldn't believe my fucking eyes. In a real poboy, more than two shrimp should roll off the bread and onto the floor while you eat it. Bad Albert's= POSERS.

Another time I had the muffaletta at Roxy's Deli in Fremont. I know, I know, I shouldn't have ordered it, but hope springs eternal, I guess, kinda like the guy I know who's had the same long distance relationship going with this girl for 9 years but has never fucked her. That muffaletta was sort of like a girl who doesn't put out for 9 years, too: dry and retarded. It came on a sourdough roll, not the authentic sesame seed muffaletta bread. While the meats were correct (black forest ham, mortadella, and salami), the olive salad was too garlicky, and didn't have enough (or any, actually)of the diced celery, marinated cauliflower, and pimento that a proper olive salad should have. Furthermore, there wasn't nearly enough olive oil on it. A good muffaletta should fucking swim in extra virgin olive oil. There should be so much oil on it that it drips off the bread and stains your shirt when you bite into it, so that you say “My shirt's ruined but who gives a shit? This muffaletta is so damn good I just spontaneously ejaculated!” This actually happened to me once. True story. But that mufalletta came from the Central Grocery, not Roxy's. Roxy's is a fucking pale imitation.

Then there's the New Orleans Restaurant in Pioneer Square. Where do I even begin to disparage this fuckfest? I ordered the fried catfish platter. As I recall it cost about $12. For that price, what you'd get in any hole in the wall in New Orleans (or even an upscale place like Deanie's ) would be: a huge pile of catfish, sliced razor thin so you can't actually taste the catfish, breaded in cornmeal, and deep fried, with a huge pile of fries, hushpuppies, buttered french bread, and a shitty iceberg lettuce salad. In contrast, the New Orleans restaurant sucks. Their catfish platter? A single breaded catfish filet which appeared to have been BAKED (blasphemy!), two hushpuppies that were hard enough to use as ball bearings, and a cup of undercooked red beans that were still HARD INSIDE! Fuck! What a bitter, bitter meal that was. I weep just thinking of it.

Don't get me wrong: there's plenty of good eating to be had in Seattle. But the food in New Orleans is effortlessly awesome, and cheap as well. It's just too damn bad we won't be able to get any of it for at least a year. To the citizens of New Orleans: rebuild, my brothers, so we might once again enjoy a decent poboy!

XO Bistro

7-8-05 XO Bistro

Hmmm... this place is retarded.

I used to walk past the XO Bistro all the time on my way home from the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, where I'd have some beers with my good friend Mr. C, play a couple rounds of Golden Tee, and inevitably see the scruffy asshole from Soundgarden. I even remember walking past the now legendary Cassis and ogling the menu, though I never went inside, because I'm such a jackass (back then I was a poor jackass). Then Cassis closed, and the XO Bistro appeared in its place. Sigh. A missed opportunity I'll never have back.

We went to XO because I'd been walking up 10th Avenue after a long absence from the Roanoke. On a whim, (correction: a drunken whim), I called XO and got reservations for the next day.

Well, gentle fuckface, XO let me down. First of all was the waiter, who looked like he was secretly a carpenter. He was weird. He talked too quietly for me to hear him, especially since there was a table with screaming kids near us. His hands were dirty, cut, and bruised, which is what made me think he was some kind of manual laborer during the day. He was also dirty. You could see the cloud of dust swirling around him as he walked. Motherfucker looked like Pigpen from the Peanuts comics. Worst of all was his timing. Whenever I needed him, he was nowhere to be seen. He'd bring the food to the table, then disappear until the next course came out. I understand that service slows down when it gets busy, but the place wasn't crowded. That said, the dude was polite, even though he was fucking filthy.

We started with a side of pommes frites ($4), more commonly known to those of us who drink Busch beer as French fries. Thank god the whole “Freedom Fries” thing went down the toilet finally. If you're one of those Lee Greenwood listening, Wal-Mart shopping fucks with a flag sticker on your SUV, who calls yourself a patriot yet nonetheless doesn't know what the Monroe Doctrine is, you should know that shortly after your mother finished Freedom Kissing my asshole, I put on a Freedom Tickler and threw a classic fucking on her that would've made the original smutty Frenchman, the Marquis de Sade, proud. It was extra nasty because I made her complain about gas prices as she was coming.

The frites were pretty good, though naturally not as good as the ones they fry in duck fat at Campagne. Still, it's difficult to fuck up French fries. Even McDonald's can make them taste good, and they aren't competent enough to keep from insulting Hindus. And those Hindus can take a lot of abuse! They withstand dysentery, cholera, the plague, floods, the inevitable deadly stampede that always seems to occur during their holidays, and the inundation of a nonstop stream of jobs that once belonged to American college students and welfare mothers. When those motherfuckers die, they die 100,000 at a time, and they still pump out babies as if fucking was going to be outlawed tomorrow. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, pommes frites.

Next was an ahi tuna carpaccio. The tuna was ground up into a paste, smeared on the plate, and garnished with olive oil, pepper, and capers. I didn't like it because it had a sandy texture that was a turnoff, and despite the pepper and capers was rather bland. And at $10, it was, in my opinion, a goddamn ripoff. A waste of sashimi grade ahi tuna. I weep, weep at the thought!

After the carpaccio was the tarte flambee ($11.50), a thin crust pizza topped with gruyere, crème fraiche, onions, and bacon. Finally something that really kicked ass. I could've eaten 100 of them. The crust was flaky and light, and the creamy tartness of the crème fraiche contrasted nicely with the salty bacon and cheese. XO should remove all the other junk off their menu and just serve this. Delightful!

My entree was the lamb sirloin. The lamb itself was tender and juicy, but not really seasoned very well. It was served over a mushy, flavorless ratatouille comprised of bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant. There were also some kind of roasted potatoes with it, and everything came with a very intense thyme sauce (too intense- it overwhelmed the rest of the flavors). I ate all of the lamb, but almost none of the rataouille. Lame. Not worth the $19 it set me back. Do I need to make another lame joke about what I could have bought with the money I instead spent on the lamb sirloin? Okay, here goes. For $19 I could get 19 blowjobs from your mother. Are you happy now? Sigh. I'm just a hack. I wish I had gone to that medical school in Grenada after all. Why, god, why? Why is my life without meaning?

We ended the night with a pretty good crème brulee and espresso, followed by a flight of different dessert wines. The dessert flight was the surprise hit of the evening. For $20 we got 6 tastes of different ports and sherries. Definitely reccomended.

To sum it up: though certainly affordable, XO Bistro is too lame to bother with shitloads of courses. Their wine list is cheap and there are some good choices available. Your best bet is to sit in the bar, get a bottle of the L'ecole 41 Merlot, and order the tarte flambee and some frites. Then go across the street to the Roanoke and play Golden Tee. Be sure to name your Golden Tee guy (you know, the little golf playing character who looks like the ass baby of Will Ferrell and George W. Bush) “ASS.” That one gets me every time. I'm so mature.