Ultimate Pizza – The Toppings

When making Ultimate Pizza fresh ingredients are one of the most crucial elements. I already went over the preparation of the Dough, the Pesto, and the Sauce. Now I’ll cover the bulk of the shopping and for toppings.

I get most of my “fancy” condiments at Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery. This is a convient one-stop-shop spot for all sorts of Italian (and other) goodies.

I have never been in there when they aren’t mobbed. The deli counter wait alone is usually 30-45 minutes.

They make some darn good hoagies, and they have a bit of outside seating. Even though it’s December 31 the weather is gorgeous.

I had them make a “Jersey Style” Italian Hoagie. No mayo. No mustard. Just cold cuts, provolone, and oil and vinegar. Oh and don’t forget the onions, lettuce, pepper-chinos.

I went to the Gelsons for produce. Bay cities doesn’t really have produce.

The loot nestled in the trunk. This is pizza only for five!

Dairy. Next after the dough, and possibly the olive oil, nothing is so important as the dairy. Burrata, world’s greatest fresh cheese, fresh from the local creamery. Mozzarella (balled and blocks from shredding), Creme FraicheGorgonzolaParmesanRicotta, Bay Cities House Blend (parm and pecorino grated), and Bucheron (very fancy goat cheese). I threw in some Egg Nog because of the season.

Some jarred and canned stuff. Anchovies (in vinegar and in oil), black truffle oil, Italian tuna, capers, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, tomatoes, various compotes, jams, corn (sometimes I’ll roast it fresh but I was too busy), and more.

Polenta to use as “pizza lube” (getting it off the stones and peels). Olive Oil (single vineyard), balsamic must (the Romans used this), honey, garlic, vinegars, onion marmelade, balsamic glaze, black mission figs, marcona almonds. I have white truffle oil too, but I forgot to stick it in the photo.

Produce. Five types of mushrooms, including morels and fresh chanterelles. Basil, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Chives, Dill, Sage, Cilantro, Mint, Arugala, crushed red pepper.

More produce. Italian squash. Red onion, avocado, lemons, meyer lemons, roma tomatos.

Every item needs to be prepped and put in a bowl or similar so it is accessible during the pizza making. Here is the basil. In total, this is a huge amount of work.

Mozzarella is grated.

Arugala is coated in Meyer Lemon and fresh ground pepper.

Gorgonzola crumbled.

Dried mushrooms rehydrated, fresh ones washed.

White asparagus boiled and blanched.

Vegetables chopped.

In aggregate, this prep takes 2-3 hours, even after all the shopping. The the above is just a sampling of photos.

Here is the complete spread prior to guest arrival.

Please CONTINUE HERE WITH THE PIZZA ITSELF.

The New Cal Cuisine: Rustic Canyon

Restaurant: Rustic Canyon [1, 2, 3, 4]

Location: 1119 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, Ca 90401. 310-393-7050

Date: Aug 25, 2010

Cuisine: Farmer’s Market Californian

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Having lived for 16 years in LA I’ve watched the evolution of California Cuisine. When I first came here we were still in the fading years of the 80s eclectic, typified by places like Spago or 90s fusion like Matsuhisa or the much missed Abiquiu. Today, it’s all about being ingredient driven, and Rustic Canyon is one of our many fine examples of this trend.

Burrata with peaches. You can pretty much never go wrong with Burrata or Fresh peaches.

An heirloom tomato (this very buzz word a legacy of the trend), cucumber, yogurt, goat cheese salad.

Tonight’s pick from my cellar. I love my burgs. RP gives it 93, “The dark colored 1997 Latricieres-Chambertin has profound prune, plum, and licorice flavors. This satin-textured, explosive, deep, masculine wine is tannic, structured, and powerful. Blackberry juice, mint, and plums can be found throughout its deep flavor profile and opulently flavored, persistent finish. It will require cellaring patience yet has the potential for mid- to long-term aging. Projected maturity: 2003-2012+.”

Sweet corn soup, with Pistou. This dish had an unctuous foamy texture, and brought out the very best in sweet corn flavor.

A trio of crustini. Each with very interesting (and delicious) flavor profiles. Tomatos and basil, new style. Anchovies (not the over salted sort) and a sweetish tapanade, crisp goat cheese and olives.

Homemade Gnocchi, with fresh Genoese pesto. This brought out the lovely brightness of the basil.

Sweet corn (again :-)) Agnolotti. Yum. Fresh pasta, which you never saw 10 years ago.

Cinnamon beignets with a foamy chocolate cappachino sauce. This is really a variant of the traditional Spanish churro with chocolate. And that’s not a bad thing because both are delicious! These were hot hot out of the frier.

Quick Eats: Pizzeria Mozza

Restaurant: Pizzeria Mozza

Location: 641 N. Highland Ave. Los Angeles, Ca 90036. 1-323-297-0101

Date: April 6, 2010

Cuisine: Modern Neapolitan Pizza

Rating: Best restaurant pizza in town (that I’ve had).

 

There are two Mozza’s. The pizzeria and the osetria. Both are good, sort of watered down spawn of Mario Batali, but in a town with so many fantastic Italian restaurants, it’s the pizzeria that stands out.

The reservations are a bit annoying to get, and they have an attitude here. The parking is also ludicrously over priced, although the restaurant itself is not.  The MENU can be found HERE.

I think I forgot to bring wine this night so we had to order off the list.  It isn’t bad, being full of moderately priced but tasty Italians. Valpolicella is Amarone‘s baby brother, but it never fails to provide an unctuous jammy wine.

A nice salad with goat cheese on top.

I think this was Mozzarella or Burrata with pesto and tomato. it went too fast to photo.

This was a remaining bruschette. There were others, but they were eaten. I think this was “white beans alla Toscana with extra virgin olive oil & saba.”

The main event. The pizza. “Funghi mistifontinataleggio & thyme.”

“Margherita with mozzarella, tomato & basil,” boring, but a great example of the classic. This was my first night out with my new compact macro lens and I had extreme depth of field issues that I have since mastered. Also the place is dark as a cave, and I had no flash. Now days I know to stop down and I use a macro flash ring, which rules.

My favorite, “Bacon, salami, fennel sausage, guanciale, tomato & mozzarella,” what I like to call the “meatser meatser.” This an amazing pizza, topped with so much pig goodness.

Another fantastic pizza, the “Squash blossoms, tomato & burrata.” This inspired me to top some of my homemade pizzas with Burrata (CHECK THOSE OUT HERE, I have lots of pictures and they are even better than Mozza’s).

Mozza has great deserts too, but we were too full on this particular night. The “Butterscotch budino, Maldon sea salt & rosemary pine nut cookies” is to die for.

Since opening Mozza really fills a great niche in LA. Very high quality gourmet Neapolitan style pizzas. I love it, but hate the fact that it’s 45 minutes from my house and hard to get a reservation. The place is tiny, and one of the times I was there Kim Kardashian and party took up half the restaurant. That kind of thing tends to make for upity hostesses.

Quick Eats: Piccolo

Restaurant: Piccolo [1, 2]

Location: 5 Dudley Ave, Venice, Ca. 310-314-3222

Date: Nov 5, 2010

Cuisine: Northern Italian

Rating: Much above average neighborhood Italian.

 

The location of this upscale neighborhood Italian has always been weird. You turn on Rose, and find it about 30 feet from the seedy boardwalk on Dudley, conveniently located near the drug dealers and others who hang out on the Venice boardwalk at night. Don’t worry it’s well lit, and they recently installed their own valet.

A couple years ago my wife and I had gone when the place had been under the shepardship of Antonio Mure, a talented local chef whose cuisine instantly said to me: “Verona” (certainly not a bad thing). Most Americans don’t realize how much Italian cuisine varies by region. In those days there were no reservations, only an hour long wait standing with the other yuppies watching the pot clouds drift by. Now you can reserve, even on Open Table. The space seems larger too. Mure moved on to various other restaurants, including the much lamented by me, Il Carpaccio. In any case, they new chef is named Bobo, and he’s also from the Veneto, a good thing, and totally obvious from the cooking.

I apologize for the picture quality as I forgot both my 5D Mark II and my little S90 backup camera and had to resort to the iphone 4, which really has come a long way for a cel phone camera.

You can see by the dishes that he is an innovative cook, and this is neither an old school italian menu, nor even a typical example of modern LA Italian. “Caprese Rivisitata. heirloom tomatoesburrata, revisited microbasil, sicilian olive oil.” Here Burrata (one can never go wrong with Burrata) tops layers of tomatos, some even pureed.

The wine list was pretty reasonable, and had a wealth of northern Italians. I didn’t bring wine as it was just a quick dinner, and so settled on this reasonable 2007 Marcarini Barbaresco. It was only $40 for a half bottle and was very pleasant for such a young wine. If I’m going so young, I often prefer Barbaresco over Barolo as it’s more approachable early on.

The group that spawned Piccolo originally, and at various points included La Botte, Wilsons in culver city, Il Carpaccio, and Ado — I’m not fully educated on how they’re all connected — has always had good bread. Excllent for sopping up those buttery northern Italian sauces.

I ordered this odd pairing slightly skeptically. Warm seared Hamachi over buffalo mozzarella with clover, olive oil, and a kind of basil Pistou. It was good. Very good. Usually fish and cheese pairings don’t work. It was the pesto-like sauce (just off camera, in little blobs) that really drew all the elements of the dish together.

Pumpkin ravioli. This is the Chef‘s interpretation of my wife’s most favorite pasta, a specialty of Mantua (less than an hour from Verona). In the most traditional dish the ravioli are stuffed with a mixture of pumpkin or squash and Amaretto cookies, then lightly covered in butter sage sauce. These had a slightly different shape, and no Amaretto. They were perhaps a tiny bit too al dente, and the sauce coverage not quite a 100%, but still good.

This is a risotto with sausage and a fontina-butter sauce around the edge. I’m very partial to certain kinds of risotto when done right. This one was excellent. In a good risotto, the buttery flavor is so intense that it encourages very small bites. The rice had just the right texture. The sausage was good, but I’ve had slightly better (there is this joint in Philly’s little Italy which has been grinding it’s own since the 19th century — their slogan is something like “nothing but the pig.”)

LA has a lot of very good Italian places, a lot of mediocre ones, and a lot of terrible ones. This one is very much above average and worthy of being in the rotation. It’s different too, being a little more experimental and modern, typical of Italy’s bustling north. Many other places have stronger Sicilian or Tuscan influences. I happen to love Sicilian food too, it’s just different, which is a good thing. It’s nice to have some Veneto in the mix. For some reason, as beautiful as Tuscany is, it’s never been my favorite region on the culinary front, perhaps because of it’s emphasis on heavy meats. Not that it’s bad, food is never bad in Italy, but many of Italy’s other regions are more to my taste food-wise. I still long to find real Sicilian deserts in the states. In Philly or NY you can get a real Cannoli, but I’ve never, ever, found a real Cassata alla Siciliana in the states. Even Celestino Drago who is a world class Sicilian Chef, and a friend of mine, makes a modernized version (which can be seen HERE). It’s good, but I prefer the totally old school one with the Ricotta that separates and goes bad in 8 hours.

A second review of Piccolo can be found HERE.

Quick Eats: Andy’s Spanish Eggs

Although I’m a ludicrously obsessive Foodie, I don’t cook that many things. However, those that I do make, I try to do to the Nth degree (anyone who knows me knows this to be true of me in general). One of my breakfast specialities is Spanish Poached Eggs. The original recipe was taught to me personally by Mark Peel of Campanille at a cooking class. I’ve made a few small improvements (adding Burrata and arugala). The result is below:

First, you need to make some homemade Romesco sauce. You can do this a couple days in advance if you like (I do).

Adjust the oven racks to the middle and upper positions, and preheat theoven to 350° F.

Drizzle the tomato halves with a teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place the tomatoes. cut side down, on a baking sheet, and roast on the upperrack for 45 minutes to an hour, until they are soft and the skin has wrinkled and blackened slightly. Allow to cool, remove, and discard the skin.

In a very small ovenproof skillet, saucepan, or dish, combine approximately 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the garlic cloves, to cover the cloves halfway. Roast in the oven on the middle rack about 20 minutes, until the garlic is soft and malleable. Allow to cool, and squeeze the pulp from the cloves. Reserve the oil and set aside.

Turn the oven down to 325°.

Spread the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking sheet (in separate piles). Toast on the middle rack in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Place the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel, and rub them together to remove the skins.

Meanwhile, on a hot grill or directly on the stovetop over high heat, char the pepper over an open flame, turning frequently until the skin is blackened on all sides and the flesh becomes tender. Place the pepper in a plastic bag or in abowl covered tightly with plastic wrap to steam until cool enough to handle.Using a towel, wipe off the charred skin. Remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Coarsely chop the pepper.

In a small skillet, over medium heat, warm the reserved olive oil from the garlic. When the oil is hot, fry the bread on both sides until lightly browned. Remove the bread to a paper towel to drain.

In a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the nuts and bread until they form a coarse paste. Add the tomato, roasted pepper. vinegar, garlic pulp, cayenne pepper and salt and pulverize or process until smooth. Slowly pour in the remaining cup of olive oil and stir or process until combined. Season with salt to taste. lt will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

For the actual dish you will need:

  • Lots of eggs, one per dish
  • A loaf or two of good rustic bread. I use La Brea Bakery rustic italian or similar. Cut into big slices.
  • A huge bottle of extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • A bag of arugala
  • A tub of fresh Burrata, no more than two days out of the creamery. In LA you can buy it at Bay Cities Deli. If you live somewhere (most places) where you can’t get this tub of heaven, then you will have to use some good mozzarella.
  • A couple Meyer lemons (regular will suffice if you are feeling lazy)

Next up is the bread. This can be prepared right before, or even a couple hours before eating. Get a real cast iron pan. No mamby pamby modern pans allowed. Fill it halfway up with olive oil and bring to a near boil. Be careful, if you get it too hot the oil will ignite and you will have to stick a lid on it (have one handy for snuffing fires) and wait for it to cool. Hot olive oil spontaneously combusts in the presence of oxygen.

After the oil is hot, quickly fry the bread slices. This makes a mess, but they fry in 5-10 seconds per side.

You end up with this, a plate of fried bread. This is yummy by itself or smeared with the Romesco.

Wash your arugala and put it in a bowl, toss with black pepper and Meyer Lemon juice.

Now that we’ve done the hard stuff. The following you do while your victims (guests) sit around the kitchen. This is sort of frenzied assembly because it needs to be eaten VERY soon after the egg gets poached (in the hot olive oil). So prep your bread.

Take a piece, smear generously with Romesco and add some tossed arugala. Have the Burrata (or Mozzerella) handy nearby.

Then add a nice blob in preparation for the egg. Burrata, when fresh it’s creaminess is visceral.

You can use your same hot olive oil (keep the bottle on hand to refill) to poach the egg. Have a slotted spoon and tongs ready. Crack an egg carefully into the oil. I use a small bowl, into which I crack the egg first, so that I can slip it quickly into the oil without splashing a lot of boiling oil onto my hands (a little is just a small price to pay for this dish).

It poaches (I prefer not to think of it as fried) in about 10 seconds. Spoon some hot oil over the top. You want it crispy and fluffy, but the yolk totally runny. Then get it out of there fast with the slotted spoon, drain, and onto your prepped bread.

Here it is again. Eat instantly. The yolk will run out and soak the crunchy bread. If you’re a more moderate person you could leave out the Burrata, or even not fry the bread, but the full monty is much better.

Food as Art: Capo

Restaurant: Capo [1, 2, 3]

Location: 1810 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, Ca. 310-394-5550

Date: April 30, 2010

Cuisine: Italian with Cal influences

Rating: The food here is really very very good.

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Capo has always given me slightly mixed feelings. Not about the food, that part is great, but they have a bit of an attitude at times, and it’s too expensive. I just don’t expect Italian to be super expensive, which Capo is, unless it’s Northern Italian Haute Cuisine, which we have basically no real examples of in Southern California. And they’ve given me trouble several times about my wine (which I always bring), as they’ve an unusual and restrictive corkage policy that is enforced with great zeal. But the food is fantastic, and one of their pastas is the best ragu I’ve ever had — and I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy.

It’s a lovely restaurant too, with a fun intimate atmosphere, and the very high prices give it a full-on star factor. A couple years ago I sat next to SKG (Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen). Spielberg seems to love high end Italian, because I’ve seen him four or five times at said establishments — not that I blame him.

Entering, they now have a pig leg on the counter. I have to admire that. It’s “Jamon Iberico de Bellota,” which is extremely fine ham from Spain. The downside is $60 for one little plate! One time when someone else was picking up the tab I tried it here — with a side of Burrata. It was good, but no ham — as much as I like it — is worth $60 for a few slices. Particularly after having spent the month of June in Spain where every restaurant has a wall of pig legs and you can get a plate of the stuff for $6-10.

This isn’t from Capo, in fact it’s a store in Madrid known as “Museo del Jamon.” This is a chain, and such displays are commonplace in Spain, a land in which pigs live in mortal terror.

I brought this wine, Parker gives it 94 points, saying, “Luciano Sandrone’s 1998 Barolo Cannubi Boschis is another of the standouts in this tasting. Layers of perfumed dark fruit flow effortlessly from the glass with wonderful depth and purity. The wine offers a long, intensely harmonious personality and a refined, aristocratic finish. The 1998 is an excellent choice for readers who may also be cellaring bottles of the 1996 or the 1999, two wines that offer considerable upside potential. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2019.”

Now this brings me to my little corkage rant. Capo’s corkage policy is that you can bring one and no more than one bottle, and that it must not be on their list. It’s enforced — I’ve been rejected for having a wine on the list twice — so it requires me to download the list before going and research which wine I can bring. They have a huge list. It’s not bad, but it is VERY OVERPRICED. I once went through all 112 pages on paper at home with the Parker website and couldn’t really find any good price/value ratios. I know making a profit at a restaurant isn’t easy, but a have several beefs with this kind of list. I know a lot about wine, and have a very experienced palette. Lists like this are stuffed with wines that are good on some aspect, like winemaker, but fail in another, usually vintage. When there’s a crappy vintage in Bordeaux where do you think all the “cheap” Pauillacs go? Restaurant wine lists, priced as if they were from 1982. But the real problem is that a wine I would pay $150 for — and I buy carefully at auction or from well priced dealers I know well — is $400 or more on these lists. It pains me to pay $150, and there is just no way I’m going to pay $250 dollars extra for the privilege of a waiter mangling my cork with a stupid leverage corkscrew when I have thousands of bottles at home. When I have to order off the list it means I have to drink vastly inferior wine, and still pay $150-200 for it — and my friends are so appalled at the price anyway that I automatically pick up the tab. So until Capo (and the couple others that have even worse policies. Giorgio Baldi you know who you are!) modify their lists to only markup by about $40 I can’t be fully satisfied. Frankly, I would go to both all the time if they had open corkage policies. Enough said.

Capo always puts out this little humus-like spread. I suspect it’s fava beans, and it was mostly eaten by the time I got my camera on it. It’s addictive though. We settle down to examine the MENU, which is big, and always a difficult decision because there is so much great stuff on it. They have an odd menu format, in which each item is identified by only it’s principle ingredient, forcing you to guess or ask how it’s actually prepared. Plus they have “fill in the blanks” on the menu which are filled in by a separate sheet of daily specials. No big deal, but it’s kind of bizare. Doesn’t matter though, as the food is great.

Lest you think I’ve been all negative, let’s get to the real meat of the matter, the only thing that really makes a restaurant — the food. “Maryland crab torta.” This really is Crab Norfolk, and it’s probably the best one I’ve ever had, and I spent summers as a boy in Oxford Maryland, land of the blue crab. This is a big juicy pile of delicious blue crab, drenched in butter, and their special touch is a little Meyer lemon in the mix. Bellissimo!

My wife got to this faster than the camera did. But you can see the egg in this fresh pasta. I LOVE fresh pasta. When I went to Italy first in the 80’s, when Italian in the States pretty much meant lasagne, chicken parm, and red and white table clothes, the pasta was a revelation. It never gets old. Some kind of cheese tortelloni in butter sauce. I snagged one. Yum!

This wasn’t my dish, and I can’t remember what it was, I’m sure it was good.

“White corn ravioli.” You can’t beat fresh pasta in a butter sauce.

This is “buccatini with lamb ragu,” and it’s one of the best pastas I’ve ever had.  I’ve come back like three times for it. I love a good ragu, and the buccatini (spagetti with a tiny hole in the middle) is perfect. The dish is rich and meaty, divine.

We had to switch up to the overpriced wine list because of the above mentioned corkage policy. Another problem with most wine lists is that the wines are too new. Capo does have some older stuff though, and often there are some tolerable deals (relatively speaking). This is an example, a 90 point Barbaresco, and the list had it for $120. Well, I’d generally get a 94-96 point Italian for that price. I try not to buy things under 92. This is a nice wine, and drinkable, but it isn’t a great wine. I can’t afford great wines off the list, and that bums me out. My cellar is full of great wines. Parker says, “1998 Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace Barbaresco Nervo—Dark ruby in color, this superb Barbaresco features an intense nose of spices, menthol and minerals, and flavors of crushed raspberries, plums, and strawberry jam. It is a gorgeous, multi-layered wine, with plenty of structure and length on the palate. The three wines I tasted from the Nervo cru are irresistible, alluring wines with great personality. They are superb values as well. 90 points/drink now-2010.”

This was a chocolat creme brulee, the deserts here are just as good as the food.

And this. This was to die for. “Meyer lemon semifreddo,” with a blueberry or blackberry sauce. Everything about this was spectacular, one of my all time favorite deserts. The cold-soft texture, the bright lemon flavor, and the tart sweetness of the berries. OMFG!

A nice plate of little petit fours, not so usual at American Italians, more french. In Italy sometimes you’ll get treated to little almond cookies and shots of grappa or sambuca.

So to conclude, Capo is hands down delicious. I didn’t show it, but they also have this huge wood grill fireplace and sizzle up killer Tuscan-style porterhouses and other grilled meats. The food is VERY VERY GOOD, and the service is top notch. The intimate little atmosphere is great also. My only beefs are with the high prices, and the annoying corkage policy.

For another review I wrote of Capo, CLICK HERE.