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Pasta by Design

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

What do I love most in the world? Well, yes, Gail. But forget about people. And sports. Let’s try again.

What do I love most in the world? Tough one, right? Is it pasta? Is it math? Let’s just say they’re tied. Guess what? There’s a book about them: Pasta by Design, by George L. Legendre.

I might have missed this book if not for yesterday’s WSJ, whose Saturday Review section devoted most of a page to illustrations from it. I didn’t have to look for long before deciding to order a copy.

The publisher’s website provides the following description of the book:

The pasta family tree reveals unexpected relationships between pasta shapes, their usage and common DNA. Architect George L. Legendre has profiled 92 different kinds of pasta, classifying them into types using ‘phylogeny’ (the study of relatedness among natural forms).

Each spread is devoted to a single pasta, and explains its geographical origin, its process of manufacture and its etymology – alongside suggestions for minute-perfect preparation.

Next the shape is rendered as an equation and as a diagram that shows every distinctive scrunch, ridge and crimp with loving precision. Superb photographs by Stefano Graziani show all the elegant contours.

Finally, a multi-page foldout features a ‘Pasta Family Reunion’ diagram, reassembling all the pasta types and grouping them by their mathematical and geometric properties!

I love the idea of a pasta taxonomy.

If you follow the WSJ link, you’ll see some of the photographs and diagrams. More can be found in this announcement of a book giveaway competition by Dezeen magazine, which explains that the book “includes photographs, 3D diagrams and parametric equations of 92 different pasta types, grouped and analysed according to their mathematical and geometric properties.”

Check out this example, included in the WSJ:

Or this, from Deneen:

I can’t wait to see them all.

Categories: Books, Food, Math

Wine and WSJ

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal]

I don’t know much about wine. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading the Saturday wine columns in the Wall Street Journal. I considered it a major calamity when the wife-and-husband team of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher were dropped without explanation at the end of 2009, but I’ve since grown accustomed to their alternating replacements, Lettie Teague and Jay McInerney.

Soon I will be taking my leave of them. They’re not going anywhere; I am. I have decided to stop taking the WSJ once my current one-year commitment comes to an end.

Why? Rupert Murdoch. Need I say more? I can’t stomach contributing to his enterprise. Yes, I know. That means I should also stop watching any and all shows on FOX television. And avoid all other Murdoch-based intrusions on my life. Maybe I will. One step at a time. And the first step is, no more WSJ.

It’s not like I read all that much in the WSJ anyway. I try to remember to look at the daily book reviews. Once a week, this is a problem, since the book review occupies the same page as some of the op-ed contributions, and that one day a week I need to avoid letting my eyes fall on the column by, well, I dare not say his name. That man of evil who is an anagram of Vorr Lake. Not that there is a Vorr Lake, but that’s the best anagram I could come up with. Maybe you can do better.

I look at the sports coverage, the arts and culture coverage. On Fridays, there’s the Friday Journal, a culture section. On Saturdays, another weekly culture section was recently expanded and split in two, resulting in what’s now called Review and Off Duty. I have to say, I will miss them. I think they are extremely well done. I always make it a point to read the contributions of Dan Neil, the automotive columnist and a fine writer. Terry Teachout always has informative pieces on regional theater throughout the US. And then there are Lettie and Jay.

Which brings me to Lettie’s piece yesterday. Off Duty was a special issue devoted to Italy. Accordingly, Lettie wrote about Italian wines:

The wine world is rife with clichés (wines are “made in the vineyard” or “express a terroir”), but the most persistent cliché is that Italian wines go well with food—perhaps better than any other wines in the world. Is it possible that this is one cliché that might actually be true?

There are several reasons why I think it could. First of all, the Italians put the two together quite often, perhaps more often than anyone else. Wine is an important, even inevitable, part of an Italian meal.

Second of all are the wines themselves. An Italian wine has a lot of acidity. Italians love acidity the way Americans love sugar or the way the French love a wine that only they can pronounce properly. Acidity is a critical component in a wine paired with food. It can cut through the fat of a Florentine steak or the richness of a plate of pasta Bolognese. A wine with low acidity becomes tiresome to drink, while a wine with a brisk acidity keeps the palate stimulated. Or as Tuscan producer Giovanni Folonari put it, “Acidity makes you want to eat and drink more.” (Who knew acidity was also an Italian sales tool?)

That’s the start of the article. In the end, after a tasting of 40 or so wines, she recommends five. Regarding the tasting, she explains, “I chose wines from all over the boot—from the Valle d’Aoste, in Italy’s extreme north, to Sicily—and concentrated on examples that had the characteristics that would make them good companions to food. They weren’t necessarily the showiest wines—Barolos and Barbarescos or Super Tuscans (though such wines from the right producers can go well with food, too). Instead, they were the earthier, less exalted (and less expensive) wines—the kind the Italians themselves most commonly drink with meals.”

Follow the link to see what she suggests. There’s a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for just $11 that I’m thinking we should add to our cellar, since we’re always happy to drink Montepulciano.

Wines aside, you might enjoy the accompanying slide show from around Italy.

Ciao, Lettie. Ciao, WSJ. I wish things could have been different.

Categories: Newspapers, Wine

Delancey

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[Delancey, from their website]

Another day, another restaurant. It’s not my goal to turn this into a food blog, but we keep eating at interesting restaurants, so what can I do? Last night, we ate at Delancey, which I’ll get to in a bit.

When I moved here thirty years ago, it was difficult to find pizza like what I was accustomed to in New York and Boston. Pagliacci had opened its first place near the university a couple of years before. Piecora’s, which styles itself as a Brooklyn kind of place, opened a year after. I wouldn’t get to Piecora’s for years. I met Gail and was introduced to two of her favorites, Northlake Tavern and Italian Spaghetti House. Northlake, being a bar, was filled with smokers, and I couldn’t bear eating there. When we took out, I thought its product the anti-pizza. It was all about toppings, with a mediocre crust. The Italian Spaghetti House’s pizza was mediocre in a more all-around way.

Funny thing is, my tastes changed, adjusting I suppose to what was available. We bought a home on the same street as the Italian Spaghetti House and in our last couple of years there, I would routinely and happily drive over the hill and down to take out their pizza. As for Northlake, well, it would eventually become my favorite Seattle hangout, thanks in part to the banning of smokers and in part to my growing friendship with their number one customer. I could eat their pizza every night.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, more and more small pizza places have opened that make thin-crust pizza of the sort one might find in Italy. Even before the last decade, there was Cafe Lago, with their near-perfect thin-crust, wood-oven-baked pizzas. We discovered them soon after they opened, then moved to within walking distance of them, or a short drive. More recently, we began to eat at Tutta Bella, Via Tribunali, and Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie, each superb in its own way. We aren’t lacking in thin-crust pizza places here, that’s for sure.

And then there’s Delancey. It opened two years ago to some fanfare. I read about it, made a note to eat there some time. The problem is, it’s in Ballard, not all that far from our neighborhood, but far enough that I’m never motivated to drive that far. Ballard, as it turns out, is Gail’s home turf. It was once an independent city, annexed by Seattle in 1907. And it became the home of a large Scandinavian immigrant community, including many fishing families. When I first met Gail, that hadn’t changed much, but it would soon. With easy access to downtown, by car or bus, and modestly priced houses, it has become home to many young families, with older Scandinavians selling or dying while their children moved on. (Gail’s family is an example of this process.) And home to many new restaurants that are regularly praised in the local and national press. My unwillingness to get over that way means we don’t get to try all these restaurants.

One more strand. Seattle is home to one of the most widely read food bloggers in the world, Molly Wizenberg. Gail subscribes to her blog, Orangette. I never have. I knew of her. And I knew she started some restaurant recently. But that was about it, until we went to a huge fundraising luncheon last March for a local cancer care organization at which Molly was the keynote speaker. She spoke not about herself but about her mother, whose bout with cancer brought Molly to Seattle. That’s when I finally put all the pieces together and realized that Molly was the well-known food blogger who had started a pizza place in Ballard — Delancey — with her husband and that we really should go there.

It’s a bit of a puzzle that I entirely missed the piece about Delancey just two months ago in the NYT travel section. As Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan explains,

On a quiet street in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle sits a cozy little restaurant on the verge of being thrust into a rather public life.

Delancey, a chic yet unassuming pizzeria whose décor makes you feel as if you’ve walked into your hipster neighbor’s dining room midmeal, is the love child of Brandon Pettit, a former New York music student, and his wife, Molly Wizenberg, one of the Internet’s most widely read food bloggers. Ms. Wizenberg has been detailing the daily rhythms of her kitchen and life on her blog Orangette since 2004, so it’s not surprising that this restaurant will soon be part of her material. In April she signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster to write “Delancey,” a memoir about the trials and tribulations of opening the restaurant with Mr. Pettit, scheduled for publication in spring 2013.

[snip]

The idea for the restaurant grew out of Mr. Pettit’s longing for the pizzas he grew up with in New York and New Jersey. (Ms. Wizenberg said he spent two years working to replicate New York-style doughs to his satisfaction. This included chatting up the makers of Di Fara Pizza in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, whose pies he missed the most.)

Four weeks ago, we were at a party at our friend Paul’s house and got to talking with Brooke and Robin about never getting to Ballard because driving there is such a pain, agreeing that as a result we never get to try restaurants such as Delancey. A pact was made. We would go to Delancey together. Last night was the night we agreed on.

Now that I’ve managed to explain what brought us there, the rest will be anti-climactic, as I don’t have a lot more to say. We were anxious about being able to get a table. Reservations are taken for parties of six or more. It would be crowded on a Saturday evening. But we got lucky. A four-top opened up when Brooke and Robin arrived. We drove up just after them, parked, and as we reached the front door where they were waiting, we were seated. Which was a good thing. There’s no bar or other area to wait in. One simply stands outside, amongst the diners availing themselves of the outdoor seating. Had there been a long wait, we might have moved on in search of one of the other Ballard restaurants we had never tried.

The menu is limited. The NYT article notes that the “appetizers change seasonally but a constant is a mound of shaved cabbage and romaine modeled after the chopped salads Mr. Pettit loved in New Jersey pizzerias.” That’s called the Jersey salad, described on the menu as having Romaine, red cabbage, Grana, housemade “Italian” dressing. The other two options were heirloom tomatoes with feta cheese and a meat plate with prosciutto and salami. As we studied these, we ordered a bottle of Austrian rosé, with Robin and Brooke’s recent trip to Austria in mind. Ultimately, we chose to share the Jersey salad and the tomatoes. Not being a feta fan, I can’t say much about the tomatoes, but the salad was first rate, a great way to start the meal.

When it came to the pizzas, we decided to share one Margherita (Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, basil) and one Sausage (tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, grana, housemade sausage). The one special for the night was the availability of Padrón chiles as a topping or side dish. We ordered them on the side.

Everyone makes a Margherita, of course. How does this compare? I don’t really know what to say. Driving home, I mentioned to Gail that it was very close in taste and texture to Cafe Lago’s. In a blind taste testing, I might not know the difference. But that’s a good thing, since I don’t think there’s a better Margherita pizza in the city than Cafe Lago’s. The crust is thin, burnt at the edges (also a good thing, though perhaps not in the mind of one of last night’s diners); the cheese, tomato, and basil each was distinctive and excellent. I couldn’t have been happier. The Sausage was a good contrast. The housemade sausage was fabulous, making the pizza itself fabulous as well. And those Padrón peppers were pretty darn hot. They went well with everything.

We still had a little room for dessert. There were three: a plum galette, figs with a honey mousse, and a chocolate chip cookie. Gail and I had the galette. Brooke and Robin shared a galette and the figs. The galette had a crust that was just right. Gail loves Italian plums and wasn’t disappointed. (Neither was I. It was excellent.) As far as I could tell, the fig dessert was pretty good too.

I would have liked to try one of those chocolate chip cookies. For that matter, I’d like to try several of the other pizzas. I know — reason to go back. But next time we get over to Ballard for dinner, we should try another of the exciting restaurants over there. Staple & Fancy Mercantile perhaps.

Categories: Restaurants