Monday, March 29, 2010


The wild onion pizza

Damn that looks good, doesn't it? I love pizza. Actually, let me rephrase that, I love good pizza. Not the gooey, greasy, sloppy stuff you get at Ray's, Original Ray's, Famous Ray's, Famous Original Ray's or any iteration of Ray's that exists in the time-space continuum (I am convinced when we meet an alien race in outer space there will be a Ray's already there, with a greasy slice slowly congealing in its display).

While it's true that we are somewhat blessed in NYC with tons of pizza places, most serve awful slices of heart-rendingly bad oily dough piled high with cheap mozzarella cheese (insultingly called "mozzarell") and even cheaper toppings. This, to me, is an abomination.

No, I am talking about thin crust, fresh, steaming hot, straight from the oven pizza. The kind made with heart and soul and calloused hands, Department of Health rules be damned. The kind made to order, everyone wait your turn and be patient, quality needs time (somewhat like wine, eh?). I am talking about the kind of pizza you find at DiFara's, in Brooklyn.

I have to say, the first time I went, a few years ago, I wasn't impressed. I know, I know, to pizza aficionados, this is like saying to an art lover that the statue of David is no big deal. No, I made several mistakes the first time I went: it was in the middle of August, when the sidewalks were so hot that you could literally fry an egg. Inside, with an 800F oven working overtime, it was even hotter. We were actually stepping outside into 95F weather to get air. So, as you can imagine, my palate and I were both somewhat wilted. In addition, there was no line, just a mob scene, everyone yelling orders, and if Dominick heard you, yipee.

The Master at work

I was impressed, however, with his dedication to quality despite the heat. Every pie was hand-made from superb ingredients, and he fearlessly checked each pie's doneness by lifting it with his un-protected hands. WHILE it was still in the oven, mind you. Last but not least, we went on a Saturday, so the wait was eternal and the crowd huge.

This time, we went in the middle of the day on a Wednesday. Perfect timing, and it was sunny but cool outside. Dominck DeMarco's daughter now takes your order, so the mob scene of old has been replaced with a somewhat orderly crowd of people waiting relatively patiently and drooling in anticipation. Dom still makes everything by hand, without gloves, topping each pie with fresh, scissor-cut basil. Of course, this infuriates the narrow-minded bureaucrats at the Department of Health, who periodically shut him down because they're just doing their jobs and they can't think out of the box. I am sure, however, that they get a slice or two before telling him to quit for the day.

The pies now cost $25, which is incredibly expensive for a pizza. It's also $5 for a slice. And is it worth it? Well, let me just say that the only reason we stopped eating was that our belts ran out of holes. Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. The crust was thin and crispy, the mozzarella a thin covering of cheese that lay over lovely crushed tomatoes, a perfect delivery vehicle for the enticingly sweet wild onion topping. It's what you always want pizza to be but it almost never is.

Do not go if you want pineapple or something frou-frou on your pizza. I am not sure what would happen, but I won't guarantee your safety if you do so. Also, be sure to let your inner New Yorker blossom and push your way to the front. You can say "excuse me" while shoving, even if you don't really mean it. Once you get your order, take any space available on the four rickety tables in the back, even if they're already occupied. Open your box, and let the aromas of hot pizza envelop your senses. Then attack it, and keep your elbows sharp as your neighbors will be trying to get that extra inch of table space.

Yes, I know, DiFara's has been written about ad-nauseum, but perhaps there is a reason for this. And it has nothing to do with ad budgets or marketing campaigns. Perhaps it's something else, something from a simpler time, when word of mouth was all that was needed to sell things because quality still counted. Now, thanks to the Internet, there is word of pixel, and places like DiFara's can continue excelling at what they do without resorting to gimmicks.

1424 Avenue J
Brooklyn, NY, 11230
(718) 258-1367
Wed - Sun:
12:30 pm - 4:30 pm
6:30 pm - 9:00 pm


Monday, March 15, 2010

Mexican... wine?


I just returned from a long-overdue vacation (first one in five years!) in Mexico, where I sampled much of the local cuisine and beers. And while I swore off wine for the week, I ended up caving in to temptation (most folks know I can resist everything but temptation) and I suppose morbid curiosity by ordering a bottle of Mexican wine. Mexican wine, you ask?

Yes, it's true. They really are making wine all over the world nowadays (look to China soon). And so they make wine in Mexico. And I tasted it while there last week. Happily, curiosity did not kill this cat.

It was the 2007 Monte Xanic Chenin Colombard, a white blend from the Valle de Guadalupe (60 miles south of the border on the Pacific Coast). It's 95% Chenin, 5% Colombard if you're keeping score. How was it? Well, surprisingly, pretty good. Not great, mind you. But while I expected cloying tropical and heavy, almost syrupy and sweet notes due to the region's heat, I was pleasantly surprised. The wine is rather light-bodied, with citrusy and slightly tropical fruits (pears and pineapple came to mind), with a very light mouthfeel and nice acidity, even if the finish ended rather abruptly.

I have no idea what this retails for in the US, but if it's under $15 I'd say try it just for the novelty. It would make a fun aperitif wine or even go with some lighter first courses (fish and shellfish mainly). That said, I won't be tossing my French whites anytime soon. I think I am genetically programmed to prefer those, but still, I have an open palate, and it was a fun wine to try.

OK, back to work. Sigh...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What the Hell is that smell?!

Whoa, it's been a while since I've posted anything, but I've been swamped with work and travelling a ton. Seven trade shows in 10 days in France, then the Big One, ViniSud, for 4 days, in Montpellier. To say I'm exhausted is putting it mildly.

The trips were fantastic, I mean, who can complain about being in the South of France in the middle of February? It was 65F and sunny while snow and cold were pounding New York and the East Coast. Oh, yeah, I can't complain about that.

However, one thing that really annoyed me (and still does), is the sheer amount of perfume worn by some folks at trade tastings. To say it's shameful is the understatement of the year. If you're in the business, you should be as odor-free (either BO or perfume) as possible. I mean, one of the singular pleasures of wine is smelling it slowly, watching it evolve as it sits in your glass. Yet when the person near me is seriously reeking, it can be somewhat distracting.

I dislike this when I'm at a social gathering, but it's excusable, not everyone's as intent on smelling their wines as I am. I get that. But at trade tastings, I mean, come on. Some of the culprits are the winemakers themselves, which always astonishes me. I was pouring at a tasting in NYC last month, and the winemaker standing next to me was reeking of perfume. I actually edged as far as possible as I could from him so that the trade buyers would be able to smell my wines and not his aromas. Shame on him!

A huge chunk of how we taste things, and wine in particular, is through the nose. Whether it's directly through the nostrils or through the back of the mouth and into the nasal cavity, your nose is doing most of the tasting. Yeah, the tongue's useful, but it's really your shnoz that's doing all the work. Why do you think you can't taste things when you've got a cold?

Next time you're drinking wine, try smelling it next to someone who's drenched in pungent perfume or who hasn't taken a shower in a few days. See how much you like the wine. Then go outside to get some air, or shove the offender out the nearest door, and get back to enjoying your glass.