about bliss

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the best pizza in the world (for now)

Dvorak's 9th, the *Symphony from the New World* is on Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) tonight. The station plays a program that includes educational discussions of classical music; instead of playing the symphony in its entirety, they'll play one movement and discuss it before moving on to the next. I actually played AND studied this piece back in college, when I minored in music. Ooh, now the DJ is discussing similarities to Beethoven's 9th (my fave symphony, though not my fave classical piece. That would be Barber's Adagio).

The warm fragrance of just-baked banana nut muffins wafts through my home, promising good snacks for the next two work weeks. A few years ago I took to baking batches of muffins, freezing them, and taking them to work for a healthy delicious snack. In a few weeks I'll do something pumpkin chocolate chippy. Yumm.

Today was pleasant though cold. My friend down the hall brought Starbucks to work for me, another friend brought bday treats, and yet another was interviewed on WPR. My students are more than engaged--we're actually planning a FASHION SHOW for later in the semester, in conjunction with reading *The Devil Wears Prada,* and they want to have a little inter-class competition, though when I insisted the competition must take some written form they rolled their eyes a bit.

But, I will delay no longer on my discussion of THE BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD (for now). I very well may revise this statement when the blessed day comes that I travel to Italy...For now, dining on pizza that has been officially certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association is close enough to being in Naples myself...

Yesterday I left work and drove along the Lake, watching the interplay of billowy clouds, fierce winds, and intensely blue waters. Turning on the interstate, I watched the sky transform into a luminous Beirstadt painting (I had been looking at his "The Oregon Trail" in our American Lit book). I shopped at Target before heading to my new Aveda salon. The trademarh herbal, floral Aveda scent, so familiar and redolent of relaxation and pampering, eased any remaining jagged edges of my day. A vanilla honey latte and a good haircut make me want to return. (I realize that I'm stalling, making you wait for that delicious pizza...). I stopped at Younkers and tried on shoes, but it wasn't the same without Mom, Grandma, or S shopping with me.

Finally, I made my way to Il Ritrovo. Settled into a table for two. There's a certain art to dining alone in a real restaurant. It's difficult to refrain from apologizing for only taking up one chair, but I'm mastering the art (not that this means I intend to become overly comfortable dining alone. But it's a precious skill.) I asked for half a glass of wine--wish granted. Did it help that I was thumbing through the latest copy of *Food and Wine* that I brought with me? I deliberated between the specials--a veggie minestrone, a caprese panini--and my usual. I had pizza on my mind. I needed that perfectly balanced taste and texture again. As I have on my previous visits, I ordered the Mista salad and the Margherita Classico.

Mista salad: bibb lettuce, cubes of fennel, half-moons of cucumber (from round cucumbers, I suspect), long shaved carrots, and wedges of heirloom tomatoes--green zebra, and some completely transcendent variety that's so red it's nearly purple, and sweet, and lush, and a revelation (I found myself thinking in poetry--instead of Elizabeth Bishop's "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow," I was thinking "tomato, tomato, tomato!). Between the fennel chunks and the cucmbers, a delicate floral fragrance pervaded every bite of the salad, which is tossed in a basalmic vinaigrette, in its purest form.

My *Food and Wine*: forgotten. Every taste nearly bringing tears. And it's just a salad!

And then the pizza arrived. It's quite large--probably 14 inches. The crust is thin, and charred in places, crisp, yet inexplicably chewy in the center. Topped with a slick of Italian tomatoes, grown in volcanic soil. Thin slices of fresh mozzarella placed sparingly, and torn basil strewn haphazardly are the only toppings. Steam undulated upward when the pizza first arrived, and I paused before grabbing a slice, a rough quarter. I folded the slice in half and began the transformative meal anew. What makes this pizza so delicious is the utter simplicity of ingredients. The pizza is not much to look at, and indeed might appear disappointing to fans of American pizza, laden with toppings and oozing with cheese. Here, each flavor asserts its rightful place, from the clean textural contrast of the crust to the simmering sweetness of the sauce and the creamy chewiness of the cheese. I find myself smiling through the whole meal--experiencing what the French call joissance.

A decaf non-fat cappuccino, with one lump of raw sugar, and a perfectly blended crema, helped balance out the dreaminess of my half glass of italian red and ready me for the drive back home.

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