What Passes for Gourmet – Part Two
Love is totally trouncing hate. Just take a look at the tag cloud in the right sidebar. This was never meant to be the HAPPYlittleBLOG. No. I have grievances dammit. And even thought I have found a lot to love, there is still stuff out there that makes me flip my lid.
Take, for example, the overuse or misuse of the word gourmet. A little less than a year ago, I railed about a self-titled gourmet food store based on their product mix. Baconnaise and cute little bags filled with hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows don’t qualify.
But you don’t have to look very hard to find the word everywhere.
Recently a new tavern opened up in the region. Really, it’s an old tavern that burned down and has reopened under new ownership. It’s a long story, and it’s bitterly contested. But I have no stake in that fight. The only thing I’m here to do is help to maintain a certain level of culinary standards, praise those who achieve them, and spank those who fail.
Now let’s talk about gourmet pizza, shall we?
There may be some who deny that such a thing can even exist. It may surprise you that I am not one of those people. I do enjoy a good gourmet pizza, and had a memorable one over a decade ago at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio in San Francisco. It was topped with duck confit, some kind of blue cheese, and arugula, and it was amazing.
Of course, Wolfgang is widely credited with tarting up the form of the pizza for the well-heeled set. He brought it a new level of respectability, so that this classic dish was not out of place in a fine dining restaurant. Even today, about thirty years later, you can still get his smoked salmon pizza at Spago in Beverly Hills.
Now, I may say these are flatbreads and not technically pizzas, but that’s splitting hairs.
For a more modern take on the gourmet pizza, one doesn’t have to move too far from the epicenter of the Spago pizza revolution. Let’s look at what they serve at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. These are just a few:
Squash blossoms, tomato & burrata | $24
Gorgonzola dolce, fingerling potatoes, radicchio & rosemary | $16
Funghi misti, fontina, taleggio & thyme | $17
Rapini, cherry tomatoes, anchovies, olives & chiles | $16
Coach farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions, garlic & bacon | $17
Speck, bufala mozzarella, olive tapenade & oregano | $19
Egg, guanciale, escarole, radicchio & bagna cuada | $17
Stinging nettles & Finocchiona salame with cacio di roma | $19
Now granted, these gourmet pizzas are not inexpensive, but their interesting combinations of specialty ingredients certainly qualify them to be called gourmet. And do not forget that this restaurant also has to afford its LA rent, its staff, and pay out to owners Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.
Here in Albany, gourmet pizza takes on a different look. The menu I recently noticed comes from the new Lark Tavern. Call it specialty pizza, signature pizza, or even deluxe pizza, and I’d be perfectly fine with it. Because gourmet it is not:
Fresh Garlic: red sauce, ample portions of fresh garlic and herbs with mozzarella
Meatball Supreme: chunked meatballs topped with mozzarella and Italian spices
Mediterranean: black olives, roasted peppers and artichokes red sauce pie
Buffalo Chicken: buffalo chicken and cheddar cheese blend
5 Cheese: red sauce pizza with our secret blend of cheese and Italian spices
Eggplant Parm: red sauce with zesty breaded eggplant, mozzarella, parmesan and spices
Chicken Parm: chunks of breaded chicken mingled with spices, parmesan and mozzarella
I especially liked a few of the descriptions above, and italicized them for your reading pleasure. Just remember that when you make something truly special, its ingredients do not need to be a secret. That, and the correct answer for Buffalo Chicken pizza is blue cheese.
Let’s set the bar high people. This kind of aggression against gourmet food will not stand.