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What Passes for Gourmet – Part Two

January 18, 2012

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.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2012 10:27 am

    The buzz words drive me crazy. Gourmet is one that I’ve actually noticed starting to go away. I’m tired of everything being “bistro” or “bistro-style;” in most cases, it’s totally not.

    The menu looks pretty underwhelming for what it looks like they’re trying to go for. I’m surprised it even made it onto your radar!

    It would be interesting if one of these “Gourmet” pizzas made it into the AoA Tournament of Pizza. I’d be interested in seeing how it rated in a blind test.

  2. January 18, 2012 11:19 am

    Hard to call anything that involves Buffalo chicken gourmet. Although spelling it bleu cheese instead of blue cheese is a good start…

  3. January 18, 2012 11:35 am

    I’m with you both on this. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is this picky. The word gourmet has long been a red flag for me and bistro is beginning to become one as well.

    As far as the word gourmet goes, I notice that people use it to replace other words or phrases; expensive, good, “the best we have to offer,” high quality, specialty, and exotic are a few that come to mind.

    To me gourmet food is strictly haute cuisine. While gourmet food is usually all those above words in some way, I don’t believe it can truly be described by any of those one words alone.

  4. James permalink
    January 18, 2012 12:16 pm

    Wow, that sure is a long way for some goat cheese to travel! All the way from the Hudson valley to a pizza in LA. They either don’t have any goats in California or that must be some pretty special cheese they are making down at Coach farm. (I think it’s the latter)

  5. January 18, 2012 12:35 pm

    Yes, gourmet, truly a word that is abused in many establishments. Gourmet pizza, eh! I like the simpler the better. I usually go for the Margerita and can count on one hand the number of restaurants that really produce a good Margerita. Actually the best I had was in Cologne , Germany. Batali’s Otto does a nice job. AJ’s in Lake Tahoe…brain clould on the rest. Liked Otto a lot though, don’t pass up on the prociutto platter.

  6. January 18, 2012 1:22 pm

    We spotted a pizza place in Latham the other day that advertised “Artisan Pizza.” What exactly does that mean? Is it like “gourmet pizza”? Or is it just “pizza made from scratch,” which one would hope is ALL pizza not frozen in a box?

    (Also, I might have to try that Buffalo Chicken pizza. I’m always frustrated at varieties that come with blue cheese by default, ’cause some of us can’t stand the stuff.)

    • January 18, 2012 4:24 pm

      I am guessing but I would expect artisan pizza would be made from homemade dough, homeade tomato (pizza) sauce (Not Don Pepino), high quality cheeses, and fresh ingredients meaning not canned musrooms or sausage pellets, etc., and hopefully thin crust and wood fired oven.

  7. chezjake permalink
    January 18, 2012 4:14 pm

    One phrase that tells me it’s nowhere near gourmet pizza is the supremely plebeian and generic “red sauce.” You’d expect them to also serve “red Jello” for dessert.

  8. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 18, 2012 5:41 pm

    I am in agreement with Daniel. This Lark list is completely ordinary pizza. Once a word is overused, it becomes meaningless, as has happened with “gourmet.” Kind of like “affordable luxury,” one of my favorites.

  9. January 18, 2012 5:58 pm

    Super ordinary list. Spices is funny. Mingled is funnier. Secret blend is nauseating.

  10. Sarah M. permalink
    January 18, 2012 8:12 pm

    Why no love for Max London’s, Daniel B.? (I’m asking so you’re forced to answer me directly in an Ask The Profussor.) Granted, their pizza offerings aren’t quite as “gourmet” (ew, worst word) as Mozza, but what at first glance may seem typical Albany (BLT pizza) is heaps better (the L is for leeks!). Shrimp chorizo pizza. God damn. That’s the single thing I would have taken with me from Saratoga to Austin.

    • January 19, 2012 11:49 am

      If I have to be in Saratoga, I try so hard to be there around the time of Max London’s happy hour. Two for one drinks and that amazing bar menu. Those pizzas are probably the best I’ve had anywhere.

      • Chris permalink
        January 19, 2012 12:28 pm

        +1 on Max’s happy hour. B1G1 drinks and pizzas under 10 bucks… plus the best grass-fed burger in town :)

  11. mary silverstein hancox permalink
    January 25, 2012 9:44 am

    Please don’t blame the lark on this….its all my fault! But seriously, the pizza menu is from Lou-Bea’s Pizza. These are the same pies we have called “gourmet” since the time of the Goldman family’s reign of the Albany pizza market. As many of you might know, this means decades. I really didn’t intend to offend any culinary sensibilities with the term gourmet. It’s just what we have called them for years!
    But on another note, I can assure you that I myself make all the dough daily for both places. It is hand cut, hand rolled and hand tossed to order.

  12. March 6, 2012 2:40 pm

    I’ve found a lot of places to have self-indulgent menu wording since we started paying closer attention :-/

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