Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Masterpiece

It's not very often you encounter a masterpiece of any type. Of course there are all kinds and sometimes it's hard to spot one when it's right in front of you. Such was the case tonight. On my subway ride home, a few minutes after discarding the tepid remains of a slice of pizza, I realized that the slice in question was a masterpiece. Sadly, the nature of its work was not greatness, it was awfulness. It was, without a doubt, the worst slice of pizza I've ever had.

Events were set in motion at 2:57am when I hurried to leave work so that I could rush over to the nearby Joe's Pizza just before they closed at 3am. I exited work with what I thought was just enough time. I eagerly imagined the delicious slice that awaited me. Upon arriving at Joe's I discovered that I was too late. The door was locked and the employees were busy in the endeavor to close the place down. I sadly shuffled away towards the subway.

My journey to the subway was cut short when I noticed that Cafe Amore, another local pizza establishment, was still open for business. A little more than a year ago, when Cafe Amore first opened I went in to give their plain cheese slice a try. The plain slice left a good deal to be desired. It was bad enough, I recalled, to warn others to avoid it. Still, I wanted a slice of pizza and Cafe Amore seemed to be my only option.

With some trepidation I opened the door and went inside. I looked over the six or seven pies on display. None looked particularly appetizing, but, I told myself, pizza is always edible at worst. I decided that, since the plain cheese slice was no good, I would give the fresh mozzarella slice a try. I got the attention of the employee behind the counter and placed my order.

He slid my slice in the oven. I went over to the cash register and was informed that I owed $3.25. As I brought the money out of my wallet and handed it over I silently mused that Joe's only charges $2.25 for their fresh mozzarella slice. That said, the slice was rather large. Perhaps, I theorized, you got what you paid for.

A minute later the man behind the counter passed me my slice and I walked out the door. I paused to take a bite. It was awful.

The mozzarella was too thick by half. I would hazard a guess that it measured nearly a centimeter through. The flavor called to mind that of cheese peeled off the top of old refrigerated lasagna. The consistency was that of extra firm tofu, while the texture was almost mealy. Moreover, it was thickly crusted over on top like an open can of paint that's been sitting around for a week.

I resumed walking to the subway. Despite the quality of the mozzarella I pressed on in eating my slice. After all, I had paid $3.25 for it. On the second bite I realized that this was a new low in crust. Just for starters it was limp and tasteless. Sauce had permeated it, thus making all but the very edge moist and gooey. Additionally, the bottom was burnt and powdered with too much flour.

The sauce itself was an abomination. To be fair it was hard to tell because there was more sauce in the crust than on top of it, but it more closely resembled V8 (no slight to V8 in its proper place by the way) than it did pizza sauce. If there were herbs in it I didn't see or taste them.

As I walked down the stairs to the train I considered my situation. The pizza was altogether wretched, yes, but I remembered my $3.25 again and resolved to try a new tactic. I peeled off half of the sweaty blob of cheese that besmirched the marsh-like surface and threw it away. I folded the remaining portion of the slice in half in an effort to create a makeshift calzone.

I gagged down several bites of this new horror before I gave up. Making the most of $3.25 wasn't worth it. I pitched the remains in a trashcan and took a seat to wait for my train.

After a few minutes my train came. As I rode home I reflected upon my slice of pizza. There wasn't a single good thing about it. In my head I listed off the characteristics of pizza. In each category I could not recall a worse attempt. Barring size, a dubious attribute in this case, every single thing with that could be wrong with pizza was wrong. It was, in a way, a masterpiece. It had achieved excellence in awfulness in an unprecedented and unfathomable way. It put CiCi's Pizza Buffet, the previous champion of awfulness, to shame. It was not only the worst pizza I've ever had it was also some of the worst food I've ever had.

"Fresh" Mozzarella Slice from Cafe Amore: F-

Thursday, December 07, 2006


A few days have passed since you consumed those last, possibly spoiled, Thanksgiving leftovers. Perhaps you suspected that 2006's Thanksgiving had nothing more to offer. Well dear reader, just when such the situation seemed nearly certain I present you with one more gift of the season: A rundown of what I ate on Thanksgiving.

My Thanksgiving started out early. I went to see, starting out at 10:25am, three movies with a friend and temporary roommate of mine. I intended to bring a package of Smoothie Mix Skittles that I had purchased the night before, but I forgot them at home (I discovered later that someone had already eaten half of them anyway). I silently lamented my lack of Skittles on the walk from the train to the theater, when my friend noticed a Starbucks ahead. He declared that he was going to get a mocha and I followed him inside. Once inside, despite the distaste I have for Starbucks, I noticed a tempting looking croissant. I checked my wallet and discovered enough cash to make the purchase. I did so and a minute later my friend and I walked outside. I tried my croissant and found it to be pretty good. It was flaky on the outside and soft on the inside, a mark of any croissant worth eating. One element I didn't like was that it tasted too buttery. Not much too buttery, but slightly too buttery.

A minute later we found ourselves outside the theater, me having finished my croissant, but my friend still having most of his mocha. We bought our tickets and my friend smuggled his mocha inside. As we waited for the first movie to start my friend offered me a sip of his mocha and I accepted. The drink was delicious. The right balance of coffee and chocolate had been struck. Coupled with the correct thickness it made for a superior mocha.

The early part of the day slipped away quickly, with no further culinary experiences occurring. Then, as we took our seats for what we had agreed would be the last movie of the day, my friend said that he was going out to the concession stand to see what was on offer. I pointed out that spending hard earned cash at a movie theater's concession stand was wasteful at best, but he paid no heed. Two minutes (and eleven dollars, as I came to find out) later he returned with an enormous bucket of popcorn and a large Coke. I sampled both of these and found them to be standard.

Having finished our movies we made our way back to my apartment so I could pick up wine prior to heading over to another friend's apartment for dinner. On the way we stopped off at a grocery store where my friend purchased an Entenmann's vanilla-chocolate marbled loaf cake. Back at the apartment, as my friend plied off pieces of the cake with his fingers, I tried to convince him to come with me to the Thanksgiving dinner. He was too depressed he said, gulping down another hunk of cake, to go out into the cold and take a 45 minute train trip just to go to some dinner. It was Thanksgiving dinner though, I countered. He just shook his head and switched on the television. I broke off a piece of his cake, which I ate with reserved enjoyment as I exited the apartment.

I arrived at my friend's apartment to find her knee deep, as it were, in preparations. I offered to help, but she told me it was best that I just take a seat in the corner of the kitchen and talk to her. So I took up my station and opened one of the bottles of wine that I purchased, Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2006. I was about to pour two glasses when the only other expected guest arrived. I upped the number of glasses to three and we toasted. The wine was light, but not without pleasantly spicy notes -- a bit better than I had expected.

The other guest and I looked on as the meal took shape. All of the food in question was vegetarian as 1/3 of the attendees (myself) were vegetarian and remaining 2/3 claimed that they liked the vegetarian possibilities that Thanksgiving offered nearly as well as the turkeys of erstwhile family gatherings.

The savory smell of squash, stuffing, and mashed potatoes had filled the room. As our host boiled cranberries in orange juice and sugar, I peeked in the cupboard and took note of two promising looking pies, one pumpkin and one apple. I closed the cupboard and took a sip of wine.

In the final minutes of preparation the other guest and I were finally put to work. I set about chopping tomatoes for the salad while the other guest mixed up salad dressing. Across the small room our host slid a tray of stuffed butternut squash out of the oven. Dinner, she proclaimed, need only to be dished up to be done.

Our host had no dining room and so we brought all of the pots and bowls into the living room and set them on the floor. We gathered around them, plates in hand and took our first portions. I took a little bit of everything except for the salad, as, to my mind, green salad was no match for Thanksgiving specific fare.

I tried the mashed potatoes first. They were fantastic. They were creamy and smooth -- almost frothy -- without going so far in that direction as to loose the wonderful texture of potatoes. They were seasoned with just the right amount of garlic. I slid some of my cranberries over to the edge of the position the mashed potatoes held on my plate and tried the two combined. This also proved to be fantastic. The sweet and tart cranberries were an ideal complement to the potatoes. For good measure I tried the cranberries on their own, where they asserted that they did not need mashed potatoes to be enjoyed.

I next tried the stuffed squash. The squash itself was unimpressive though inoffensive -- a more or less neutral vessel for the stuffing. The stuffing was fairly good. It consisted of large cubes of one-time crusty bread, hazel-nuts, celery, a fragrant combination of herbs, and vegetable broth. As I ate more of it I started to feel that, while good, something was missing. This subject was brought up and we all came to the conclusion that salt was the all-too-scarce ingredient. This was quickly righted, elevating the stuffing from the realm of commendable attempt into the realm of moderate success.

The other guest had brought, in addition to more wine, fennel raisin bread from a artisan bakery. I tried this next. It was good but, to my mind, not quite a spot-on compliment to the rest of the food. I decided to test this theory by dipping the bread in various things. It found no help from the cranberries, but the potatoes were somewhat of a different matter. Treating the potatoes as a dip for the bread resulted in a nice, though ultimately insubstantial, marriage.

I considered sampling the salad , but again it seemed unappealing. I went for a second helping of the previously tried dishes. I skipped the squash this time and opted instead to help myself to the contents of a large pan of the stuffing presented minus its marrowey counterpart.

The second go around was as good as the first, with the potatoes still leading the pack in deliciousness. Still, the stuffing and bread, perhaps due to the wine I had consumed in the interim, had gained some ground. After we had all eaten as much as we could of food at hand dessert was proposed. We agreed that waiting a bit would be he best idea.

We continued to drink wine and decided to watch the opening sequences from a box set of James Bond films we found in an absent roommate's collection. Goldeneye was clearly the best of these, with Dr. No making a strong case for itself if opening credits were your focus and The Living Daylights demanding not to be forgotten in the department of ill-conceived fiascoes.

A good hour later we ventured to try the pies. In the spirit of the holiday, and also because it looked better, all went for the pumpkin first. There was no whipped cream to be had so I plunged right in. The pie revealed itself to be no better or worse than many pumpkin pies no doubt baked that day throughout the country. It had all the right elements, but lacked a real spark to make it stand out. I wondered if the apple pie would be any better.

As it turned out I wasn't to discover the quality of the apple pie until the following day because, at this point, I was full to the point where I no longer found the prospect of eating pie enticing in the least. A little while later I said my goodbyes and thanked our host for a fun night. I made my way through heavy rain the few blocks over to another friend's apartment were I was dogsitting for the weekend. I decided to sleep there.

I woke up the next early afternoon feeling hungry. I called up my friend who had hosted the Thanksgiving dinner and asked if I might stop by for leftovers. She agreed and I told her I would be over in a few minutes.

A short time later I found my friend in her pyjamas watching reruns of America's Next Top Model and having some leftovers herself. After a sarcastic remark regarding her choice of television I got myself a plate, heaped on a pile of leftovers (disappointed to see that the potatoes had run out), and joined her on the couch. I ate and, as I had never previously seen America's Next Top Model, questioned my friend on how the show functioned. She explained and we both ate. The stuffing, though cold, had improved twice over since the previous night. Even before I added salt all of the flavors had, overnight, combined forces in perfect harmony. The herbs and vegetable broth had soaked into the bread in a way that last night's stuffing could only dream about. The hazel nuts provided a deft counterpoint to the softness of the rest of the dish.

The cranberries and pumpkin pie remained as they were the previous night. The salad, I decided with conviction, was to remain untried. This left the apple pie. Visually it was no great shakes. It was impossible to transport it from the pie dish to your plate with out it utterly collapsing. I took this as neither a portent to greatness nor an omen of disaster. A couple bites into the pie I knew that I quite liked it. There was a bold and pleasing abundance of nutmeg which is not too commonly found in apple pie.

All in all it was a great Thanksgiving. The dishes on the whole were above average and the company, though not mentioned in great detail here, was of the highest order.

As an aside, I was eating a package of Hershey's Kissables Brand "Candy Coated Mini Kisses" as I wrote this entry. I had never had them before. I enjoyed them slightly more than plain M&Ms, which I don't like very much.

No Fruit Smoothie Skittles: D
Croissant from Starbucks: B
Mocha from Starbucks: A-
Movie Coke: B
Movie Popcorn: C+
Entenmann's Vanilla-Chocolate Marbled Loaf Cake: C+
Georges Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau 2006: A-
Mashed Potaoes: A+
Cranberries: A
Squash: C
Stuffing: B+
Fennel Raisin Bread: B
Pumpkin Pie: B
Salad (untried): C
No Day Old Mashed Potatoes: F
Day Old Stuffing: A
Day Old Cranberries: A
Day Old Pumpkin Pie: B
Day Old Apple Pie: A
Hershey's Kissables Brand "Candy Coated Mini Kisses": C+
Thanksgiving Food Overall: A-
Overall: B