Saturday, November 15, 2008

Secret Pizza

Updated: 11/15
There are a few posts on the Pacific NW Chowhound forum about this...

I had an incredible pizza! Seriously,, my life is forever changed! Unfortunately, I can't tell you where I had it, or I will be killed...

Sound far-fetched? That's what I thought when I read the latest email offering from Garagiste (a wine mailing list I'm on). The owner, Jon Rimmerman, waxes rhapsodic for over 1,400 words describing a (presumably recent) pizza dining experience.

Garagiste have tickled my sense of humour/BS-detector a few times in the past, but this is a new level of tickling :) Is there anything more pretentious and snobby than this sort of email?

Here it is for your reading pleasure (spelling errors preserved) :

“So when do you open” I asked the keen looking gentleman standing inside the doorway outside this cult haven for pizza.

“I’m not sure, when do you want us to open” he said and stared at me with the eyes of a demon waiting for a response.

“How about now” I meekly stuttered as I glanced at the dozen other wide-eyed souls waiting outside, waiting for me (or anyone) to take charge of the situation.

“we'll see...we'll see”, his thick accent pierced the air as he slammed the door in my face.

....and so began my journey to one of the most talked about pizza establishments in the world (at the present moment) - no sign, no menu, no wait-staff. There may be nothing to eat, but there is everything to look forward to. If he feels like making pizza, you are graced with the most divine creation that basil, cheese, sauce and dough have ever quantified. If he doesn’t, you walk away knowing that there is always another day. The only clue that this “restaurant” may be open is a pyramid of hand-made mozzarella balls being depleted one-by-one as the pizzas are produced - you can glance through the window at the dwindling stack of rotund cheese bricks and gauge your chances of actually eating a pizza - if there are more than 20-30 people waiting outside and it looks like only 15-20 mozzarella balls left, you may as well leave. When the cheese is gone, they close - even if you’ve waited for 2 hours in the rain. All of this is certain restaurant suicide but, in this case, there is a longer line outside everyday.

How can this obtuse attitude be tolerated? Easy - the pizza in among the finest gastronomic creations in the world and the difficulty obtaining it is almost part of the appeal.

Every ingredient is made form scratch - everything - the cheese, the dough, the sauce. The basil is grown on site and a plethora of sea salts, vinegars and olive oils adorn the pies like necessary accoutrement in a haberdashery window. The pizza is so marvelous, so deeply complex that it renders the person enjoying it helpless to enjoy another more common pie again. Excuses are made for what used to be heavenly but your pizza reference will never be the same. Like the finest Musigny, once your lips have graced its presence, you are ruined for everything else...

...just then, I felt a hand on my shoulder, I quickly turned around and was face to face with the above mentioned demon “you, come inside now”. I didn’t question his invitation - in I marched toward what could have been the macabre, the underworld, the unknown - but I marched inside like a lemming toward the cliffs of Dover awaiting my fate...

Once inside, it was not what I expected - a few scattered, simple tables with other patrons chomping on what smelled and looked like the most divine food one could imagine. I stood there waiting and he stared, without so much as a blink - after what seemed like a full five minutes he faintly said, “What will you eat?”

I wasn’t sure if it was a trick question but I responded with one foot poised to retreat if I was wrong “Pizza?”

“Good answer and for you, because I can tell you are difficult, I will break the rules and make you a half and half...when it is your time”

With that he vanished into the den of burning logs, sticks and what appeared to be full tree branches smoldering away inside the most incredible wood-burning oven I’ve ever seen ( I would later find out that this secret combination of wood, some of it olive tree branches with the olive fruit still attached, was a secret to his success). A “half and half”? I pitied the more sheepish diners, who would not be amused with a no-menu policy - I consider myself to be among the more adventurous but stories of calf brain on pizza dough did not stoke my appetite besides, the mozzarella balls were being depleted quicker than I liked to see, one at a time, like sands through my hourglass, the chances of tasting this ever so hyped gastronomic achievement were dwindling (I still had not been offered a table yet).

Ball after ball was removed from the stack and my unsettled feeling increased until only four lonely pieces remained - they were the lock and key to the lucky few that would experience the splendor on this night - and then, when I was sure all was lost, my luck changed with ball number three, it was mine.

After hours of nervous anticipation, waiting in the rain and one of the most bizarre dining experiences I can ever recall, my pizza was presented....and what a creation it was. As I type this, my fingers tremble with the memory of a piping hot pie, razor-thin and so aromatic the charred scents of embers were embedded in the perfect crust and superlative raw materials that adorned the top. Visually, the pizza was indeed “half and half” - half was as plain as you can get - dough, sauce and hand-made cheese but the world “plain” does not prepare one for the perfection of the experience. The other half was very intriguing - what appeared to be wood-roasted onion, fennel, peppers of some variety and tiny specks of roasted fresh porcini mushrooms with the most delicate olive oil made famous in the region sprinkled on top.

The first bite was as anticipated as any first encounter I can remember and the aromatic and taste sensation was like a sensory explosion - with each nibble the ingredients would stand out as individuals (down to the flour and water) and then again as an amorphous whole as the pizza made its way down the gullet.

Rarely do I find myself in a circumstance where I keep glancing at the clock, not because I want the experience to end but just the opposite - I longed for each moment past to return unadorned, as I knew this pizza would end at some point and it seemed unfair. Each bite was from a place never before experienced - to say this was the finest pizza I’ve ever had was underestimating the detail and genius of the man that had tried as hard as he could to shoo me away only to captivate my gustatory senses like no other (and I’ve spent the better part of my adult life searching for the perfect pie)...

...and then one bite remained. One bite - the last bite. I looked at it for a few moments and wondered if I would ever experience this again - most likely not as the establishment was so off the beaten path that even I had trouble finding it and I was not sure I would ever pass that way again. It was immersed in a national forest of sorts, in mountains that were foreboding enough, if not made more mysterious by the dining experience within their deepest shadows.

The tap on the shoulder came again...

“You are not a journalist are you?” as he noticed my non-sensical scribbles trying to place what had just occurred into some form of language on paper.

“No, I write about wine - I just love food”

“You will not write about my pizza, correct?”, as the demon-like eyes seemed to stare through me and the wall behind me...

“No, well, yes I need to write about it - it was sublime, incredible, unlike anything else - I need to tell people”

“I will make you a deal - you agree not to write about the pizza and I will agree to let you to leave”

With that, I made my first deal with the devil - I made him a promise not to reveal the name or location of this singular shrine and in exchange, he agreed to let me to leave, to carry on with my post-pizza life. I’m still not sure if I received the better half of the deal.

As I walked toward the door, toward the crisp night sky, I resisted the temptation to turn around but I felt those eyes burning through me and in a hushed voice I’m certain I heard him say...

“You'll be back”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is this a real place? The Chowhound NW board is buzzing about this. Please let us know!