The guy manning the Wood Stone oven at Pizze (2653 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-518-1160), the new Neapolitan-style pizzeria in the basement of Petits Plats, is a work in progress, much like the place where he’s employed. A manager is giving him instructions on how to put together my Margherita pizza. After rolling out a beautifully thin skin of house-made dough, the neophyte ladles out a too-generous portion of tomato sauce, strategically drops clumps of fresh buffalo mozzarella all over the round, places a handful of basil leaves on top, sprinkles sea salt, and drizzles olive oil over everything.
I have to admit that I want to change at least four different things about his preparation: less sauce, more salt, and more basil. And I really wish I could convince him to add the basil after the round has been in the oven for a few minutes, so that the leaves won’t shrivel up until they look like dehydrated ancho peppers. Oh, and I’d prefer to see that olive oil drizzled after the pie has been cooked, not before.
Regardless, the newbie pizza man watches over my pie like a cat stalking a mouse. I like his singular attention to the task. He uses a peel to rotate the round as the crust nearest to the gas flame begins to blister; he wants to make sure no part of my pizza is scorched to death. By the time he finally takes the pie out of the oven, I’m nearly foaming at the mouth with hunger.
Overall, the pizza is not bad. It’s also not great, but the shop is too new for greatness, even if the esteemed Edan MacQuaid (late of 2Amys and the man who helped launch RedRocks Fire Brick Pizzeria) was a consultant on the project. The sauce is too tart for my tastes. I’d like to see it cooked down to promote more sweetness. The crust is chewy, just as I like it, but it’s also slightly gummy. I think the whole round could have stayed in the oven, which registered only about 340 degrees on the external thermometer, for another minute or so.
The ingredients are clearly first-rate. The pie-makers just need more experience under their aprons. They’re already producing the best rounds in the Adams Morgan/Woodley Park area, but given the neighborhoods’ preference for the jumbo slice, that’s not saying much.
Shawarma forecast: unseasonably dry
My recent visit to Shawarma King (1654 Columbia Road NW, 202-462-8355) , one of the new Middle Eastern sandwich joints in Adams Morgan, finally humbled me. As I sat there, chewing on yet another mediocre shawarma sandwich, its beef dry and its flavors as much sour as savory, I decided that I must be missing something. Or that my palate is too Americanized to appreciate this ubiquitous street food.
I mean, with the exception of the Lebanese Butcher and Restaurant in Falls Church, I don’t think I’ve had a shawarma sandwich in this area that makes me want to stand atop a stack of K Street lawyers and sing its praises. Many of them, I find, are too dry (likely from spinning on the rotisserie for hours without enough fat to keep them moist) or too sour (from a marinade that can include yogurt, lemon, and even pomegranates) or too underseasoned or served in stale pitas. Or all of the above.
With my visit to the Shawarma King, it finally dawned on me that I am the only constant in my bleh experiences at shawarma joints. Maybe my expectations are all wrong. Maybe I’m calibrated for the liberal amounts of seasonings that Western chefs use? Maybe sour should be the dominant flavor?
But here’s one thing I know: The meat should never be dry. One manager of a local shawarma shop recently told me that lamb in the Middle East is much fattier than the stuff available in the United States. (I suspect the same is true for beef, too, given how U.S. cattlemen are now producing leaner meat.) The two meats are (or should be) the starring ingredients in your shawarma sandwich, assuming you don’t order a chicken shawarma.
Fat, of course, equals flavor, which might explain some of what’s missing in my shawarma experience. But even if there were more fat, I’d still miss the seasonings. Sure, I could pile more toppings onto the sandwich to add flavor, but then I’d just be drowning out the main ingredient, not complementing it. Shawarma these days is just making me feel so fachadick.
Bye, bye bebo
The implication in Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema’s scoop last month about Galileo returning to D.C. is that Roberto Donna will keep the doors open at Bebo Trattoria, his informal eatery in Crystal City (2250-B Crystal Drive, Arlington, 703-412-5077) . Why else would Donna announce that Bebo chef Claudio Sandri is now a partner?
Let me be the first (or one of the first) to say that I don’t think Bebo will be around long enough to revel in the glorious return of Galileo, and I’ll offer up my recent dinner at the restaurant as evidence.
I met my friend at the bar on a Tuesday night around 7:30. As we were escorted to our booth, walking by numerous empty tables, my dining companion asked if I had noticed the lack of liquor at the bar. It was virtually barren, stocked with only a handful of bottles.
Once at our table, the waiter handed us a menu. It was a single sheet, printed on both sides, a shadow of Bebo’s former menu. I asked the waiter if this was the entirety of the kitchen’s output, and he said it was. He was new to Bebo, just a couple of weeks into the job, but he thought the limited selections reflected the restaurant’s lack of business. I thanked him for his honesty and wished him the best with his new gig. It felt like saying “have a nice day” to a condemned man.
The food was a disaster, save for the fettucine alla bolognese, whose delicate, eggy, lightly coated pasta completely overshadowed the hearty, if average, meat sauce.
The rest of the dinner consisted of a Napoletana pizza whose crust tasted strangely of soap, a burned calzone stuffed with chewy roasted pork, and an appetizer of dry pork loin drowning in an aioli that tasted mostly of mayonnaise.
This was not the cooking of an Iron Chef—nor of a kitchen that cared much at all about its future.
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