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The temptation is great to give order and hierarchy to D.C.’s burgeoning pizza scene. I know; I’ve been grappling with the idea for months. But after a lot of thought, and way too many slices, I think the only sensible ranking is this: 2Amys and everybody else.
So why is Peter Pastan’s pizzeria still the lip-smackin’ daddy of pies? I’ll give you one reason—consistency. I have never regretted walking into Pastan’s place for a meal. Pastan’s crust may not be the most flavorful—I’d give that to Comet Ping Pong on its better days—and he may not even be following all those precious rules on Neapolitan pizza-making (Young & Hungry, “King of Fire,” 9/14). But Pastan’s kitchen is a well-oiled machine; each step in the production of his pies is finely tuned, from the recipe for his perfectly sweet and tart red sauce to the training of his pizza-makers, who know that a radiation-hot brick oven can reduce a pizza to ash without a watchful eye.
Frankly, no other pizzeria can match 2Amys’ ability to produce one satisfying pie after another. Not Bebo Trattoria. Not Mia’s. Not Matchbox. Not Moroni & Brothers. Not even Pizzeria Paradiso. Allow me to offer examples from a pair of pretenders.
• Comet Ping Pong: My opinion on the New Haven-style pizza produced in Carole Greenwood and James Alefantis’ kitchen has gone back and forth more times than the white balls slapped around in the back room. At first, I actively disliked Greenwood’s oblong pies served on jelly roll pans, as much for their cost as for their lack of (and sometimes even missing) ingredients. My main complaint, though, was the pie’s thin, crackerlike crust, which left me in a cold, stale state of mind.
But one drunken night this past summer, I found religion at Comet. It was the day we found out City Paper had been sold to an out-of-town chain. Some friends and I knocked back a few beers, fretted about our future employment, and then, once sufficiently lubricated, I sat down to a couple of pies. I don’t even recall what toppings those pizzas had on them, but I distinctly remember the crust. It was the best I’ve ever had—and I don’t think the beer colored that decision. The crust was salty and slightly sweet, with just the right amount of chewiness and char. I remember thinking, 2Amys, you’re toast. A couple of sober follow-up visits confirmed that judgment.
That is, until a few weeks ago when my wife, Carrie, and I sat down to a pair of pizzas, including my standing order of Margherita (which I think allows you to easily judge three important categories: cheese, crust, and sauce). We were presented with two ovals apparently cooked with a flamethrower. My pie was incinerated on one side, its charred, hollowed exterior crumbled to ashes when I touched it, like a consumed fireplace log when struck with a poker. Ashes covered the bottom of both pies, clearly the result of poor oven management.
I sent my Margherita back and moved Comet back to its proper place on the list: with the rest of the maddeningly inconsistent pizza-makers in town.
• RedRocks Fire Brick Pizzeria: After sampling the crispy, ever-so-sweetly charred pies at James O’Brien’s Columbia Heights operation—and after talking to his chef/consultant Edan MacQuaid—I had reason to believe RedRocks would swiftly enter the upper echelon of D.C. pizzerias. MacQuaid, it seemed to me, was just obsessive enough to follow all the nitpicky little Denominazione di Origine Controllata regulations required of true Neapolitan pies, including the mandate to fire those pizzas at temperatures hovering around 900 degrees.
But MacQuaid’s role as consultant and chef at RedRocks has ended; the former 2Amys pizza-maker has moved on to his next project, developing a pizzeria of his own. His departure has left a noticeable hole at RedRocks. My last two visits have turned up pizzas whose consistency was closer to noodles than to flatbread. If that oven is still at 900 degrees, then the kitchen staff must be sliding pies in there, counting to 10, then plucking them back out.
The breaking point was my last visit when Carrie and I ordered a Margherita and a chicken-and-broccoli pie. Both were limper than Hugh Hefner sans Levitra. Even worse, the crusts were gummy. I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to most foods—flavor usually trumps authenticity in my book—but I side with Roberto Donna when it comes to pizza. He once told me that Italians prize the crust as much as the toppings, maybe even more. To me, the flatbread is the most important part of the pie, its foundation, and RedRocks’ crusts sucked.
First Impressions: Hudson Restaurant and Lounge
I should start off this early look at Hudson with a confession: I loved Greggory Hill’s cooking at David Greggory in the West End. I never understood why he didn’t get as much attention as other chefs around town. When I heard that Hill would not serve as Hudson’s chef, as originally reported, I was dismayed. Instead, owner Alan Popovsky tapped Kyle J. Schroeder, formerly of Timothy Dean Bistro in Baltimore, as executive chef in this new restaurant in the old David Greggory space.
The owner displays his influence on at least one dish: the cheesesteak sliders, which are a nod to Popovsky’s South Jersey childhood. The trendy appetizer features three mini-hoagies, each a different preparation, including a straightforward one with peppers and onions, another drenched in marinara and cheese (and tasting like an Italian meatball sub), and a “Philly style” version with something resembling Cheez Whiz on it. The latter also included stifling amounts of truffle oil. Nothing says Philly like truffle oil.
The same white truffle oil saturated my half order of wild mushroom risotto, which desperately needed another ingredient—even something as simple as garlic—to leaven its plodding earthiness. The other dish I sampled, a duck confit, came with thin fries drizzled with—yep, you guessed it—truffle oil. But at least the fries were edible. The duck, by contrast, had all the charm of linoleum, which is what the skin felt like in my mouth. The flesh was not much better, dry and mostly flavorless. Something went seriously wrong with the dish, and I think I know what it was: Greggory Hill didn’t make it.
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