29 October 2008

Crazy Pizzas

I had no food in my kitchen tonight (other than pesto and bagels) and I was too tired to face Whole Foods (let alone Safeway), which meant I was forced to eat out. There was a Gridskipper post a couple of weeks ago on the best pizza in San Francisco and to my surprise, one was a pizzeria just down the block from the apartment: Pazzia. I had been meaning to check it out at some point but it always seemed too busy and the queue outside on Saturday night was pretty darn long. 

The first time I walked past, I assumed that the neon sign read, "pizza" but no; pazzia is the Italian for insanity or craziness so it felt somehow apt today, even though the interior isn't so much insane as nondescript. I should add that this is the first time of this SF trip that I have had dinner by myself in a sit-down, waiter-service restaurant. I frequently do this at lunchtime or in more casual dining environments but somehow dinner alone sends me in a panic (even in SOMA where there are plenty of lone conference guests). There is also the fact that I'm not a big foodie but I do like the shared experience of dining out in a restaurant; hence, I'm not necessarily paying $40 for a steak and $20 for a bottle of wine but $60 (or whatever) for a nice meal with someone else, which means I'm less willing to pay more than £10 when I'm dining alone (no food could be that good). Today was fine though; I probably wouldn't have done it in a trendier restaurant.

A lot of the pasta specials sounded good but I had to have a pizza as that was why I went (I always do this at Italian restaurants; the problem is that my fussiness means I'm not used to having a choice in ordering) so I went for a (surprise, surprise) Margherita. My head was too heavy for any wine, though, and I didn't have a book so I scribbled away in my Moleskine (hoping I'd get the critic treatment). San Francisco isn't exactly renowned for its pizza in the same way New York, Chicago and--say--Rome are but the pizza was good--huge (of course), thin and crispy. The mozzarella wasn't buffala (which I adore) but it was quite tasty. So much so that the guys at the table next to me started drooling over it and asking me how good it was.

The couple at the table on my other side were slightly odd. They were from somewhere like Miss'hippeh judging by their accents--he seemed to be a conference guest and she was here to shop. The guy argued with the waitress for about five minutes over the wine when the restaurant didn't have a 2004 bottle of the wine they ordered--just a 2003--and he was furious because that just wasn't the same. I thought I must have picked a good restaurant if it was filled with connoisseurs but then when he placed his order for the food, he gave himself away: "What kind of soup is a risotto?" The (Italian) waitress's jaw dropped but she patiently explained that it wasn't any kind of soup.

The pizza-lovin' guys next to me, meanwhile, kept harassing the waitress about what her favourite dishes were and what her favourite wine was--he wouldn't order anything until he was sure that she personally had eaten it and could recommend it. If he was trying to pick her up, she was clearly oblivious (or utterly disdainful). In some ways, I'd like to ask waiters and waitresses in nice restaurants for their recommendations but then I so rarely like more than one dish on the menu that this isn't terribly helpful--"Oh, I recommend the paella; it's terrific," the waitress might say. Ew. Will she get offended if I don't order it though?

I just finished reading a book called Service Included, which is a sort of (true) expose of a waitress working in a very posh Manhattan restaurant called Per Se. The waitress really wanted to be a writer but for a couple of years diverted into the service industry. I was less interested in the parts of the book detailing her personal life but I really enjoyed the parts where she explained what went on behind the scenes (including the one-month of training sessions she went on before the restaurant opened), tips on how to get the best from a $150 (per person) meal and tales from her interactions with the customers ("guests") at the restaurant. The author is a real foodie; I'm, patently, not but reading the book made me want to go to the restaurant (there is a two-month waiting list) and order the nine-course tasting dinner (there is no menu--they just bring you five random, quirky courses) and try all the weird and wonderful dishes she described. Maybe I wouldn't like them all but because each course is so small, that wouldn't matter too much and I'm certainly a lot more adventurous than I used to be (with exceptions: no courgettes, no cooked mushrooms, no slimy marine creatures (squid, octopus, oysters, mussels, etc.) and (preferably) no cheese other than very mature cheddar, Parmesan and mozzarella). I'm getting there; it takes a long time to recover after ten years of vegetarianism, Quorn and the ever-present mushroom stroganoffs.

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