Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Di Fara Strikes Back

Monday night Haley "the Nomad" Malm was in town on the second to last leg of her whirlwind east coast tour / Ryan Greene Yale Interview Support Group Field Trip. Of course, we did the same thing I do with everyone who visits--we went out for pizza. This was the first time I'd returned to Di Fara Pizzeria since August, when my dad, cousin, and I did our pizza tour, and was only the third time I've ever been there. This time I though, I feel I'm finally able to articulate what's so great about this pizza and what makes it perhaps less than perfect in my eyes.

First, of course, as mentioned in previous posts is the whole process of actually getting your pizza. There's no line, per se, just a random smattering of people gathered around a counter, behind which Domenico DeMarco makes the pizza. Slowly. There's some charm in that. It kind of a ritual. You stand. You try and make eye contact with either Dom or one of his kids, who by comparison is a blur of activity. You wait. You try and maybe wave a little bit, hoping that like that T. Rex in Jurassic Park, movement will attract the attention of one of them. Eventually, you get in your order, after which there's more standing and waiting. A half hour passes. Others, who have been waiting for what seems to them like an eternity, finally receive their pies and slices. There is rejoicing. Then forty-five minutes pass and an hour and five minutes. You notice that the girls in the corner are finally called upon to pick up their slices. As one of them walks past, pizza in hand, you can't help but comment on how good it looks and smells. You find yourself oogling the slices, rather than the girls, who under other circumstances might be oogle-worthy themselves. Finally, after an hour and fifteen minutes, your pie is out of the oven. It's done. Almost. At this point drool is peaking through the sides of your mouth and your stomach is attempting to digest itself, but Dom--still in slow motion--is cutting fresh basil directly onto the pie and then is off to grate parmesean cheese. You realize that this is your chance to pick up an IBC root beer or two out of the fridge so everything can be added up and paid for by the time the last of the cheese has been sprinkled on and the pizza cut into eight unevenly sized slices. This way no time is wasted and pizza consumption can begin as soon as it can be carried over to a table, if not before.

Okay, so maybe some of the above is just me, and not the general public "you." Regardless, there's a lot of waiting and lot of anticipation. By the time Haley and I got our half pepperoni/half green peppers, mushrooms, sausage, and onion pizza we were starving, but goddamn, did that pizza taste magnificent--all fresh ingredients, including three kinds of cheese (fior di latte, mozzerella, and paremsean), a simultaneously sweet and savory sauce, fresh basil, and thickly sliced, beautifully seasoned pepperoni, which made for a knockout combo. And the crust was nicely charred to boot. There was also great variation to how the toppings are spread on the pizza--a little collective of pepperoni over here, an island of cheese over there, and little ponds of sauce dotting the landscape made for distinctive mouthfuls of pizza each bite. So delicious.

Now for the critical portion of the review. Here are what I think holds back Di Fara pizza from being perfect: it all comes down to the foundation--the crust. (1) The crust can't support the toppings. The cheese, in its pooling, is laid on thick and the toppings are generously sliced. It's too much for the poor, defenseless thin crust. The front half of slices are often overpowered and completely soaked through, making it difficult to pick them up without half of the toppings sliding off. (2) The crust's thickness is often uneven. This wouldn't necessarily be much of a problem if it weren't for #1 above. However, there are some places in the crust that are so thin, it just gives way. I actually had a slice that had a hole in the crust. As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to handle slices. It gets pretty messy, and dropping hot sauce or cheese on your hand can burn. (3) The crust, while pretty flavorful, is a little bland in comparison to say, Franny's or Lombardi's. I'm not sure if this is related to the use of a gas oven rather than a wood or charcoal one, or more related to the ingredients, but it could certainly use a little extra oomph, like maybe some seasoned olive oil brushed around the cornichone (the edge or lip of a pizza... thank you sliceny.com glossary). It's just a bit of a let down to have the last part you eat be not quite as pheonmenal as the rest of the slice.

Really though, that's some pretty nit-picky stuff. The pizza is so worth the wait and is definitely some of the best I've ever had. Thank you, Haley, for your excellent company and an excellent meal. I hope my next visit is as enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Us? Like those savages in the middle east? Never...

According to a Washington Post article, John Bolton said of Iran, "It is not just that the regime is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but that it is also the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism and is working to destabilize the region to advance its ideological ambitions."

Hey, Bush administration, what's so bad about destablizing the middle east in order to advance your own ideological ambitions? I wonder...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Working as an Autonomous Worker

New Orleans was a revelation for me. Volunteering there was a pleasure and I hope to go back maybe at the end of April. You can read earlier posts about the kind of activities I participated in, but they don’t really give you a feel for what it’s like. Cleaning a house of mold is fucking hard. Wearing a biohazard suit, rubber gloves, safety goggles (over regular glasses), and a respirator in humid eighty-degree weather is taxing. The respirator crushes your nose. And my goggles tended to fog up, making it difficult to differentiate between the areas on the floor and stud walls that had been scrubbed clean and sections that were still in need of work. On the bright side, the biohazard suit helped protect me from the mosquitoes, which were out in numbers and hungry for fresh blood. And thankfully, I managed to join in the work after most of the tough labor had been done on the house—it had already been gutted of its owner’s possessions, all the drywall and insulation below the four-foot mark had been removed, and the flooring was already ripped out. The owner was living in a F.E.M.A. trailer in the backyard and is a story in himself.

A black man born in the Philippines—his father was in the marines—he spent a good part of his childhood growing up on Bourbon Street. While there, he learned “everything he needed to know about life” with a pair of binoculars. At 18 he too joined the marines, an organization to which he would give 30 years of his life. He was promptly shipped off to Vietnam as a sniper. Not long after, he got his first kill after another sniper revealed his location by shooting him in the wrist. He would go on to kill many more, including two men in Hanoi for their diamonds. He and a friend who had worked as a jeweler used the diamonds to stud a large gold ring that they were crafting together. He spent 39 months in Vietnam and later also spent time in Cambodia and Laos. After returning to the U.S. he eventually settled down with a wife. Today she’s in the hospital, and has been for quite some time, for reasons unknown to me. At 58 he’s retired and spends his days engaging in a variety of recreational activities, including visits to the nudist colony a couple miles down the road. His fridge houses copious amounts of pot and moonshine, the latter he makes in Mississippi. He carries thousands of dollars in cash in his wallet because he doesn’t believe in banks, has a .357 magnum with a laser sight under the front seat of his car, and a 9-millimeter lying on his bed. He used to play the organ and saxophone in a jazz band, but has mostly given that up. Though, on occasion he’ll still tootle around on the sax. He found the volunteers to help with his house through his church. The man’s as multifaceted as Epcot Center.

His home is now almost ready to get moved back into. The walls need some taping and joint compound, a paint job, and some molding. New floors need to be installed and a new kitchen and bathroom too. But considering the amount of damage that was inflicted, it’s come quite a long way. At least, he shouldn’t need to worry about possible health problems arising from breathing in mold spores while sitting in his living room, watching television.

Here's some video taken of the lower 9th ward by the H.A.W.C. kids:

If for some reason this doesn't work, you can go to the H.A.W.C. site here.