Flying High and Down to Earth -- Or, Icarus, Pastrami and Pizza

I've been musing on the salted cured meats lately, ever since last week, when I flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami at Canter's Deli in Los Angeles. Ah, it was brief, yes, but delicious, glorious. Made me want to defenestrate every reasonable guideline, nutritional or otherwise, and glide that pastrami high to soaringly, searingly unthinkable places.

Crashing much too quickly back to earth, I headed back to work, and (double) double-blind cooking duty, the very next day. Icarus knew: This can be a cruel world, indeed.

What If...?

Perfectionism is one of those afflictions that seems to lessen as one grows older, and realizes one can't, actually, ever be really, truly perfect at ...anything. (The introduction of children into the picture speeds this realization exponentially. In my experience, anyway.) However, as a lifelong recovering perfectionist, I still have quirky issues here and there that can send me into a semi-irrational seethe when they don't fulfill my personal expectations.

Pizzas are on the list.

For years now, I've been working to perfect my homemade pizza dough, starting with a basic Wolfgang Puck recipe and adapting it to experiment with different flours; yeasts; rise times; cooking methods; et cetera. When it's good, oh, it's so, so good. But no matter how fantastically everything starts out, the final result can all be sent spiraling by my pizza frenemy: the grill. On this day, I figured, what did I have to lose? I'd already suffered the highs and lows of the Pastrami Experience.

The first pizza of the night: Picky-kid-friendly (Yep, I've got one of those). Mozzarella, Greek feta, oregano, black pepper, and a crust that crisped up nicely on the grill.

My dough recipe makes two 12-inch thin-crust pizzas. I always prepare the first pizza for the children. Typically, the grill really gets hot and going after the first one, and the crust on the second -- for the grown-ups -- gets brown and blistered; cracklingly crisp; and full of flavor (the lengthy second-rise I employ is, I think, what develops real flavor complexity).

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

In this case, that statement means whosoever refreshes the propane tank regularly shall never suffer the misfortune of the wrath that accompanies the reality of the gas, and subsequently, the heat, fizzling out on the second pizza.


The idea for the second pizza arose, inspired by a longing for more, more! salted cured meat, and took shape as a canvas for slowly caramelized red onions; Prosciutto di Parma; Point Reyes blue cheese; and sun-dried Angeleno plums. It was beautiful. Then, it stuck to the wooden pizza peel on its way onto the grill and got clumpy and misshapen. Then, the grill began to die its familiar, temperature-dropping why-didn't-someone-get-a-fresh-tank death.

It was salvaged, somewhat, by finishing up in the 500-degree oven, and it did taste quite good, but it didn't go like it was supposed to! What if the propane tank had been fresh?! What if it hadn't stuck to the peel? What if I were somewhere else right now, and never made this pizza in the first place...

Isn't There Supposed to Be Wine?

By now, you're probably imagining it's way past time for a glass of wine. You also may gather that I didn't really feel especially like playing the guessing game involved in the secret pairing that's half the equation of these dinners. So I put on my brave face and did it anyway. (Someone's got to.)

This is a staged photo meant to bring you in on what it might have looked like if I were actually eating these pieces of pizza along with the secret wine, instead of sulking in the corner with my glass. It's plot exposition; it has to go somewhere.

The light-golden wine initially smelled like a Rhône white to me. Despite my grumpiness, my inner wine geek was intrigued, and I started to get a little more excited about it, after all. I began jotting notes. On the nose, a bit hot, with aromas of musky melon, pineapple, jasmine flowers -- and a hint of funk, like a new pink pencil eraser. I thought it was Grenache Blanc.

It didn't seem quite so much like a Rhône on the palate, though -- a bit one-dimensional at first; high acidity; lemon-drop flavors, and slightly honeyed. Oh, who knows. I sure won't pretend that I did. Except I should have paid more attention to that funk.

2006 Domaine de Villaine Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise "Les Clous," Kermit Lynch Selections

White Burgundy! Very, very interesting. Domaine de Villaine is the organically produced, budget-priced wine label made by Aubert and Pamela de Villaine. On a decidedly non-budget-priced note, Aubert happens to own the fabled estate of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti -- hallowed ground for Burgundy lovers of exceptionally deep pockets.

With the food; that's where this wine really showed what it could do. The prosciutto's rich saltiness; the concentrated sweetness of the caramelized onions; the tartness of the plums; the earthiness of the blue cheese -- the wine's acidity brought all the pieces together with aplomb. 

The only quibble I have with the whole thing is that I'm sure the alcohol listing of 12.5 percent is just absolutely not true. It tasted at least two percentage points higher; and I've heard separately from serious Burgundy collectors, and drinkers, and buyers, that most producers in the region slap a 12 or 12.5 percent label on every vintage, no matter what -- and "what" usually means much higher. 

When a winery states "we waited as late as possible to harvest," well, in a warm microclimate, in late September/early October, that's more than likely going to give you a ripeness level that isn't going to end up with a finished wine anywhere near 12.5 percent alcohol. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. I'd just like to know the real deal. I think many other consumers would, as well.

Wrap This Up to Go

How do you feel about honest representation of alcohol levels on a wine label? Or would you just like to talk pizza, or pastrami, or perfectionism? Talk to me -- leave a comment below.