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Culinary Clash #1: NY Pizza in San Diego

December 13, 2010 1 comment

I discovered New York pizza during a family vacation to “The Big Apple” more than ten years ago.  It was even better than I expected.  Having worked at a Pizza Hut as a teen, I loved the greasy fried texture of pan pizza.  I still really like it, but I’ve definitely been stricken by the thin crust goodness that started back east.  New York pizza is a true work of art, as well as an offspring of culinary science.  Light on ingredients, the dough must be handled properly in order to form the gluten that gives New York pizza its distinctive chew.  Then there’s the high-heat cooking process that makes it wonderfully crisp.  Yes, crispy and chewy.  Kinda like the very best artisanal bread you can find in high end bakeries.  The sauce (if there is sauce) is almost as simple, emphasizing the bright sweetness of fresh tomatoes.  Sometimes the sauce will be nothing more than crushed tomatoes, salt and olive oil.  Others will add a sprinkling (and I mean sprinkling) of basil, oregano, and/or garlic.  But it won’t be the heavily seasoned, watered-down tomato paste mixtures you’ll find in the large national chains.  There’ll be a smack of freshness to the sauce that may be too foreign to the commercialized palate to be enjoyed.  To me, it was an epiphany.  I had to have more.  I had to find someone — anyone — on the west coast who could do it right.

My good Lord showed favor upon me by allowing me to cross paths with a transplanted New Yorker in San Diego.  His accent was undeniable and brash attitude strangely comforting.  If there was true New York goodness to be found anywhere in SoCal, this guy would know.  I asked, and he did know.  I don’t even remember his name.  I wish I had the chance to thank him for pointing me to Bronx Pizza in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.  I’ve bragged on it before (read my review here).  It immediately became The Fun Family’s favorite pizza place and a definite must-stop whenever we’re in San Diego.  We’ve found some nice spots in L.A., but nothing really close to the authentic greatness of Bronx.

Curious as to what others were saying about Bronx, I sought the reviews of Yelpers, Chowhounds and bloggers.  It didn’t take long to learn that my beloved Bronx had a rival.  More like an arch-enemy if you take on the passion of these pizza joints’ ardent followers.  Turns out a transplanted Italian opened Pizzeria Luigi, and has built up an almost cult-like following.  I’m no homer.  I’ll not blindly follow or ignorantly answer.  I’m a reasonable man.  And a hungry man.  I decided to see for myself.

And, thus, the first in a series of “Culinary Clashes” I’ll be posting.

Pizzeria Luigi's "Donatello".

We wanted to have as even a playing field as possible, so we went with two very similar specialty pies:  Bronx’s Whitestone vs. Luigi’s Donatello.  Both are sauce-less with mozzarella and ricotta.  Whitestone adds grated parmesan and minced garlic, while Luigi adds only grated romano.  Both use high quality cheeses that are very milky and creamy.  Romano is supposed to be much sharper than parmesan, but I didn’t catch that distinction.  The garlic really was the difference.  It was a unanimous decision amongst the six of us judges.  That added punch of flavor just really put it over the top.  The Whitestone is a unique and tasty pizza experience!

I must say that Luigi’s crust edges out Bronx’s.  They’re both close to perfect, Luigi’s just happens to be a little closer.  A tad crispier, with just the right amount of dark brown charring for added flavor.  Their oven must be quite a bit hotter.  Had we never had a Bronx Whitestone, I’m sure the Donatello would’ve been the very best pizza we’ve ever had.  In fairness, it could be that Luigi has another pizza that could beat Bronx.  Maybe something featuring their marinara.  Or possibly that BBQ Chicken Pie I saw in the glass counter.

Hmmm, maybe we should have a rematch.

Pizzeria Luigi on Urbanspoon

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Nickel Diner

December 8, 2010 2 comments

Amidst the historic buildings and inebriated transients of downtown L.A., you’ll find a smattering of world-famous eateries that have been around since The Great Depression.  I’m not sure about the history of Nickel Diner, but its retro look makes it at least seem like it’s been there forever.  A good chunk of downtown has undergone a successful gentrification, but the block that Nickel Diner calls home is definitely not part of that process.  But you would be truly missing out on a gem if you let the surroundings intimidate you.  It’s not as bad as it might look to those unaccustomed to big city woes.  Rarely does anything worse happen than someone asking you for some spare change.  If that’s not encouragement enough to give Nickel Diner a try, take a look at this: 

Maple Bacon Donut with Nutella Donut in the background.

Brioche French Toast with house-made jam.

You read that right, Maple Bacon Donut!  Weird, I know, but think of the salty-sweet goodness of a HoneyBaked Ham, plus the pillow-plush luxury of yeast-risen dough.  Much more substantial and a bit more dense than a Krispy Kreme donut, Nickel’s creative pairing is magic!  The contrast in textures and tastes just works.  Please, trust me.  You must try one before you die.  The Nutella Donut is quite awesome, too.  The added crunch of the crushed hazelnuts is yet another testament to the fearless innovation of the folks at Nickel Diner.  I must return to try the Strawberry Crumble and Red Velvet donuts.  I would go tomorrow if it weren’t for that pesky obligation called a job.

And The Fun Couple makes yet another great French Toast find!  Brioche is a flaky and rich french bread that is a cross between a pastry and a yeast bread.  Nickel takes cinnamon brioche, lightly batters it, griddles to a perfect golden crispiness and serves with butter and house-made jam.  The strawberry-pear-rhubarb jam (I had to ask) was absolutely the best preserved fruit spread I’ve ever had!  I think they fill their homemade pop tarts with it.  Yeah, they make those, too.  Wanna go, dontcha?

We also shared the “Fifth and Main”, spicy BBQ pork hash with two poached eggs.  The shredded pork was tender, but the BBQ sauce was a bit on the sweet side for our tastes (not bad, though).  It did have a nice kick and was paired nicely with the fried potatoes.  The eggs helped tone down everything.  Nice meal, but probably not one we’d order again.  The coffee was good.  So was the service.

Our breakfast came out to be just over twenty bucks with the tax and tip.  My wallet thanked me.  My circulatory system, not so much.  With an ungodly rush of sugar and pork coursing through my system, I could hear my heart whisper:

“I know you hurt me because you love me.”

Nickel Diner on Urbanspoon