Food Writer's Diary

On fire, pizza and authenticity

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“Oh, uh, hey, you're on fire there,” I said.

Nonchalance probably isn’t the best approach to take when you see flames start to spread behind a person, but the guy standing next to the woman whose coat and bag had drifted too close to a candle was on top of it. He let out a sort of masculine scream, grabbed the bag and coat, threw them to the floor and beat out the flames.

“Sorry,” he said.

People say New Yorkers are rude and uncaring, but we’ll totally let you know if you catch fire, help you to extinguish yourself and apologize for making a commotion. What more do you want?

I was at the opening of Forcella, one of a growing number of Neapolitan-style pizzerias popping up in New York City.

Really, there are a lot of them: Chipp in Sheapshead Bay, Capizzi in Hell's Kitchen, Donatella in Chelsea, Keste in the Village. I could go on and on. That’s kind of strange considering New York has a delicious type of pizza that the locals love and that has little in common with its Neapolitan cousins. I wonder why we’re seeking out some sort of authenticity from Naples when we have our own kind of authenticity right here.

It's not like people in Georgia are clamoring for St. Louis barbecue.

Then again, authenticity is a weird and slippery notion. The next night I had dinner at the James Beard House because Frank McClelland from L'Espalier in Boston was cooking. I was sitting next to journalist Charles Passy, a New York native who recently returned home after a prolonged sojourn in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He said he had encountered a visitor to New York who had heard that the Big Apple was a great bagel city, and so she was disappointed and outraged that you can't find asiago cheese bagels here.

Which of course you can’t because we have real bagels here.

Anyway, the Forcella opening was a good party. Kind of weird — one of the owners decided an opening party also would be a good occasion for Open Keyboard Night — but good.

Margherita pizza and pizza with arugula and truffle oil were passed around, along with the restaurant’s signature deep-fried pizza and little arancini. I also had a slice of a dessert pizza stuffed with a chocolate-hazelnut spread that shall remain nameless and whose charms elude me.

It went well with the Lambrusco I was drinking, though.

The crowd was good, too: Many well-dressed Italians with great bone structure who seemed to be talking about important things and didn’t seem to know that, at crowded restaurant openings, you’re supposed to get your drink at the bar and then move away so other people can get to it.

Still, good bone structure. And editors from Travel + Leisure, Food + Wine, Every Day with Rachael Ray and so on were there, too.

As I was heading out, actress Stephanie March arrived with her husband Bobby Flay in tow. And as far as I know, nobody else caught fire.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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What's Food Writer's Diary?

Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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