Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ah, there I am.

One of the best parts of this job is finding myself unexpectedly excited about what I do every time I start thinking I hate my job. I'm not a chef and my restaurant isn't fine dining, but I am fiercely proud of it and the food we make. I dislike the guy who dismissed my pizza as "okay" more than I dislike the guy who my ex moved in with right after she left me. Maybe not by much, but a little. Ok...maybe not really, I'm still a little confused by all that.
Let me just rant about that guy for a minute, the former one. So, I'm eating a friend's restaurant and this guy and his wife are at a table talking to my friend. As I get up to leave, my friend (let's call him Richard, 'cause that's his name) calls me over and introduces the couple.
"Oh, Cafe Rio," the man says. "I'm somewhat of a pizza connoisseur. I've been to your place and had your pizza, and it's ok..." I kinda zone out at that point, except for a red flashing sensation behind my left eye..."do you have a wood-fired oven?" Ok, did he just say that he'd been in my place and then ask if I used a wood-fired oven? We do all our pizzas up front, separated from the customers by a counter. If there had been a wood-fired oven up there I'm pretty sure that he would have noticed it.
"Uh, no, we use gas ovens with stone decks."
"You really need a wood, or coal, oven to do pizza well," he assures me. "There's a guy in Phoenix, I can't remember his name, but he uses wood and has won some major award..."
"Chris Bianco," I tell him.
"Hmmmm, maybe, I've never been there." Maybe, my ass. Pizzeria Bianco is one of the best in the US, he's won the James Beard award for Best Chef-Southwest, the only pizzaiolo to ever do so, and he does a fantastic job, using house-made mozzarella and only the best ingredients. He is fanatical about his pies, he makes every one himself and will not make orders to go since the pizzas are not as good after steaming in box. I drove to Phoenix one day last June and ate two pizzas and drove back. Total time: 20 hours. Worth it? Yes. Was it the oven that made the pizza that good? No, it was Bianco's passion and his determination to do simple food using the best ingredients he can get his hands on.
Anyway, none of that is the point. But, damn, that guy pissed me off.
The point is this: we work with a set menu and it gets a little boring doing the same thing day in, day out. Actually, it gets really boring. When it's summer and we're slammed from the time we open the doors 'til we're turning people away at closing time it is most fun I've ever had at work, we're all a little buzzed and joking around and the days just fly by and we all make really good money. This time of the year, not so much, even the weekends are so-so and the weekdays are absolutely miserable, the hours dragging by with only the occasional order. But the other day I got a call from the owner of a restaurant whom we'd been talking to at the first of the year. He was wanting to rent it out and the terms were good, the guy that was renting it before and operating a very good restaurant out of it didn't go out business, he just didn't want to do it anymore and quit. It's basically pay the rent, get a license and order some food. There were some folks ahead of us, but apparently they've bailed and he called to offer us the place. Brett and I are going up to look at it tomorrow and barring any problems we'll probably take it. So, that means having to develop and test a new menu...awesome. We're going to do simple, authentic Southwestern and last night we tested a recipe from Rick Bayless's excellent book, Mexican Everyday, for Puerco a la Mexicana, pork tenderloin with onions, roasted chiles and tomatoes. It's easy to make and delicious. We served it up to the staff with prickly pear fruit margaritas and they wiped out a huge pan of the stuff in no time. So yeah, that's going on the menu.
Today, I'm thinking these black bean and chorizo sandwiches look pretty damned good.


Nan said...

aaargh! You're killing me! After living in West Texas for 40+ years of my life, we now live in Missouri. I ache for good, authentic Southwestern food. Do you make house calls?

Flesh and Bones said...

wow! that's really awesome! i hope it turns out for you! by the way, i really, really want you to believe that if you opened a Cafe Rio in Silver City you would be rolling in dough...
not just pizza dough.
Think about it.

Eric said...

Sorry, Nan, but hey, at least you're close to good BBQ, right?

Eric said...

Hmmmmmm, Silver City, eh?