Dining in the Deluge
Not much cooking happened in my kitchen last week. Central Iowa was hit by massive thunderstorms, and our town was flooded by the two rivers that run through it. The flood cut us off from the main highways out of town, and cut the west and east ends of town off from one another as well. Eight water mains broke, leaving us without potable tap water for five days. The town water supply was under a boil order, as well as strict conservation measures: no showering, laundry, dishwashing, or outdoor water use. Compared to the devastation and loss of life caused by the flooding in Pakistan recently, the situation here in Iowa was little more than a big inconvenience. After a couple of days, the waters receded enough to allow travel, and I hunkered down with some bottled water and microwave dinners (avoiding dishwashing) until drinking water was restored.
On Sunday evening, unwilling to face another microwave dinner, a friend and I drove to Des Moines to eat at Centro, a trendy Italian restaurant with an urban vibe reminiscent of my Northeast roots. It was just the sort of evening get-away I needed.
We ordered the Fried Calamari appetizer and a Pizza Capricciosa. The calamari was a standard appetizer of batter-dipped calamari rings and tentacles, served with a classic lemon aioli and marinara sauce. But OH MY — this is how calamari should be done! The crispy batter was as light as air, and the calamari itself was unbelievably tender — perfectly cooked, without anything being overdone. This was a dish made with love and care by someone who really understands seafood, and I was transported with every bite.
Unfortunately, the Pizza Capricciosa paled in comparison to its gustatory predecessor, relying too heavily on its toppings to get the job done. For me, even the fanciest, most flavorful pizza toppings can’t compensate for a basic pizza trinity that’s lacking. The crust, the sauce, the cheese: each of these components must be able to stand on its own, with good texture, freshness, and well-developed flavor. Centro’s pizza was fine, but not all that memorable. The crust, in particular, lacked any developed flavor, which imparted a pervasive blandness to the entire pizza. If you think I’m being overly picky, I encourage you to visit one source of my ridiculously demanding standards, Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven, CT, and order a plain cheese pizza. You’ll see exactly what I mean.
Pizza aside, I’m looking forward to returning to Centro to sample their other Italian fare, and I definitely won’t wait for another flood to motivate me.