Saint Jean de Luz: ‘Silence of the Ducks’

I now know where ducks go to die and give up their livers.*

Well, ostensibly die. You (or a duck, for that matter) can’t live without a liver. BUT you (or a duck, presumably) can get by with as little as 25 percent of a liver. Oh, and? It regenerates, growing back to its full size eventually. Freaking science, man.

I digress.

Saint Jean de Luz

Saint Jean de Luz is an adorable little Basque beach resort in the very South of France, about three miles from the Spanish border. It’s got a lovely old church that hosted a royal wedding back in 1660, a quaint little lighthouse, and a little cobblestoned pedestrian area lined with shops selling espadrilles and bakeries brimming with delicious gateau basque.

It’s also apparently populated by duck organ snatchers.

I have never seen so much foie gras in my entire life. Notice I didn’t say, “I’ve never seen so much foie gras in one place.” That’s significant because in no way do I want to downplay or minimize the complete foie gras orgy we were privy to during our visit. I mean to say “I’ve never seen so much foie gras in my CUMULATIVE life of 43 years.”

And Saint Jean de Luz is not even the foie gras capital of the world. That distinct honor belongs to Perigord, in the southwest part of France.

In store after store, we saw it. We saw it in sweaty, whitish-yellow lobes and in beautifully packaged tins. We saw it vacuum packed, layered in terrines, crammed into jars, whipped into mousses, and ground into pates. We saw it served in every iteration and as a topping on any bastardized pseudo-American delicacy, be it a hamburger or a pizza (this place has both and delivers).

It’s called a “margret royal” and is has mushrooms, foie gras and duck breast. Because I was wondering what they did with the rest of the bird after performing a liver resection. 

When it comes to foie gras, I feel the same way about the controversial delicacy as I feel about Maroon 5 or “Keeping Up With the Kardashians:” a guilty pleasure that I can only take in small doses. It’s too gamey and meaty for me. I tend to like just a smidge, maybe pan seared and spread on some sort of bread, then topped with some type of sickening sweet fruit, like fig or apple.

However, when one is vacationing in a veritable Wounded Knee for ducks, you do as the killers/imbibers/natives do.

Sidenote: My favorite duck fact is that male ducks are called “drakes.” Really give new meaning to “Hotline Bling.” “You used to call me on my cell phone. Late night when you need my liver.” 

We had it two ways (pressed and poached) during a very fancy lunch at this place. We had it in a pigeon entrée (and possible in an amuse bouche) during an unforgettable dinner at this wonderful place. We even had it melted into a risotto, but that was in Pamplona, not Saint Jean de Luz. I’m fairly sure it was snuck into some innocent-looking French fries somewhere as well, but I can’t say definitively.

Foie gras

What I can say is if you even think you might like foie gras, visit Saint Jean de Luz. Just don’t expect to see or hear any ducks singing “Hotline Bling” while you’re walking along the beach or port.

*This joke was completely ripped off from my schmoopies, XFE. He came up with it and I laugh like a liver-less mallard every time he repeats it.

The Emotional Healing Power of Naples (and Pizza)

My cab driver doesn’t seem to have enough hands.

I’m bumping along Naples chaotic, narrow, cobblestoned streets in the back of a cab. My cab driver is holding his phone up to his left ear, swerving in and out of the bumper-to-dented-bumper traffic. I think he’s fighting with the person on the other line. He’s yelling and using his hands to enunciate his point, which is a bit of a problem while holding the phone and driving. There’s definitely no 10 nor 2 at this point of the driving game.

He really needs another set of hands.

I feel much like my Neapolitan cab driver. I don’t have enough hands or arms to get them around all the feelings I’ve had over the past two months.

rainy street in Naples
It rained my first day in Naples, which suited my mood just fine.

I’ve been bouncing on the emotional trampoline. I’ve run the gamut – white-hot raging anger, debilitating fear and sense of rejection, plain-old-run-of-the-mill sadness, tears optional, although frequent, as it turns out in my case. The raw twin realizations of the number of people who I had misplaced my trust in, and the surprisingly small list of supporters who would reach out to me when I was no longer around. *

On a good day, a certain scabbed-over numbness would set in. Then I would wallow in a bit of a pity-party, who-cares, what’s-it-all-for mentality. All of which goes against my feisty, fighting nature.

Turns out, Naples, Italy is the perfect city to go to if you are hollowed out and disappointed by life and humanity and especially former co-workers who you thought were you’re friends.

First of all, it’s an incredibly human city, where you can watch the soap opera of life play out millions of times a day on its quaint little streets. Families fighting with each other, enjoying each other. Couples making out and pushing each other away. Strangers eyeing each other with suspicion or disinterest. It’s reassuring to see that emotions can run a gamut, not just on the negative end of the spectrum.

Neapolitan Santa

Also, Naples is dirty and has its scars. It was the most bombed Italian city during World War II, getting bombarded over 200 times by both Allied (good job there, Mussolini) and German forces after Italy switched sides. Today, plaster is falling off its buildings or they’re covered in graffiti. Trash piles up frequently due to garbage strikes and very small rubbish bins. Every car on the road bears scrapes, dents, dings. In many ways, it looks like they stopped building after the bombings.

Typical building at the Piazza del Plebiscito
Typical building at the Piazza del Plebiscito. Note plaster situation.

But Naples messiness is also achingly beautiful — that whole shrugging off unpleasantness and just getting on with life is admirable.

Naples grafitti

And it is a very, very proud city. Especially of its place in pizza history. Don’t even try to suggest the pizza was not invented in Naples.

Pizza at Brandi's in Naples
Plaque near the place where Margherita was invented.

It’s a city that has never given up, rolling with the fates, but never forgetting who it is at its fundamental core. Remember those Germans who bombed them? Yeah, eventually they also occupied Naples. But the people of Naples, they don’t put up with that kind of crap. In September 1943, the townspeople rose up and threw out their German occupiers right before the Allied forces rolled in on October 1 to “liberate” them. It’s known as the Four Days of Naples and it is pretty badass.

Naples defiance via shop window
Naples defiance via shop window. (It says “F&*%k You All!!! Best Price”)

I’ve been through some dirty stuff recently, and my psyche and ego are certainly a bit scarred. But I’ve also got an inordinate – perhaps even Neapolitan-sized — amount of pride. So, I’m glad I trampolined my way over to Naples for a quick visit and history lesson. Naples and its lessons on resilience have helped propel me to a new, more familiar emotional state – defiance.

Neapolitan cat don't care
Neapolitan cat don’t care.

(*I should also unequivocally state that there have been a handful of former ex-colleagues who have reached out and been incredibly helpful to me in so, so many ways, even if it’s just a cup of coffee and a vent session. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge them. And, of course, always XFE, who goes through it all and who took me to Naples anyway.)

Totally Pretentious Food Truck Review: Pi Pizza

Pizza. Is there any other more controversial food product? On the face of it, this should not be the case. It’s nice and round, no sharp edges. It’s made to be shared with friends and loved ones.

However, pizza is also a distinctly individual thing. Thick or thin crust? What toppings? Can you just put onions on one half? Crumbled or patty sausage? These are the things that cause fights to break out.

Since pizza is such an individual thing, Pi Pizza isn’t going to appeal to everyone. They did, however, appeal to my friend and reader T2, who suggested I do a TPFT review for the blog. She’s a notoriously picky eater, so I knew it must be pretty good.

Pi Truck

Like many in DC, Pi Pizza is a transplant. They have a restaurant and truck in St. Louis, and began rolling here in DC at the end of February. And they’re opening a restaurant in Penn Quarter this week called District of Pi.

Pi Truck specializes in deep dish pizza pies, your choice of 4 types for $12 a pop. Pi serves up Chicago style pizza, deep dish crust, lots of toppings, and covered in tomato sauce. What Pi does differently is the crust. They make it with cornmeal, which gives it a distinct nutty flavor.

Pi Full

I let my nose lead me to Pi Truck on a recent Tuesday, the smell of garlic and marinara drifting through Farragut Square. I perused the menu, which is not expansive. There was a vegetarian option, the Western Addition, which contained spinach, feta, mozzarella, mushrooms, onions.  There was also a plain cheese. Unfortunately, Pi’s meat option with pepperoni, sausage, salami and meatballs was just down to pepperoni. So, I went with the Southside, which contained sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions.

Pi also had better than average drink selection, with sparkling water options. I ordered a Pellegrino Orange for $1, gave the young man my money and waited 8 minutes for my pizza. As advertised, my pizza came out right on time.

The pizza was individually-sized but large enough for two lunches. The crust was nice and crunchy and topped with a layer of cheese, a layer of toppings and then topped with marinara. For me, there was not enough cheese. The Chicago style pizzas I’ve had all featured a big layer of ooey gooey cheese. The marinara was very good, pure tomato sharpness, great paste-like texture and definitely fresh. However, it overwhelmed the other toppings. I could barely taste the sausage and onions, and couldn’t at all taste the peppers and mushrooms.

Pi Slice

The crust and the sauce really made the pizza. The cornmeal crust was sturdy enough to let you stuff your face without spilling toppings everywhere, which was much appreciated when you’re trying to eat in professional clothes.

I appreciated the pepper and Parmesan cheese packets they give  you but it would have been nice if they also gave out napkins. I also really appreciated the fact that they posted their schedule up on Mondays, so you can plan ahead. And, they take credit cards, which is always nice.

I’d give Pi Pizza Truck three out of four wheels. Overall, it was a pleasant experience, at a very good price, and a good, not great, pizza. I would try it again, hopefully on a day when they had a meat lovers option, so I can see if the meat stands up to the sauce. I don’t want to recommend they tone down the sauce, but maybe amp up the cheese and fillings. Also, maybe some other options, like a couple of salads or something might appeal to folks.

Pi Half