Associate Editor, Cook's Illustrated Magazine. Also: bread baker, clay oven builder, and mushroom cultivator.
Don't know if anyone is still paying attention to this thread, but I should be able to prove all you naysayers all wrong (jk) real soon, because the kit I ordered is waiting on a loading dock for me right now. Should have the oven up and running by late May.
@mike5966: I think that LB would agree that this is one of the few dishes at DC that is sauced appropriately. I'm curious to try the GHD version, except their XLB are not nearly as good as at the Cafe (IMHO).
@arjunsr: The full kit is $800, plus shipping from Oregon. (To me in MA, it'll probably be a couple hundred at most). The remaining parts and materials (bricks, cinderblocks, clay) can in theory be sourced for free. If you had to pay for everything, I'd guess $1500 would cover it easily.
@abunchofyou: According to Max & Eva, there is no upper limit for temps. I saw the Man, Fire, Food clip, and I don't remember them saying anything like that. Like most other WFOs, it'll get hotter the more fuel you burn. Max told me that they worried the barrels might corrode if you push them temperature-wise on a regular basis, but he's found them to be more resilient than they'd expected.
Look, I know it's a trade-off to swap this for my beehive, where 1000 degrees is easy to achieve. I'm expecting to run this more in the 750-900 degree range, which is more than adequate for the kind of pies I prefer (NY/NH). But it likely could run at higher temps too. (But no live fire.)
The advantage for me with a barrel oven (beyond efficiency) is that it is WAY more spacious than most ovens of its size and cost. I expect to be able to bake 8 or 10 loaves of bread at once, which is double the capacity of my beehive, and triple that of my indoor range. And to be able to bake load after load without stopping to refire. I'll use it for pizza for sure, but that's secondary to its function for me as a bread oven.
Thanks, everyone for the nice and/or at least civil comments ;). I kinda agree with the general sentiment that it is sort of odd that such a place does not (at least as regards this menu) "interpret" cuisines and take them to a novel place. (A friend had the "Thai" menu and had largely the same experience.) But that fact still doesn't change my mind about the meal we had. It was a pleasure from start to finish (except for one brief moment that I did not mention in the post; more on that below), and I don't mind having spent the not-insubstantial amount we did on it. That said, it was a one-off for sure, and I'm not particularly interested in going back again.
My sense is that most of the clientele at Next are not interested Achatz taking these cuisines to another level, and are happy that they are as well done as they are. Perhaps the restaurant is a way for him to attract customers who have no interest in the sort of theater that is served at Alinea.
As for the one sour note (it was really more amusing than anything else): at about the 2.5h mark, the host approached our table to tell us that we were taking too long with our meal. He said that "most diners" finish their meals at Next within three hours or less, and suggested that we speed things up. Needless to say, we laughed it off, and carried on at our own pace. At the end of the meal, he (only semi-jokingly) told us that we had set a record for the longest meal ever eaten at Next. We all thought the whole thing was entirely inappropriate for any fine-dining restaurant, especially one with so many courses and at such prices. In any case, we ateat what seemed like a perfectly reasonably pace to us. Maybe midwesterners just eat faster than we do.
@kenji: interesting about caponata. I'll admit I'd never had it like that before, but I've never been to Sicily, so I assumed that this was what it was supposed to be like. The celery was definitely crisp/tender.
Sassafras isn't just a southern tree species, it's common here in New England too. You are right to dismiss fears of safrole's carcinogenicity; if we avoided everything that gives you cancer when consumed in mass amounts, the spice cabinet would be nearly bare.
Also, you didn't mention why pure safrole is a semi-controlled substance in the US and elsewhere, which is an interesting sidenote to this story. ;)
@dmcavanaugh: Making pizza is exactly the sort of thing any kids would get into without prompting from their parents. And those kids are clearly enjoying themselves thoroughly.
You know, it strikes me that what would improve this thing greatly is some sort of reflective and dense cover that would lower the "dome" height to direct more heat down onto the pie. The height of the collar and the Weber lid puts it too far from the pizza to do much.
I'm intrigued to hear about Meredith's friends promising results, and I'd like to see this device up close, but I find the whole idea of hacking a kettle grill into a pizza oven dubious. A grill is designed to heat from below, and as Kenji and others have already mentioned, pizza has very different heat requirements. At the very least, you'll have to use a ton of fuel to get results similar to a WFO, especially given the amount of heat that is lost to the environment through the thin walls of the kettle itself.
@Adam: Agreed. It's the clam chowder of pizza topping combos.
@MGrace: I've had the soft-serve, and it is very good. I should have mentioned that.
@guycooking: Alas, we often do not have the $$ or time to visit places more than once. I just happened to wait too long to post my original review, and had no choice, as they changed the pie sizes. Thanks for the photo praise, they were especially hard at A4, where it is very dark. Note to self: do SE review visits at lunchtime for better lighting.
@Jessica: I didn't mention the pretzels because we tried those, and found them dry and tough. But you're not the only one who is a fan, so maybe our experience was a fluke, and we'll have to try again. I am a serious pretzel-head.
Great addition to the SE family. Welcome aboard, Leela. Let me add one item to Liz's list: mee grob!
@kenji Photos are forthcoming. I considered putting 'steam' in quotes, though no pun was intended originally. I ran out of dough/time/energy, but I still have two days to rock them, so you never know. As for steam, the char siu, cumin beef, and red bean ones are in the freezer, awaiting revival.
No one will believe me now that you posted this, Kenji, but I was going to do this exact thing for a party this coming weekend. I was thinking of it as a Chinese suppli al telephono, but same diff.
Made the dough and the filling but ran out of steam after making 150 or so more traditional buns. (With help from Ms. @slice, who can shape buns like the best of them.)
Hey, Will, congrats, couldn't have happened to a better guy. And best of luck surviving the wedding planning, I've been there. There's perhaps no better reason to be happy on your wedding day than knowing that it's all finally behind you.
Whoa. Somehow I missed the first announcement. I'm down for either weekend, in NYC or at home here in Boston.
Angelo's has long been my fave slice in town. If not for the school's-in-session only hours, I'd slice it up there more often myself. I'm pretty sure they even take summers off.
Those look so good, they might have come from this amazing baker woman I used to work with. Welcome aboard, Yvonne.
I have a bike too! I want in on any Boston area crawls, please!
My bad. I meant Franny's recipe. Motorino doesn't use cream in their sauce AFAIK.
Hey all, been away for awhile, just catching up with comments now. I wrote this piece as much to get feedback from other WFO users and enthusiasts on how well this design might or might not work for pizza, so keep your questions and comments coming.
The way I see it is that a barrel oven is functionally equivalent to a home oven, except without a temperature limit. It can get as hot as you want it to, as long as there's wood to burn. Max at Firespeaking said that people haven't used them at high temps with regularity enough yet, but that doing so might corrode the barrel more quickly. That said, he's said that he's yet to see an oven corrode in the 10+ years he's been working around or with them. (It would be relatively easy to replace if and when it did, since it just slides in.)
As for even heating, I don't see why it would be any more uneven than other designs, especially once the masonry starts to soak up heat. I did imagine adding stones or tiles to the trays (Max said that was reasonable), since both bread and pizza benefit from direct conducted heat. Of course these would need more than 15m to heat up, but because they'd be relatively thin, much less time than a thick deck would.
As for the potential loss of "smoke" flavor in pizzas when cooked in a barrel oven, there is little consensus as to whether smoke flavor gets picked up in pies when cooked in the presence of a live fire (ash flavor is another story.) Personally, I don't consider it essential to a good pie; plenty of wonderful pizzas that come out of electric or gas ovens. The key (for me) is high temps, not smoke or fire.
@gaffer: rust is a potential problem, I suppose, but the clay exterior will wash away sooner than the barrel will rust, so most ovens are kept out of the rain with roofs or tarps when not in use.
Whoa! Great get, Meredith. As someone who had to turn down an offer to do a column like this for Slice (conflict of interest with my other gig), I can say without reservation Paulie is a way better man for the job. I can't wait to follow along, and maybe ask a question or three of my own.
Thanks for having my back. Perhaps @mimolette is correct, though, in that the photos convey more than my words actually did. I should have added that it is a crazy, raucous scene, obviously loads of fun for everyone there. I'm not gay (not that there's anything wrong with that), but I know a good party when I see one.
Maybe the caliber of restos in Ptown is better than in most other seaside resorts, but that doesn't mean they are inherently great. I stand by my assertion that most are mediocre, and that given the concentration of places, there should be more great ones than there are.
@nycpunk1: My bad. I actually knew that, since I've been in bars in Boston & Cambridge plenty of times until 2. But even that is lame. Anyway, I just wanted to get a reference to the Puritans in a post about Provincetown, where they first ran aground.
@scottroberts: I think that rule is suspended in most beachside communities. Some of those dudes were probably barefoot too.
Hear, hear! Thanks, Ed, for (yet another) great post. There are only two kinds of crust in my book: good and bad. Thick, thin, doesn't matter, so long as it's well executed.
Except cracker-style pizza, that's no good. But then it's not bread we're talking about, it's crackers.
@adam: Too cramped for regular use (mine is 5 times that size, and still too small), but big enough to cook a small (10" or so) pie, or a single loaf of bread.
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