The weekend I transitioned into a new pace of life, Texas heat went on a rampage. Well, I shouldn’t be complaining since Austin had enjoyed less-than-a-hundred-degree temperatures these past months. Believe me, once it hits a hundred, you’ll meet a personified heat. The heat crawls up from the soles of your feet as if it had fingertips, pulsates radially in your core, then finally reaches the apex of your skull to stay. After a while my head will feel like exploding.
I was driving and my sister sat in the passenger seat. The sweltering air and blinding UV rays shriveled up our brains. The restaurant we originally planned to dine in was packed. I drove around the parking lot once and gave up.
“So where should we go for dinner?” I asked.
“Huh? Umm…,” my sister responded, “Oh, I don’t know. Up to you. We could just make cold soba at home.”
“Pizza?” I saw House Pizzeria on my left. Before she could answer and before the incoming traffic charged at us, I turned my wheel quickly to enter the lot and rolled into an empty spot. “Let’s eat pizza.”
House Pizzeria always has the AC blowing and the urban space is dimly lit. It’s just the right place to rejuvenate during a heat coma. We sat in a booth under a large, westward window. As I watched the sun peacefully setting, I realized it was a love-hate relationship between the Texas sun and me.
I ordered one of their specials, arugula and garlic. The waitress brought us a bottle of cold water and their signature “breadsticks.” (The texture was of crisps. I’m not sure what they were exactly, so I’m going to call them “crisps.”) The bread crisps were buttery; what made them addicting though were the freshly cracked peppers that tingled your tongue and, I want to say, the pungent evidence of rosemary.
We ended up waiting thirty minutes or more for a single order of arugula and garlic. The waitress heartily apologized and said that was a typical Saturday. She left to get us more of those crisps. Soon after, the pizza arrived at our table.
We each took a slice and studied it: loose, uncooked arugula leaves on Fontina, invisible (maybe crushed) garlic, and red-sauced thin crust. The ingredients were faithful to the name, arugula and garlic, but we had envisioned a more exciting invention.
I’m acquainted with arugula’s sophisticated flair and I’m always curious how it would pair with different kinds of food. That was the reason I picked this special, but my first bite was dry and confusing as the flavors did not come together — the raw arugula overpowered everything else. I kept staring at the mysterious lemon wedge in the center of the pie. (The menu didn’t mention any lemon on the pizza.) I grabbed it and squeezed out the juice on my slice — nothing could make it tasted worse at this point — then I folded my slice in two and took a gigantic bite, hoping for the best.
Wow, what was that? I just found the missing catalyst. It magically worked now. This flavor worked.