A pizza bust?

Pub date October 10, 2007

If the NFL’s powers that be conclude that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, recently busted for unauthorized reconnaissance of other teams’ signals, needs a more stinging punishment than a large fine, might I respectfully suggest that he be sentenced to eat a pizza at Figs, the Todd English restaurant on Boston’s posh Beacon Hill?

I mean no calumny against Boston, a jewel of urban sophistication and civility and a city full of all sorts of interesting restaurants and farmers markets, including a big one in the Back Bay’s Copley Square. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a more miserable restaurant meal than the one we endured on a recent weekend night at Figs — a place with a big-name chef! In a neighborhood full of rich people who, whatever else one might think of them, surely know good food from bad, especially when bad means really bad.

Begin with a native heirloom salad, more or less a Caprese, with various colorful orbs sliced into quarters and served with chunks of soft mozzarella under a basting of basil vinaigrette. While I would be willing to cut New Englanders some slack on the matter of growing seasons, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a reputable restaurant should be able to find late-summer tomatoes that are at least reasonably ripe rather than hard and crisp as autumn apples. I had to cut them up with a steak knife. For the first time in my life, I considered sending back a salad on the ground that it was inedible.

Then the pizza arrived, looking like a small magic carpet. In a moment of inattention, I’d let my companion order a "crispy calamari" pie. How bad could it be? Even bad pizza is usually edible, with some flavor. But not this one. This pie — a square of dough, swabbed with tomato paste and arugula, then topped with a shower of calamari batter-fried separately — defied being eaten. Perhaps we should have taken the hint. The calamari bits rolled around and off the crust like barrels of wine on the deck of a storm-tossed sailing ship, while the Kevlar-like crust itself resisted even the sharp teeth of the steak knife. Our server wisely did not ask what we thought of the pizza. I was thinking of a word, and it was worse than bust.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com