The dead who dream
We are long overdue, I think, for a Restaurant Day. So much so, actually, that I’m not sure where to start. But I guess the front door is as good a place as any.
I know I haven’t mentioned it around here much lately, but The Thing That Will One Day Be Delancey marches on, slowly but surely. With emphasis, I guess I should say, on the slowly part. We are doing this on a very slim budget, which means that most of the work is done with our four hands – mainly Brandon’s, actually, to be perfectly fair – and with borrowed labor, borrowed pickup trucks, and borrowed tools from friends and family. I can’t imagine doing it any other way, especially not in this grisly economy, but we are no match for a contractor and a construction crew, and when bedtime comes, we sleep like the dead. The dead who dream of wood-fired pizza.
But somehow we like it, and we still like each other, and that feels reassuring. Our plans were approved and stamped by the city last Friday, and the liquor license came in the mail today, and though we hit a snag on the plumbing this morning that required self-medication in the form of some coconut macaroons, we are aiming to open in mid-May. With emphasis on the aiming to part. So don’t quote me on that quite yet.
A lot happened over there – at “the space,” as we call it – while I was out of town, so I feel as though I have about three posts’ worth of news for you, but today I want to tell you about two items in particular: the floor, and the oven.
When we started, half of the floor was carpeted, and half of it was painted the shade of blue you see above. What we wanted was a natural concrete floor: no paint, no nonsense, just a coat of sealant. So Brandon ripped out the carpet, and then he rented something called a Shot Blaster.
Privately, I hoped that the Shot Blaster was some sort of high-tech bartending tool, or maybe a weapon for firing one-ounce portions of vodka at my enemies. I pictured it as something akin to the marshmallow bazooka I once read about in a SkyMall catalog, battery powered and promising to launch “edible, full-sized marshmallows up to 40’, forever changing the rules of engagement for marshmallow gun confrontations.” But I was wrong. A Shot Blaster is a cross between a vacuum cleaner, an industrial sander, and a tennis ball machine. You push it (slowly and laboriously; it’s tricky) over a surface, the same way you would a sander, and as you do so, it shoots out and circulates thousands of tiny steel balls, which pummel whatever is beneath them, removing paint, carpet glue, anything that crosses their path. The Shot Blaster removed the blue paint, but unfortunately, it also left a weird, conspicuous pattern in its wake – like the trail a vacuum cleaner leaves as it moves over carpet, only more aggressive – and worse, it revealed some nasty cracks in the floor, cracks that had been filled with cement until we Shot Blasted the living crap out of them.
Needless to say, it was a disappointment, not to mention a huge waste of money. For a minute there, we looked at each other, and we were Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in The Money Pit. After weighing our options, we decided to reseal the cracks and paint the floor. We also decided never to speak of the Shot Blaster again. We’ve chosen a paint color, a warm shade of gray, and maybe the next time we have a Restaurant Day, I will show it to you.
On the upside, the wood-burning oven has arrived, and that, THAT, is what this whole place is about. Of course, it arrived in pieces, weighs nearly 4000 pounds, and took 24 hours to assemble, but it’s a beauty. It was worth it.
It’s an Italian-style oven, made by a California-based company called Mugnaini. Brandon tried a number of different styles and brands and concepts, both gas-fired and wood-burning, and this one was the winner. We could have bought it fully assembled and ready to use, but that would have required removing a large window to install it, and possibly a wall. Instead, we bought the oven in parts. And to make sure that we didn’t completely botch its assembly, we flew someone up from the company to help us. (Somehow, that was actually cheaper than it would have been to remove and replace a window. Don’t ask.) His name was Michael, and he was so fantastic, so charming and knowledgeable and immediately at ease, that we were tempted to adopt him as some sort of long-lost uncle. That’s him, the blur in the picture above, preparing to piece together and lay the oven floor, which is what you see below.
Once the floor was in place, the dome of the oven could be built above it. The dome was composed of thick, curving panels, a little like petals from an enormous tulip, that fit snugly together and were crowned with a final, circular panel. Each of them, each panel, weighed over 200 pounds.
The spaces between the panels were filled with refractory cement, and then the whole dome was wrapped with ceramic fiber, and then the thing was encased in metal walls, and then on top went a ton of refractory cement and perlite, for thermal mass and insulation. For the record, I do not pretend to know what thermal mass is.
In fact, I was given a special dispensation from most of this. For the better part of the process, which went on until 2 am, I was at home, asleep. But Brandon and Michael took a lot of pictures, and if you want to see the entire process, every single step, you can geek out right here.
When I arrived the next morning, it was done. Magic.
Of course, we then had to move it from where it was built, in the center of the room, into its proper location against a wall in the kitchen-to-be. That part did not involve magic, but rather me, Brandon, and our friend Ben, early in the morning and bleary-eyed, inching the thing around on a hydraulic handtruck, using some masking tape, a plastic protractor, and a 30° wedge cut out of cardboard to maneuver it into the right position before the ventilation people arrived to build the chimney.
Now that the oven is in place, we can pretty it up with some tile and start to construct the bar and the kitchen around it. That’s next. That, and making concrete tabletops. I can tell you about that another time, if you want. Until then, you know where to find me.