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PI

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It wasn't quite a trial by fire, but a trial by steamy heat can be pretty tough, too. At the end of another hot and sultry weekend, we dropped by Pi, eager to sit in somebody else's cool air. "I'm not sitting outside," I announced as we shuffled past the sidewalk diners and through the open garage door that fronts the café. Strange & the interior was empty. It took a moment for my baked brain to catch up: It was really hot in here. The hostess apologized, "The air conditioning is broken. You can sit inside or wait for a table outside." So we would be dining al fresco after all.

I slugged back a glass of ice water while an outside table was readied for us. The one thing I appreciate about heat is that it's a universal irritant. The black-clad staff was glowing, the diners were fanning themselves with menus, and I couldn't imagine what trials the folks baking pizzas were enduring. Also, one wall was wiggled, but I'm sure that was an intentional design feature and not a factor of the heat. The super-sized nose, ear and mouth affixed to the back wall reinforced a spare, but quirky design sensibility.

The nice thing about the outdoor seating was that sidewalks on Murray Avenue are quite lively in the early evening and provided good easy entertainment. A steady stream of families went to and from the ice-cream shop nearby. The circumstances of the evening meant that the tables were pushed close together to accommodate diners -- close enough to hear two eager medical students at the next table discussing dissection techniques (fortunately, I find medicine fascinating).

We decided to split soup, salad and a small pizza, the eponymous "pi." The large-size soup -- a creamy butternut squash bisque -- came in an enormous flattish turquoise-colored Fiestaware bowl atop an even wider plate. It took up half the table space, but proved perfect for sharing, as we could each easily reach an edge. The concentric circles of bowl and plate naturally put me in mind of pi -- that magical number used to measure the area of circles. I'm sure I'm not the first patron to suddenly blurt out, "Three-point-one-four &" The students to my left were also pondering the radius-to-circumference aspects of their pizza pi(e).

But the only number really plaguing me was the humiture index, which was surely still above 90. I'd picked the salmon nicoise salad, which sounded nice and cool -- chilled salmon, olives, flat beans, capers, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella over a bed of mixed greens. I had told our server to bring two forks -- "we're sharing" -- and I was touched that the restaurant took the extra step of preparing two plates, each with the ingredients perfectly divided.

There's some adventurous pizzas on the menu here: salmon, mushrooms and radicchio; crab and asparagus; shrimp and eggplant; and a Thai-inspired veggie offering with broccoli, cauliflower, onions and mushrooms over lemongrass-marinated cheeses. I suggested that, since the salad had been a complex mixture of flavors, we go with simpler pizza. The Sicilian sounded about right: plum tomatoes, garlic, cheese and herbs. We added a half-topping of roasted red peppers.

The pizza arrived piping hot, and the small size seemed more than ample to feed two. They had cut the plum tomatoes lengthwise, so big full-sized slices covered the pizza -- except for one half where about two cups of roasted red peppers were dominant. Pi's pizza crust is unusual -- it's not thick and chewy, nor is it thin and crispy. It's sweet and flaky like a dessert base. I was glad we'd kept our pizza simple so I could savor the crust.

I'd remarked that the crust with some custard and fresh fruit would make an excellent tart, so I was not surprised to see that the dessert menu offered an "ice cream pizza." Even though I'd seen about 100 ice-cream cones pass by and it was still plenty steamy, I couldn't resist the one dessert that promised to be served warm -- bread pudding. Of course, it was huge, so we split it: a big wedge of chewy warm sweet dough with veins of cinnamon running through it and a crunchy, crispy top. It sat in a puddle of buttery caramel sauce, and it was more satisfying than ice cream, which would have surely just melted. Some things just can't hold up in the heat, but the troopers at Pi didn't let the heat beat 'em. * * *

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