For an article called "Perfection Pizza," food writer Jeffrey Steingarten traipsed through the kitchens of his favorite New York pizzerias with a formidable "Raynger ST-8 gun." The device was in reality a temperature gauge that can be pointed across a room. Steingarten wanted to know just how hot these wood-burning, pizza-joint ovens were so that he could try to cook pizza at those blistering temperatures at home.
In a stunt worthy of MacGyver, the epicurean writer then rejiggered his home oven to fool its heat sensor, as a means to crank the temperature closer to the optimal 800-degrees-Fahrenheit level. Steingarten gradually learned that cooking a pizza at that sort of severe temperature was not an undertaking for the suburban kitchen but a job that could technically be accomplished...in the backyard.
The food writer for Vogue magazine, Steingarten is known for his obsessive, physical quests to understand why certain foods taste so damned good and for offering droll, extremely pedantic recipes for the brave few who might want to replicate his adventures.
"Perfection Pizza" is one of about 40 essays in the critic's newest collection, It Must've Been Something I Ate. The new volume also includes the tale of Steingarten's allergic reaction to the uncooked leaf of a taro plant, consumed on a flight to Japan. (The episode produced the memorable title "Taro, Taro, Taro." His search for the choicest cut of Japanese bluefin-tuna sushi became "Toro, Toro, Toro.")
In his recipe for tomato sauce, Steingarten advises that you "squish the tomatoes with your hands." His next sentence is a stiffly worded exhortation that applies to reading about the gastronome's adventures, too: "This should be quite enjoyable." (Steingarten reads and signs at Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid Avenue, 7 p.m., free, 314-367-6731). -- Byron Kerman
If art is beauty, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then in the case of Marilyn Manson, the eye is artificially tinted, and those who appreciate the singer's performance art get off on the aesthetics of roadkill, the craftsmanship of medical prosthetics and the soothing sounds of car crashes. In honor of Manson's latest album, The Golden Age of Grotesque, the band members will be performing a new kind of theatrics they're calling "grotesque burlesque" in the parking lot at Pop's (1403 Mississippi Avenue in Sauget, Ill.; $29.50-$35; 314-241-1888). A costume contest, "heavy-petting zoo" and piercing tent will accompany the concert, bringing the sideshow to the forefront, where it has always deserved to be. -- Mallarie Zimmer
Taiko a Go-Go
Japanese taiko drumming makes a sound like thunder -- a deep, pounding roll that historically has been used to call the gods, to direct troops in battle and to bring rain. The sound these mammoth drums make has been called the voice of the Buddha. It's the universe's backbeat, like breathing, or stars exploding. San Jose Taiko, now in its thirtieth year, infuses the traditional Japanese rhythms with South American, African and other drumming styles to create a unique, soul-perforating boom. San Jose Taiko performs at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (I-270 and Route 157) as part of its Arts & Issues Series at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $9-$18; visit www.artsandissues.com or call 618-650-5555 for more information. -- Mark Dischinger
Top of the (Pudding) Pops
Critics of Bill Cosby's ratings juggernaut The Cosby Show often complained that the family portrayed wasn't "realistic"; if the last five years of reality programming and WB/UPN "urban comedies" were what those critics had in mind, then give us back the Cos'. Overwrought mugging aside, Cosby's keen understanding of family dynamics and his ability to portray people of all colors with dignity and a sense of humor are sadly missing from TV today. You can get your Cos' fix this afternoon at the Fox Theatre (527 North Grand Boulevard, 314-534-1111), when Bill Cosby returns to his stand-up roots with a new show of familiar, funny material. Tickets are $40-$50, and the show is at a family-friendly 4 p.m. -- Paul Friswold