I’m in San Francisco this week on super top-secret “Why It Matters” business. Okay, I came to see the sea lions and make one of those “hey, this is me on a magic carpet” green screen videos at Pier 39.
A light drizzle followed me home this evening, so I ducked into a trattoria that just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Nice place — bar at the front of the joint, and that’s where all the action is. From my booth in the dining room I can hear the after work decompression going on. Lots of flirty laughter up there. I’m the only person seated in the dining room.
The tablecloths are white linen and the menu has no prices on it other than the offer to garnish any dish with “soon to be illegal foie gras” for an additional ten dollars. My waiter is from that professional class of service people that we rarely see in the provinces: sixtyish with an Italian accent as thick and smooth as creamy polenta. He is the kind of waiter who blows on his hand as if sprinkling fairy dust to demonstrate the chef’s touch with the fennel on the sea bass.
Vintage goombah music swirls through the empty dining room, not quite Louis and Keely but close — some Sinatra, Bennett, Dino; lots of muted trumpet. The music is an integral part of the atmosphere, as it should be. The selections may be cliché, but I can’t imagine Five Finger Death Punch rattling these windows.
I order the risotto, which is simple and fantastic. Spinach, wild mushrooms, a little cheese: the perfect counterpoint to this rainy weather.
My Italian waiter keeps a little gold-colored table crumber in his apron, a sort of tongue depressor bent long ways that is used to brush bread crumbs from the linen tablecloth. The first time that I saw one of these was shortly after we moved to Los Angeles almost twenty-five years ago. I took a job at a record store just up the street from the real “Welcome to the Jungle” Greyhound station and just down the street from the Capitol Records tower. Occasionally my work buddy and I walked over to McDonald’s during our break. He would bring his own slice of cheese. We made so little selling records that a Mickey D’s cheeseburger was too pricey.
She, on the other hand, got a job at a white linen restaurant down on Melrose that we couldn’t afford to visit. I could barely imagine a restaurant so classy that special implements were needed to remove the crumbs from the tablecloths. I imagine that they played their share of Sinatra, Bennett, and Dino, too. She brought carpaccio home once. I’d never seen parmesan cheese that didn’t come from a green can.
I shouldn’t talk about her, but it’s raining and the risotto is delicious and the goombah music is playing while the waiter tidies up with his fancy table crumber. Twenty-four years, six months, and one rainy night later I’m inside the white linen restaurant, not scrounging for pocket change at the McDonald’s near the Greyhound station. But these stories are best saved for another day, after you’ve met her. Another day, but soon.