Friday, October 3, 2014

Walking into Sunset, Con't.

 Patty’s car was wedged tight in the last space she could find, a long block from the restaurant, and she wondered how on earth she’d get out again when the night was over. A sharp tap on the window drew her out of her reverie: it was David, bending towards her, as handsome as a man had ever been, holding an umbrella as he waited for her to unlock the door of her little coupe. She smiled and did so, and he opened the door for her, helping her out with a gentle arm under her elbow, and making sure she was sheltered, at his own expense.

 “Thanks,” she said. “Well, still raining. I guess.” Brilliant conversation, Patty, keep going and this will be a very short night.

“I’m sorry our gorgeous walk at the lake didn’t come off. We’ll do it next weekend, even if it’s chilly. Maybe Saturday afternoon, if you’re free?”

He was already talking another date— not terrible to hear. It calmed her a little more.  

“I’d love it. But I have to admit something— I don’t like calamari. In fact, I don’t eat any seafood. Didn’t want to be a pain, though.”

 He adjusted the umbrella to cover them both perfectly, and started walking her towards the gargantuan gold and black doors of Olivio’s. “They also have the best Chicken with sage, artichokes, and Spaghetti Aglio E Olio you can imagine, I promise. There’ll be some incredible dish you’ll never forget— unless you don’t like Italian.” He looked at her, smiling deep, from his eyes, and Patty felt a little too charmed all at once— a gooey-good, scary feeling.

“Amo italiano; e` il cibo degli dei,” Patty purred in almost perfectly accented Italian.

David’s smile broadened, hearing her. “Sono d’accordo,” he replied, “It is food for divine beings, as
I’m sure our host would agree. I’ve known him 30 years, and he’s probably going
to ply us with so many antipasti we won’t have room for secondi, much less the
contorni his daughter will insist on providing."
 David’s prediction turned out to be true. Olivio, a slim and gracious but very stubborn man, absolutely refused to let them wait in the bar for their table, bringing them instead to his special tasting table in the kitchen, where he poured glass after glass of a deliciously tart and bitter cocktail for them and the several other people that had paid actually paid for the privilege of being spoiled by the owner-chef. The antipasti were a feast unto themselves— cold artichokes in spiced oil and hot ones cloaked lightly in the crispiest breading; buttery soft sliced meats, fruits stuffed with an herby cheese filling, peppers fresh and roasted, and sauteed tiny baby squid flecked with coarse salt and sprinkled with lemon--  that was before the pasta even arrived. Luckily, their private table was ready by then— Patty wasn’t sure she could manage even a single bite each of the several kinds of pasta Olivio was tossing together for his delighted guests in the kitchen.

 Their own booth was cozy, almost secluded, in a sort of pocket off to one side of the large fireplace that dominated the main room of the restaurant. Patty sat back against the deep fabric of the banquette and watched David scanning the menu.   

 “That was— an experience.” she said.

He looked up, eyes twinkling in the candlelight. “It was. It always is, with Olivio. He started as only a dishwasher here. Watched and learned, nagged his grandmother for cooking tips, begged his way into pasta prep, and just went from there.”

 “So it wasn’t always called Olivio’s?”  

“No. It wasn’t even a fine restaurant then, just a pasta and pizza place— one of those good old red sauce & chianti joints, with the checked tablecloths, you know? Tony’s Tomato Pie, I think it was called. My family used to come here then for birthday parties. But when Tony wanted to move to Florida and retire, he offered Olivio a great deal, and Olivio decided to make it over from the ground up. It’s good location, and he kept all the staff that wanted to stay— and most of the old customers, too.”

“That’s amazing! He is a fantastic cook.” She only hoped she’d make it through dinner while still retaining her ability to walk.

 “He is,” David said, but he must have read her mind, because he took her hand and squeezed it, adding “And I’ve found it’s wise, with Olivio's cooking, to practice the fine art of doggy-bagging. Otherwise I’d be wearing a suit at least three sizes bigger by now.”

 Patty relaxed her hand against his, enjoying the feel of it; he held on loosely, she noticed, but didn’t let go till their wine arrived.  

 It was a wonderful meal. The pasta came in a sauce both light and subtle, with accompanying vegetables Patty would have loved to get the recipe for. She and David chatted easily about jobs and cats, their long-gone college days, and the troubles of being a homeowner vs a renter, all the while drinking in each other’s presence as they sipped a superb Pinot Grigio. He made her laugh out loud at least a dozen times during a certain story about a boyhood attempt at pancake-making gone horribly wrong, and there was definitely a strong current flowing between them by the time they’d finished their main course.
 Olivio visited their table just once, to bring a palate cleansing sorbet, and  the perceptive chef must have sensed they had more than food on their minds, because he sent over only two desserts more than they’d ordered, along with small snifters of Frangelico to go with their espresso. When the extras worth taking were wrapped up for them, Patty was sure it was enough for several more meals. Olivio himself came to see them out, hugging them warmly, each in turn. “Make sure you bring her back soon, Davide,” he told her date seriously, “or you only get one pasta dish from now on.”  

David nodded without hesitation, Patty was happy to see. “We’ll be in before the month is up, if she agrees,” he promised, taking her hand. Finally they left, stashing the take-home bag in Patty’s car.


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