Dinner for three. Spinasse.
Earlier my grandfather descended on me, sort of unexpectedly, but yet not quite. I knew he would be here, I just didn't know when, or for how long, and when the phone rang to say that they were nearly here it took me about five minutes flat to shove all the mess and disorder that accumulates when I am left to my own devices into various closets and drawers and finish my late-afternoon snack. I head upstairs to say hello, and a fog of cigarette smoke has already formed in the one-bedroom pied-à-terre my family owns several floors above me. (Ostensibly it was purchased for my parents to use when they visited, but it evolved into my uncle's personal crash-pad, fitted with a large flat-screen tv and various iPod accoutrements, the cupboards filled with his wine and beer and soy milk, the freezer bursting with favored snacks). For dinner my uncle suggests Spinasse, where I had eaten so well last week, and we head over there to grab a quick meal.
It is rather busier than last time, the tables all booked, three of the eight seats at the bar already occupied. The chef remembers me from last time, and says hello, as does the waiter who served me when I was here. There is already a large party at the long table; the host looks familiar, and I wonder who he is. But I have my own worries, which is whether my grandfather will like this place. I had forgotten how critical he could be, how he prefers the Spanish jamón Serrano to the Italian prosciutto di Parma; how he likes mozzarella-and-tomato salad, but loathes parmiggiano-Reggiano sprinkled on his pasta. Too late now. He approves of the rabbit pâté crostini, but not the one spread with fresh ricotta. I take another gulp of wine, and order the tajarin with ragú and a green salad for my grandfather, ravioli (with rapini and pine nuts) for myself, some prosciutto with melon, and the tajarin with roast lamb shoulder to follow for my uncle.
My grandfather does not like the salad (which in my mind is perfect, only lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil), nor does he like the prosciutto. Whoops. Luckily he finds the bread acceptable, good, even. My uncle is enjoying his pasta, fortunately, because otherwise I would be a nervous wreck. The dining room behind us becomes more and more packed; we are eating with our elbows bumping with every bite, and the din is terrific. As the kitchen becomes busier and busier, the chef's hair gets messier and messier. I wonder if by the end of the night it will all be standing on end, and resolve to ask him next time I come in. There are no more seats at the bar; one guy is standing and talking to a friend with a glass of wine (eventually he orders some pasta, and eats standing up), and three more people are leaning against the wall with their drinks, waiting their turn.
Our second courses arrive, and my grandpa would be pleased with his tajarin if only they had not sprinkled it with cheese. He feels that my ravioli was likewise ruined by its own dusting of cheese, but in my mind it is just perfect, the nutty savoriness of the cheese contrasting with the tender golden pasta, the slight bitterness of the rapini (also, I believe, known as broccoli rabe), the sweetness of pine nuts. My uncle offers a bite of lamb shoulder, tender and rich and juicy, heady with garlic and herbs on a bed of chard and possibly chickpeas, or garbanzos (I can never tell which they are). We finish our meal and head home, and I decide that in the future, I will remember to order pasta for my grandfather without cheese, even if the waiter thinks me insane.