My good friend Molly Wizenberg who writes the My Cooking Life column in Bon Appetit magazine waxed lyrically about “my place” or “our place,” namely a restaurant you can call your own and order My Usual, Please.
Although I have several restaurants that I would like to call My Usual, I would like to write about a restaurant I would have liked to call My Usual. Alas, I don’t even know where this restaurant is or if it is still in business.
Over a quarter of a century ago in a galaxy far, far away a young Jedi Programmer was sent to California for training. The young Jedi seeking a hotel near the training center was thwarted by a Huge Convention in the city which sucked up all the available rooms or many miles around. The young Jedi found himself in a TravelLodge motel located centrally in what was then known as the “wrong side of town.” Undaunted (read that “idiotically”) the young Jedi befriended the owner of the motel and asked him for a recommendation for dinner, having exhausted the local fast food places, Denny’s and buffets.
Little Italian place. Down the street on the right. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Walk because there’s no parking.
Armed with local knowledge I set off in search of a "little Italian place" and, as I recall, I walked past it twice before I noticed the unpretentious red and white checkered window and small door emblazoned with stick-on letters: Leonar o’s.
Well, missing "d" or not, I was hungry. I had walked for half an hour looking for this place, there were good smells coming from somewhere (not from the bus driving by) so I went in.
The restaurant was small and surprisingly cozy for the middle of Los Angeles.
Candles flickered on small tables covered with red-and-white checked tablecloths. Couples occupied small tables while large, corner booths were filled with families. There was an excited babble of conversation and some kind of music (accordion?) played in the background.
As soon as I stepped across the doorway...
The conversation stopped. The music stopped. I think my heart stopped.
A young man with intense eyes and fidgety hands came up to me. His aforementioned intense eyes darting left and right asked in a whisper, “Can I help you?”
“Can I help you” is quite different from “Table for One?” or “Welcome to Leonardo’s” or even “Welcome to Leonar o’s.”
“Can I help you” was like I walked into the wrong place and perhaps I had.
Being the local idiot and not sensing any danger I blurted, “Bob from the TravelLodge recommended that I eat here. Table for one?”
The young man squinted and gave a puzzled look. “Bobe, bobe,” he said.
I interjected using my hands to describe how Big Bob was.
“Bob,” I said sweeping my hands around me and puffing my cheeks.
You see, Bob was a huge man. I estimate he weighed ten thousand pounds give or take a few pounds. Bob was seriously B.I.G.
As I gestured the young man squinted even more, took a step towards me, reached under his apron then. Suddenly. Stopped.
“Grasso,” he muttered, “Roberto Grasso?”
“Si,” I replied having no clue what I just said.
The young man turned away from me, raised his arms and shouted, “Roberto Grasso!”
The restaurant suddenly erupted in cheers and applause. Men got up from their tables and came over to me to shake my hand.
A lady scooted herself out of a booth, walked over to a small table near the kitchen and beckoned me to sit down.
Once I was seated the music resumed. The warm conversation resumed. And
My adventure had just begun.