I thought I had interrupted a family party and perhaps I had, but mentioning Roberto Grasso’s name seemed to have a magic effect and suddenly I was a member of the family.
The young waiter approached, a big smile on his face.
“Something to drink, Signor?”
I hadn’t time to look at the menu so I simply replied, “A glass of chianti would be nice.”
“House,” the young waiter asked, then paused, “or do you have something specific in mind?”
For all the wrong reasons and for all the right reasons I answered, “House,” and added, “of course!”
The young waiter brightened, took his hand out from under his apron (what’s up with that?), turned on his heel and marched into the kitchen barking something in Italian which sounded to me like “He want’s the house! We don’t kill him. Yet.”
The kitchen cheered in approval.
Presently, the young waiter returned with a glass of house chianti which was quite dry, fruity and surprisingly good.
I took a sip, turned to the waiter and beaming said, “This is very nice.” The young waiter turned on his well-worn heel and marched back into the kitchen barking something in Italian which sounded to me like, “He’s OK. Not government.”
I sipped the chianti, observed the patrons in the restaurant for a while and finally took a look at the menu.
The menu was written in Italian.
Now, I know some Italian, like, just enough to get me beat up in most of Italy, but I’m not an expert. After my experience so far I was not about to ask for a menu in English, which they might not have, and, thus, betray my Federal employers, leading to a midnight drive to the marina and all sorts of Godfather things to follow.
No, in this situation I knew exactly what to do and I bided my time for the young waiter to return.
“Are you ready to order, Signore?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I’d like to start with the antipasto and a Caesar salad.”
“And for your main course?”
“What would you recommend?”
The question threw the young waiter for a loop but not for long, but he paused looking at me quizzically.
“What’s your favorite dish?” I said, “ That’s what I would like to have tonight. Your favorite.”
The young waiter shifted from foot to foot and I think he even blushed. He stammered but a assured him I wanted his opinion. Finally, he made his suggestion.
“Cannelloni Leonardo it is,” and with that I snapped the menu shut, handing it to the young waiter.
Young waiter paused, then observed, “Signor, if you would like another chianti may I recommend a carafe which would be less expensive than another glass or three.”
Immediately, I liked his style. Yes, bring me a carafe! Party on, Garth! I gave the Metallica sign and the young waiter crossed himself and backed into the kitchen, slowly.
Fellow traveller, I thought. Cool.
The carafe of House chianti arrived soon and slipped down a treat. I slouched in my chair and watched the diners in the restaurant eat, pay and leave. Eat, pay and leave. Eat, pay and leave. Eats, shoots and leaves.
My breadsticks were gone. My carafe was empty. The antipasto and salad were a dim memory. My dinner had not arrived.
Just as I downed the final dregs of my House chianti a shadow loomed over my table. I looked up to see a very older version of the young waiter. Possibly the young waiter’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. This man had wrinkles in his wrinkles, his eyes reflected the experience of several lifetimes. Also, he had a bulge under his apron, not that I usually look for such things, and I decided to be very still.
The old waiter looked at me and said, “Signor, I will be brief. We burned your dinner. There is no excuse for this. It is our fault. Your dinner burned. And, it appears that our chef has suffered a boating accident at the marina.”
I blinked. Not really wanting an explanation, but somewhat relieved that I hadn’t ordered the fish.
The old waiter continued, “Here is a carafe of House chianti on the House. No charge. Your dinner will be here soon, I hope, but, please, forgive us for this and, if you will, don’t mention this unfortunate situation for which we are personally apologetic to Roberto Grasso.”
It was no skin off my nose so I took the high road and said, “Oh, no problem, I’m having a delightful evening and, really, it’s no problem.” I was hungry enough to gnaw bark off a tree, although the wine had dulled my appetite somewhat.
I started in on the second carafe of wine.
It slipped down a treat and my adventure continued.