little italy

Paradiso Regained

December 13, 2021

   So there’s a joke that goes, God grants you one more day on earth and says it can be about anything you want. You say, “I want to learn how to make pasta, eat at an Italian restaurant and then stay over at a cute pension in Little Italy.”

  I know, it’s not very funny, or even funny at all. Maybe instead of a joke. I should recast it as a Last Wish. Either way, it happened to me, and I’m still here and alive to tell about it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that

   San Diego is about a 90-minute drive from home, yet it is another example of feeling like being in a completely different place but still close to home. A harbor with a floating museum of tall ships, uber-yachts and WWII vessels, a downtown of distinct neighborhoods, a docile homeless population and a surprisingly vibrant Little Italy – and all within walking distance from a sweet boutique hotel offering a slice of San Diego’s skyline.

pasta making class
Francesco shows me the way

   Our pasta making class wasn’t until 2 p.m., so we got to town with enough time for a quick drive around, then a leisurely lunch close enough to the pasta class that we could drain our margaritas (or beer in my case) and just saunter across the street for the lesson. The Mexican restaurant’s recommendation came with a seeming caveat that it catered to the gay community, which only added to the ambiance of the place for us. Then across the street with a full belly to learn how to make pasta.

But mozzarella is mozzarella and so is marinara sauce. As long as it comes from the working hands of at least second and third generation paisanos, I’m ordering the veal.

You see? I’m not as think as you smart I am

   Within the first minutes of the lesson, our host and instructor Francesco Guardini, had pointed to the probable cause of my previous failures to produce a pasta that didn’t glob up in the machine. A 50-50 mix of white flour and semolina was necessary for the proper outcome. By the end of the lesson, Carol and I had produced robust strands of fettuccine and spaghetti that were complemented with Francesco’s own bolognese sauce, providing a delightful afternoon repaste to set up an evening in S.D.’s authentic Little Italy.

I ordered the veal; it cut like buttah

   We celebrated Happy Hour with room wine, and then set out for a promenade of San Diego Little Italy’s main drag along India St. New York City’s Mulberry St., by contrast, runs longer but really is a series of interlocking family eateries whose blood feuds created competing pizzerias. Philadelphia’s Italian Market is guarded by whatever remaining mob family has most of its members out on parole. Here in San Diego, the restaurants and pizzerias opted for a more boutique arrangement of trendy decor or period furnishings. But mozzarella is mozzarella and so is marinara sauce. As long as it comes from the working hands of at least second and third generation paisanos, I’m ordering the veal.

   Dinner was preceded by an unplanned pub crawl that included a New Zealand-themed eatery with high ceilings and retro spigots, and a gabled two-story Victorian wine bar, where Carol learned I’m not the know-it-all Trivia Pursuit genius I’d made myself out to be. (It might have been the wine by then, however.)

   We were asked to leave our restaurant, not because of any rowdiness or anti-vax stupidity on our part, but because they were closing for the night.

   How about a hand for a couple of septuagenarians out on the town and closing joints down!

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