Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eating out. Tutta Bella.

I found myself in my old neighborhood today, scanning the shelves of the used bookstore I discovered last week, finding little presents and other treasures in another store we had recently found after a dinner in one of the restaurants that have sprung up in this newly bustling neighborhood. Everything is contained within a few short blocks; go farther and the neighborhood becomes forbidding again; go the other way and you are among mini-malls and giant grocery stores and video rental places. But here you have a bright, crowded diner with clean, modern furniture and updated American cuisine, a great little pub squeezed between funky little shops and art galleries, various barbecue joints, a restaurant that serves Caribbean-Creole food, and one of the best bakeries in town. And then there is Tutta Bella.

It used to be an Italian café owned by a lesbian couple who also owned a slightly more upscale Sicilian restaurant down the street. When one of them had an affair (so the gossip went), the relationship - both personal and professional - ended, and each partner took one restaurant. The café closed, which left us nowhere to eat Sunday brunch. It was with considerable relief that we welcomed the opening of Tutta Bella, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria with a gigantic wood-fired oven and some of the best tiramisu I have ever had. Nowadays it is crowded and impossible to get a table, but anyway, I don't live here anymore.

This is my kind of pizza, thin-crusted, barely slicked with tomato sauce and adorned with a few well-chosen ingredients. They use imported San Marzano tomatoes; the cheese is Grana Padano. There is fresh mozzarella and ricotta, and locally-made sausage. There are over a dozen kinds of pizza, and I am sure that I have tried them all, each one more delicious than the next. The one I choose today has thinly sliced ham and basil leaves, dabs of ricotta and fine web of the aforementioned Grana Padano. Mostly families come here; there has been an influx of young children in the neighborhood. I am the previous generation, the one that has grown up and moved out. But it is a Saturday afternoon, and I am relaxing with my pizza and a mystery novel (purchased at the used bookstore down the street). I have no room for dessert, and take a piece of tiramisu to go.

At the next table, a father has a leisurely lunch with his two sons, getting up at one point to lead one of the boys to the bathroom. Daddy, why do men and women have different bathrooms? says a boy. Well, at home they share a bathroom, responds the father, a man somewhere in his forties or fifties. He sounds English. But boys can be a bit messy in the bathroom. Unable to keep a straight face, I gather up my belongings and head out, barely suppressing my laughter until I am back out on the sidewalk. Later, I eat my tiramisu, creamy and fluffy and soaked with espresso, sitting crosslegged on my living-room floor, with high-rise buildings outside instead of trees and views of water and mountains, past and present colliding. I live here now.

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