Saturday, March 17, 2007

Eating out. La Spiga.

I hate working on weekends. No, that's not true; I love the solitude, the quiet. (Not entirely alone. A co-worker is on hand as well). I have time to catch up on paperwork, to take care of all sorts of small tasks that I don't have time for during the week. And I treat myself by eating out. On Sundays I head to the pub down the street for a burger or spicy pork tacos or wiener schnitzel, and I spend Saturday thinking about what I will order for lunch the next day. But Saturday nights I often head to La Spiga, which I have written about before, many times, and will again, many times, because I try to eat there as often as possible. Like Vi Bacchus, the Japanese restaurant that now occupies the old La Spiga space (three blocks from my home), it has become a place I can stop on my way home from work (six blocks) for dinner before walking the rest of the way home.

It is only 5:30 but the tables are all booked for later in the evening, so I take a seat at the bar, so tired that I order mineral water instead of wine. The owner is sitting at the far end of the dark wooden bar, talking to some staff members before the evening rush begins. He is there every night; I have seen him sitting in the window before the restaurant opens (once, on a surprisingly warm day, the entire front window of the restaurant had been rolled up, like a garage door), and I have seen him chatting with customers or friends in one of the booths that line one side of the front room.

They used to only serve a limited menu at the bar, but now the full menu is available and I am dizzy with indecision. Should I order a starter? A pasta, or a main course, or both? A wild tangle of tagliatelle, or the lasagne I had last time, or a filetto of beef? I perch (ungracefully) on my stool and watch the two bartenders move around behind the bar, against the backdrop of a bank of gleaming espresso machines and an endless wall of wine bottles beyond that. There are bottles of whiskeys and scotches and vodkas and liquers and digestifs and aperitifs and rows of stemware, hanging from the rack above my head as well as along the shelves; the bartender moves away to mix drinks for someone else as I decide what I want for dinner.

Finally I choose the grilled sausage with polenta, and a side dish of braised escarole. The sausages arrive piping hot, sliced in half and crusty from the grill; the golden triangles of polenta are crisp on the outside and creamy inside. The braised escarole is so tender it seems to melt before I have a chance to chew on it; it is a meal of contrasts, salty and crunchy and soft and creamy and every-so-faintly bitter. It is the perfect end to a long day, a brief moment of respite before the long week to come. But to make it complete I need dessert. The other bartender recommends the rhubarb crostata, and I order it, the memory of Serious pie.'s rhubarb crostata lingering from that dinner a few weeks before. La Spiga's is different, more like a French tart than the homely turnover I'd had at Serious pie. It has a scoop of brown sugar gelato melting into the warm fruit, sweet and tart and with that slightly caramelized taste of brown sugar against the buttery crispness of the crust.

I'll be back, soon.

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