Food is love and the passionate food scene in LA is part of what makes it feel like home. I sit at a table or order at a counter and chat with bartenders, waiters, chefs, managers or owners who all exhibit passion for the food on the menu. From the simplest take-out Panini shop to my favourite fancier sit-down place, who hosts Anthony Bourdain days later, I am feeding my soul not just my stomach – just like my mother and hers before.
They say you’re more satisfied by a meal you prepare than picking up prepared food, I think the same applies to any meal that’s crafted – whether by your own hands or not. One sunny afternoon I sit down to a late lunch at Hostario del Piccolo, a friends favourite and one of Venice Beach’s hot spots, serving small plates of quality Italian food with a distinctly Mediterranean taste that takes me back to my own family cooking.
I bypass the enticing wood fire pizzas and pasta’s – though I’m severely tempted by the squid ink pizza crust and pasta carbonara special I have to pass due to a dairy allergy. The restaurant manager and I end up discussing the menu and, after mentioning a few items that caught my eye, I order based on her suggestions.
With a buon-appetito the meal begins with an heirloom tomato stack reminiscent of ‘village salads’ standard on Greek islands – though we’re officially dining in Italy so the olives are Italian and there’s hearty bread croutons instead of feta cheese. Italian or Greek, tomato tomahto, I scoop up all traces of the quality olive oil before the next dish arrives.
A wonderful medley of roasted seasonal vegetables and octopus – the kind of dish that’s so simple yet relies on quality ingredients and precise cooking so the natural flavours can shine through.
It’s not until the final dish that I nearly give into the urge to look over my shoulder for my yiayia – surely her heart and gourmet cooking skills are behind this dish.
The pork itself imbued with such flavor that the chef must have stood my by yiayia’s side for years, learning by watching her put similar dishes together with ease. I swallow the mournful ache of missing her with the next bite and enjoy – this is love, not just food.
In loving memory of my yiayia November 16, 1926 – October 3 2012. To say you are dearly missed would be stating the obvious; one of the greatest gifts I ever received was you and it’ll be a lifelong love affair.