I started cooking when I was 5. I didn’t have the fancy cooking classes that children today have, like those my friend Samantha Saffir Barnes teaches at the First Presbyterian Church Kitchen on Second Street. She has sessions this summer for kids on world food, Italian favorites and an all day buffet class that looks amazing. Her classes are also mobile for parties. Her background is in education; she was a middle school teacher who has turned her passion for teaching children and cooking, into a vocation. She even has a school enrichment program. There’s a wealth of information on her programs at www.kitchenkid.com and if I was a parent looking for summer activities, this is one that I’d sign my child up for.
I write all this because cooking has been a source of great joy and satisfaction to me in times of plenty, and as an outlet for stress in times of chaos. I learned the old fashioned way, at my mother’s apron strings. My mom would make me learn to identify spices by smell. As a young lad I was expected to learn my way around the kitchen. Those were lessons that I cherish. The tips and techniques I learned as a child have stayed with me to this day, and I will always be grateful for what my mother taught me in the kitchen.
As a young man, I learned the food business from both the front of the house by waiting tables, and the back of the house, which includes the management side of cost accounting, inventory, payroll and marketing. Before becoming a divorce lawyer, I worked my way through law school doing small business turnarounds. I would go in to a distressed restaurant and begin to find the leaks and the losses to shore up the company. That job put me in some wonderful restaurants, and some where I wouldn’t drink the coffee.
Once you’ve had a good restaurant experience, and seen behind the curtain that separates the dining room from the kitchen, you can’t go back and forget what quality is.
Santa Monica is home to great restaurants, and depending on the mood you are in and what type of food you want, we have wonderfully unique fine dining. There is a wide selection of cuisine, and the wealth of one-off and small chain restaurants allows us to experience the world, without leaving home.
I had one of those experiences a couple of weeks ago. I was looking for a place that had a quiet atmosphere, quality food and good service. It was a beautiful Sunday and I was contemplating the week ahead. As I drove down Montana Avenue, I found Vincenzo Ristorante at Montana and Seventh. This delightful restaurant has about 12 tables. It is decorated in a dignified and classy manner, with each table having mini Derruta-style olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Entering the restaurant I am greeted by Vincenzo Nicoletta, chef and owner, who offers me a table and a menu. His hardworking staff almost immediately bring me piping hot bread. It sets the tone for the rest of my meal; great attention to quality and a focus on the customer. I order a three color salad and a pappardelle in a bolognese sauce. The salad of rugola, radicchio and endive is presented like a piece of food art, highlighting the distinctive colors of each component. My pasta is served perfectly al dente and accents the meaty goodness of the bolognese.
The smell of a well made sauce, gravy as mom used to call it, brings back a flood of memories and feelings. Enjoying my dinner I am reminded of my childhood cooking on a cold winter morning with mom when she would take some random spice from the rack and make me identify it by smell alone.
Sitting and enjoying the dignified air of Vincenzo Ristorante is a great respite from the chaotic and hectic traffic of life in Santa Monica. Vincenzo himself comes over to inquire if all is well. We chat for a few minutes about the food, my iPad, and life. It’s the little touches like this, that make it such a special spot.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.