We were on our way to Kay & Dave’s Cantina. Nothing fancy - it’s just a neighborhood place. There’s a new location on Pico near the Westside Pavilion, but two restaurants (maybe it’s three) doesn’t make it a chain. It is neither gourmet nor authentic, but respectable enough in its healthy approach to Mexican food. Kay & Dave’s is a restaurant that I would recommend to someone else, one that I wouldn’t be embarassed about saying “I ate there.”
We pulled into a very rare, lucky parking spot on 26th, across the street from the restaurant. From the car, I could see the glow shining through Kay & Dave’s carved out sign over the door. I could make out customers’ heads inside some leaning over tables, some bent backward in laughter, or respite between bites of the giant Kitchen Burrito. I could see silhouettes of anxious diners waiting on the sidewalk out front. Kay & Dave’s is a popular place because it’s a good, solid restaurant.
As we walked along the sidewalk toward the restaurant, something came over me. It was a strange feeling, not because I haven’t felt something like a craving before, but because I didn’t want to believe I was having it. Sometimes we get cravings. Sometimes the cravings are even “weird,” but they have a plausible, excusable explanations. I kind of want to eat a pint of Haagen Dazs strawberry and a bag of microwave popcorn. Together. That’s a plausible craving we get every 28 days.
But this was a different feeling – not a trashy craving driven my hormones, not a luxurious taste tipped off by some unintentional glimpse of decadent food porn. I felt an overwhleming sense of…nostalgia, and yet it was for something that I’ve never associated with my childhood. I wanted to eat a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.
Good old fashioned Italian-American, red-and-white checked, Chef Boyardee meatballs on-top-of spaghetti drowning in, not tossed with, but drowning in, spicy sweet generic jarred not-marinara Ragu spaghetti sauce, a tiny ivory mountain taking shape from a a shower of pre-grated krafty parmesan cheese.
Health Mex was just steps away. A whole row of Italian restaurants just up the street along San Vicente could serve regional Mario Batali-esqe Italian food from marinated white anchovies to carpaccio with arugula and real Parmigianno-Reggiano to caciucco Livornese.
And all I wanted was spaghetti and meatballs. We stopped.
I had my hand on his arm. I squeezed it, looking first at him, then at the sign above the door in front of which we stopped. Should we…? Could we…? I mean, we wouldn't have to tell anyone. Do we dare...?
At this point, I can’t remember if seeing the sign for Louise’s Trattoria, right next door to Kay & Dave’s had somehow stimulated my subconscious appetite, or if it had just been some embarrassing coincidence that Louise’s was in our path when the craving came out of nowhere. It doesn’t matter now, though, really, does it?
We went into Louise’s Trattoria.
*hangs head in utter shame*
Had it been any other night, I wouldn’t have even noticed that Louise’s Trattoria was there, right next to Kay & Dave's. Or, perhaps, I would have noticed it, mumbled something about “McSpaghetti Factory,” and snickered as we walked past it. Louise’s? *rolleyes* Oh, please.
I hate myself.
But not because we ate at Louise’s *she rabbit ears on either side of her head and leans forward slightly as she bends her two fingers in quotes* “Trattoria,” as if “trattoria” elevates it in some way out of the trailer trash excuse for Italian food that it is.
I hate myself for that. For unsubstantiated food snobbery. For thinking Louise’s beneath me. For being too embarrassed to admit that I ate there because what kind of food blogger eats at the Italian equivalent of Denny’s?!?! For initially writing about Louise’s as a “confession,” as if it were some sort food lover’s cardinal sin to eat at *gasp!* a chain.
Oh god, I hate myself.
There is nothing wrong with eating at Louise’s Trattoria. We walked in, perhaps a tad hesitantly for our own reasons as decribed above. Immediately, the host welcomed us, invited us to sit down anywhere (though there were only two tables free), and we forgot all our silly snobby notions for his warmth. This particular location in Brentwood is small, which explains why it always looks so full from the outside, but the space is not cramped. It is clean, bright, and decorated in such a way that the décor doesn’t matter. Though tables are covered with white tablecloths and small candles that disappear into the overhead lighting, the vibe is weekday casual. Most importantly, Louise’s Trattoria feels comfortable. The lone server, a Goliath of a man who seemed far too big for such a small space and looked as though he could have served the entire restaurant just standing in one place, came by and greeted us with a smile and a voice that belied his size.
The menu at Louise’s is less like an Italian-American like Buca di Beppo or Maggiano’s, and more like Cheesecake Factory Lite. Appetizers are heavy on seafood with an Ahi Tuna Wrap, Shrimp Scampi, Fried Calamari, and Crabcakes; the salad section looks like an abridged version of CPK. Hell, all of those restaurants’ menus are variations of the same thing. We started with a Stuffed Portobello Mushroom. When it came to the table, I was mildly taken aback by its appearance – the mushroom was buried beneath a haphazard hash of vegetables that were muddied by an overly sweet balsamic dressing. It wasn’t outstanding by any stretch of the imagination, but truth be told, I wasn’t paying it much attention. All my energies were very narrowly focused on the bread.
I know I shouldn’t be embarrassed by this, but I can’t help but be ashamed that I was head over heel
s for the Focaccia Bread at Louise’s Trattoria. It was warm, chewycrisp (one word) on top and bottom, soft in the middle, dripping with oil, salty and fragrant with herbs. They can’t bake it fresh in the restaurant. Even if they bake it fresh, it probably comes as frozen dough to the restaurant from some central Louise’s distribution warehouse. I don’t care. I can't believe I fawn over chain restaurant bread. *sigh*
The spaghetti and meatballs were nothing extraordinary. The pasta was al dente. The sauce was sweet. The meatballs were meaty and ballsy. We absolutely said “yesyesyes” when offered grated parmesan cheese. We slurped through a shallow, shared bowl, and yes, Louise’s Trattoria is one of those cheesy places where we could have had a Lady & the Tramp moment. We didn’t. But we could have. But we didn’t, okay?!?
Our server was so sweet and so sincere about the tiramisu, we couldn’t help but order it. It was pretty bad as far as tiramisu goes, though – sparse ladyfingers, mostly whipped cream, not even the faintest hintof a coffee flavor. But hell if we didn’t finish the whole damned thing.
I wouldn’t be stringently opposed to going back to Louise’s Trattoria if ever an odd, immediate hunger for spaghetti and meatballs were to strike again. There is no shame in enjoying not-horrible food at a humble chain. Why should there be? In fact, why should anyone ever feel any sort of indignity about anything they eat, as long as it tastes alright? Why does it have to be a “confession?” Why are we “admitting” that we ate something or somewhere?
Why should you feel like you have to come out of the culinary closet? You should never feel like you were in there in the first place.
264 26th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90402
Who Else (*gasp!*) Ate at Louise's Trattoria?
Daily Gluttony: When Olive Garden beats you out, you know you suck (Oct 2005)
** a year ago today, ordering in chinese restaurants is a full contact sport **