“Unemployed” is such an ugly term. That very negative "un-" in front makes it sound as though not being employed is horrible. Who on earth would want to be *gasp!* unemployed?!? You’re unemployed? That’s too bad, I’m so sorry.
Too bad? Please. Why are you sorry that I’m not working 90 hours a week making pennies for myself, but billions for my boss? Why wouldn’t I want to wake up naturally every morning from sunlight tickling my eyes open instead of bolting upright at the shouted behest of NPR on my radio alarm clock? (Not that NPR is bad, but the latest news about Iraq set at 170 decibels at 6 am is.) Why on earth would anyone want to *gasp!* be employed by someone else rather than strolling through the farmers market, flipping through cookbooks, baking cupcakes, searching for my seoul, and obsessively planning the phased rollout of an amazing Thanksgiving dinner in Microsoft Project? *whoa* That was scary. I couldn’t have been eliminated at a better time.
I like being unemployed, and really, the word should be erased from our vocabulary and replaced with, oh, I don’t know, freedom, maybe? I’m collecting f**king Freedom checks. In fact, it’s so much freedom that I don’t have to do anything. Freedom checks come to me in the mail :)
But as much as I believe that being fettered to a cubicle desk with Ps and Ls, employment, as it were, is a fate worse than being an oaky, woody chardonnay shackled to a termite nest, there are a few downsides to unemployment. I kind of miss my co-workers. Well, some of them. Okay, three. Especially now, reminiscing about one of our meals at Il Grano. Sure, it’s not like someone can’t pick up the phone and make a call or send out an email in rapid-fire, but it’s not the same as...sending an Outlook meeting request. LOL!
Il Grano is a place that I’ve passed many times in my travels along Santa Monica Boulevard. I always notice it, but it never poked me in a way that made me think “I want to get to know you, in that way.” The outside is very plain and unassuming, and for a long time, the sign was bleeding rust from the nails that held it to the wall down the front, making it look somewhat ghetto. But if you’ve learned anything at all from Dad’s lectures at the dinner table about the origins and contextual explanations of American sayings, it’s that you should never judge a book by its cover, nor a restaurant by its storefront. Aren’t you proud of me for knowing how to apply that, Dad? ;)
The interior decor is quiet, as is the atmosphere. I immediately hushed to my indoor indoor voice upon walking through the front door. At the host’s stand up front, there is a large wide glass bowl filled with tomatoes in full Technicolor, in every permutation of monochrome, striped, mottled, perfectly sperical, teardrop, and lumpy bumpy. I couldn’t help but reach out and touch them, and the host said that the chef grows them in his personal garden. We followed the host through the mostly white, glass, and dark wood dining room to our table. People at tables around us were a bit more mature, more sophisticated, and all leaning in over their tables just a few degrees more than normal to chat. Everyone, that is, except two Mystic-tanned Guidos in a booth in the back corner shouting, not to each other, but into their cell phones. Producers? Real estate agents? Mafia? It wasn’t difficult to eavesdrop, but I tuned them out.
We ordered three different salads to start. Figs were on the menu as part of a frisee salad and like anchovies and bacalao, if they are on the menu, they must be ordered. But I hesitated because I remembering hearing Mario utter the word “speck,” but couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was. I was afraid it might have been one of the many strange fatty animal organs that Mario rhapsodizes about on his show. I, however do not eat organs (at least, not knowingly). But not to worry, since the server chuckled as he explained that speck is a type of dry, cured pork similar to prosciutto, but better, he encouraged me. He didn’t have to. Cured pork and figs? Bring it.
While waiting for our food to arrive, a server brought to each person tiny pudgy loaves of bread that had been pulled on opposite sides to perfect diamond points. They looked like Christmas ornaments that had been decorated with salt, pepper and grains. I tore through the crunchy outside that was so thick it required a surprising bit of muscle. The inside was soft and airy, full of enormous holes. I swear, I wanted to shove a couple of them into my purse to steal home, but I didn’t. I was with co-workers.
The three salads were beautiful. Lightly dressed lettuce was a bed for slender wedges of sweet white peaches that were surprisingly firm for how naturally sweet they were. I thought the dressing made of peach puree was a little much, and thought that something more herbal might have been a better accomplice. The heirloom tomato salad displayed thin wedges and tiny hemispheres of tomatoes in colors ranging from an innocent ivory to pale yellow, from light off-green to orange to a mottled mix of the two, to bright cherry red. They were all very different in flavor and delicious, but the star of the plate was a glistening white dome
of creamy, soft, sensuous burrata. Delicious.
Skate in lobster sauce was one of our main dishes. Unless skate has a somewhat soft, crusty texture on the surface rather than a slippery smoothness like most other fish flesh, it had been dipped in either flour or cornstarch (I think) before pan-frying. It was laid out over a pile of tiny colorful vegetables, like a swatch of velvety golden ivory wide wale cordouroy. Some of the vegetables were like I had never seen before. I had to ask the server if the cauliflower had been stained yellow by turmeric and how on earth broccoli could have been dyed purple, but he said those were their natural colors. Wow, good job, Mother Nature. Pristine white baby turnip (maybe it was a radish), tiny golden and midnight purple potatoes, all of the vegetables; they were cooked to the perfect crispness.The skate was tender, and alone, tasted lightly seasoned with salt, but with a sweep through the lobster sauce that only hinted at the crustacean, it was delicious. There were giant pieces of lobster trying to camouflage themselves against the colorful vegetables, but we picked them out right away. I don’t love lobster (I know, I know, geez, do I like anything?!) but my co-worker does, so it was a perfect working relationship – I eat all the vegetables and he eats all the lobster. Did I jet gypped in this exchange? I don’t think so. Purple broccoli didn’t taste like grapes. Now that was a gyp. LOL!
Our second entree was eggplant tortellini. Five plump tortellini were set upright in a puddle of marinara, leaning against each other breathless after a raucous romp tumbling all over each other in a rolling boil. The pasta was thicker than what I would have expected, even for a pasta holding together a filling, but the thickness made it all the more impressive that it was so incredibly soft. The filling, though tasting strongly of eggplant, was light and airy in texture, and didn’t have the roasted smokiness that often accompanies eggplant. A single tortellini had to be eaten in at least two bites, maybe even three, and each one, with a bit of the sauce clinging to the pasta, was like a soft, Italian summer. Never been to Italy, and I don’t know exactly how summer could be soft, but it just sounds so right for Il Grano’s eggplant tortellini.
The meal’s finale was two desserts. The peach napoleon was a purposefully disheveled stack of flaky pastry, wafer-thin wedges of blushing golden peaches, and a dollop of sweetened mascarpone that was oozing out of one side. It tasted good, but not as good as it looked.
The foursome of gelatos was highly anticipated, but unfortunately, it seemed that there had been a significant lag time between the kitchen’s plating and the server’s pickup. The tiny spheres of gelato, just barely bigger than a golfball, had already melted by almost a third. The now gibbous moons of peanut butter, coffee, vanilla and pistachio gelatos were slipping into the corners of each of their respective squared off sections of a four-sectioned glass dish, leaving the whole presentation wholly discombobulated. Vanilla was vanilla, coffee was a bit more interesting, but it was the peanut butter and the pistachio flavors that got my attention. I don’t love peanut butter, which is part of the reason. But moreso, if I had been introduced to peanut butter first in the form of this subtly sweet, only faintly peanut buttery, creamy cold concoction, I would have declared my love for it long ago. Pistachio too, surprised me, since I had expected some gaudy green that was made overly offensive neon to make up for the lack of pistachio flavor. However, the pistachio gelato (or at least, the half-gelato, half-soup) was such a light, pale green that wouldn’t have distringuished it much from the others on the plate except that it had a pistachio flavor that definitely made itself known.
The gelatos certainly tasted smooth, creamy-cold as gelato should. They were delicious in flavor alone. But Il Grano lost points for service lag time, which, I didn’t mention before, but had been a noticeable negative throughout our meal. We were seated at our table for a quite a long time before our server even acknowledged our presence, and the periods of time between his subsequent visits were long. Pouring drinks, dropping off menus, taking our order, and finally delivering each of the dishes to our table...it all took a very long time. Because I was with work friends, I didn’t mind as much since we were gossiping away about the office and it gave us a good excuse for taking a two-plus hour lunch.
Wow. I can take a two hour lunch every day now. In fact, I wake up...for lunch :)
11359 Santa Monica Boulevard (@Corinth)
Los Angeles, CA 90025