There’s this joint in Brentwood hidden away on a small curvy street just south of Sunset Boulevard that I’ve gone to a few times and though it’s food is always pretty much *eh*, I like it every once in a while because it’s close, it’s casual, and everyone there makes us feel so comfortably at home. I mean, that’s the way we feel about going home to Mama’s for dinner, sometimes, too, right? Right. And that’s the way it is with San Gennaro.
However, I had never been to the second location in Culver City. Why? If I live 30 seconds away from the Brentwood location, why would I drive all the way down to Culver City to eat the same thing? It’s like...why would I drive all the way to Santa Monica for Starbucks when there’s one?...Oh! right here! I wouldn’t. Actually, I would never drive anywhere for Starbucks. *gag*
But now I work here in Culver City and San Gennaro Café is just a short walk from the office, longer if I’m in business casual (read “heels”). I doubted I would ever stay through an evening to end up there for dinner, so I took up an offer to go for lunch. Hey! I (almost) never turn down a free lunch, even though my Dad always told me, there’s no such thing as free lunch. See Daddy? I didn’t forget! Now if I could only remember that damned Rule of 72...
San Gennaro Café lives on the corner of Culver Boulevard and Cardiff Avenue in the heart of downtown Culver City. The building is old brown brick, and looks a little like it belongs somewhere in New York. I’m sure they didn’t plan it that way, since there are several buildings on the block that have the same architecture, but it conveniently adds to their boast of “Genuine New York Italian Cuisine.” Except that out front, the patio sort of screams California with heatlamps for outdoor seating in the dead of winter, and white umbrellas emblazoned with palm tree silhouettes á la Malibu Rum.
If the building looks like New York, the patio like California, then the inside sort of feels like cheesy Miami in 1980. There’s a small, fully stocked bar with mirrored back walls and glass shelves that looks more like a basement rec room’s wet-bar. Just behind that, another relic from the basement rec room, a wall of wiry wrought iron wine shelves accessible from both sides. But the cheesiest part of all is the little old man sitting at a piano up front with a keyboard/synthesizer/organ thingie that he plays with his left hand to back himself up on the piano he plays with his right hand. All I can think of is Mel Torme. I don’t even know who or what Mel Torme is, but it seems to fit right in with the strange interior non-decor of seafoam green and pastel peach. It doesn’t get any cheeiser Miami Vice-ier than that.
From a corner booth all the way in the back, The Intern waved me over. His boss’s back was to me, and as he got up to turn around and greet me, I swear it was in slow motion with very strange symphonic music playing in the background (that synthesizer!). I sort of felt like a Dona in a New York Italian mobster movie. I am not kidding. The Boss and I shook hands in slow motion as the Intern looked on protectively. I slid into the booth in slow motion. A soundtrack. Slo-mo. It seriously felt like a mobster movie! But since I’m an Asian girl dressed in conservative business casual shaking hands with a soft, nerdy looking Boss in Dockers and button-down shirt, I’m sure it didn’t look like it to an outside observer. LOL!
We went through the usual chit-chat, mostly talking about our respective “jobs” and some idle chatter about the restaurant. The Boss had been here before. In fact, he and his boys are regulars. When they finish a long day, sometimes they come to San Gennaro. They have a glass of wine or two. They unwind. Then they go home. The Boss ordered a glass of wine and asked if I’d like? I politely declined. I’m here on business.
The menu at San Gennaro is the same in both locations – enormous selections of all kind of Italian - appetizers like various fritti and marinated antipastos, salads, pastas, even risotti, sandwiches, calzones, chickens and steaks that come breaded, grilled, doused in marinara, sausages, meatballs, New York pizza pies. Lots of tomatoes. Lots of parmesan. It’s all very New York Italian, just as it says.
Though the menu was open in front of me, I wasn’t really looking at it. I wanted to make sure neither my eyes nor my ears ever left the Boss. Okay, mostly it was because I already knew what I was getting. I poured a small quarter-sized puddle of balsamic vinegar onto my plate from a cheap, 20 year-old dispenser with greasy fingerprints on the scratched glass and a silver tip, then dipped a piece of the oily focaccia bread. A snack to keep my stomach quiet.
My usual is the chopped salad with salami. For lunch with the Intern and the Boss, I chose the more lady-like chicken. The Intern ordered a pizza, and the Boss had a very proper penne pasta. he had it his way – penne pasta with pesto, chicken, and what’s the fresh vegetable of the day? Broccoli. And no cheese. The Boss, it seems, always has everything his way.
The salad was the same as it always is. Fresh lettuce, though I had to wonder why the kitchen didn’t dry it off a little more. It certainly wasn’t due to lack of time, since there were but three or four groups having lunch. The water mixed with the olive oil and vinegar, and slipped right off the lettuce into a pool in the bottom of the bowl. But other than that, the salad was good.
The Intern’s pizza, a fairly thick, 45-sized disc that was piled so deep with toppings I couldn’t see the cheese, was good as well, though I didn’t take a bite. We don’t do that here. Share and take bites from everyone else’s plates. At least, not with the Boss at the table. I can only guess that the Boss’s pasta was acceptable for him since he ate every bite of the modest sized portion.
Somewhere during the meal, the Boss asked me about who I know. I gave him a name. He told me to call him. I did. The VP showed up a few minutes later, as he was c
onveniently already staked out at the coffee shop across the street. The VP didn’t join in the meal, but he and the Boss chatted over an end-of-lunch capuccino, and I joined in the conversation every once in a while. I only spoke when the Boss or the VP asked me to.
Lunch was pleasantly uncomfortable in an odd setting. The food was neither so bad nor so good that it deserved attention. It was just the backdrop to our little meeting. Perhaps I’d go back for lunch, but only if I don’t need to focus on the food. Otherwise, I’ll stay in Brentwood for dinner.