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La Grolla Restaurant on Cathedral Hill

I was casting about a little bit this Thursday evening.  I was thinking some of hitting an Italian restaurant I found online down by the Mall of America.  It seemed like a long way to go though for an unknown.  I found a couple of them in south Minneapolis but didn’t feel I had $ufficient fund$.  I needed to look a little under my own nose.  Just a little over two miles’ walk, up cathedral hill.  It was a beautiful night for a walk, with a promise of a good meal once there.

[This was published from my "Unfinished" folder.  Warning, bad grammer, trailing off sentances and mis spellings abound!]

So I can’t seem to catch a music show lately.  It just hasn’t worked out for me.  My lodging these days is too weird for having any sort of night life.  I am still living four nights a week 90 miles away in St. Paul working in a job I have come to hate.  But, paychecks being conducive to a happy family, I continue to attend.  I have a regular schedule of my drop in spots.  A lesbian with a spare bedroom in South Minneapolis. She needs a bathroom remodeled.  The Absent Minded Professor on Tuesdays.  I cook for him and leave the leftovers.  I made him a curry that got him laid!  —I am a welcome guest on his couch.  I alternate between two or three women’s couches that I found through couchsurfing.com.  No cash exchange, a guest is expected to provide good conversation and not leave a mess.  I am careful to do both.  These three have interesting stories of their own.  But Thursdays are often trouble.   

The Wife has been asking me about Italian restaurants lately.  We have been to every Indian place in a hundred and fifty miles.  She likes a little variety from time to time.  We found an outstanding one a couple of months ago.  I might go back and write about it some day.  I wanted to see if I could find another good experience for her.

The temperature was really perfect for walking.  Upper twenties, no wind.  By hiking right along I made great time and stayed plenty warm.  I did run across a couple of interesting things on the way.  The first was seeing the Red Bull, Crushed Ice, downhill ice skating track.  Wow!  Crazy!  Guys with skates traveling at a high rate of speed, going over jumps and around hairpin corners as they descend down from the course start which is half way up the big round window at the front of the cathedral.  I stopped to watch for a bit.  Very cool.  But I thought also, how interesting the church has evolved over the years to be so open minded to allow an event like this to happen.

The other thing I think deserves just a small note.  As I was walking I looked in a shop window and saw a hair stylist rotate a customer around in a chair to view the mirror.  The expressions on their faces were so comical.  He was eyebrows raised, mouth somewhat open, a look somewhere between horror and question on his face.  The hairdresser, looked nervous, a straight lipped baring of her teeth, waiting for the explosion.   I laughed and faced forward again.  I don’t know how it turned out.

I had a bout with success back quite a few years ago now.  I lived the life of fine dining often.  I knew how it worked, I knew the language of ordering in a nice place.  And really, that is a good thing.  You see because I am a rock fan.   You can all picture this right?  But here’s the deal, by Thursday night I have been for all intents and appearances living on the road for three days.  

I waited a long time for initial service.   Given may appearance I will cut them a bit of a break there.  

It is tight seating.  I was in a two up table with a fairly closely placed four up with two retirees sitting at it.   On the other side was a longer gap.  An early retirement looking couple.  She, snobbish, rear molars firmly together as she spoke.  He looked like he belonged on a yacht somewhere.  Grey hair, swept in the wind.  Across from them, a priest.  Ah… Father, out living off the parishioners, I see.  

It was interesting, sitting there alone.  Tuning into their two conversations.  One of the retirees had just bought a lake house.  He was a mention dollars guy.  He was telling the tail to his friend of subdividing it as he bought it.  Splitting off the carriage house so he only had to pay two and a half million for the place.  At another time in the conversation he was talking about some cost he had where I head him say “It was seven hundred thousand, which…” <pause><shrugs shoulders> “…is a fair amount of money”  And again when he was complaining his golf country club decided they needed a new club house and sent each member a bill for $30,000.    

I didn’t feel I would like their two chardonnay.   Just at the moment I can’t remember why.  Instead I ordered a pinot grigio.  The cheaper of the two they offered.  I think it was $8.  Not bad.  Light, really just what I was looking for.

During that aforementioned success I was a frequent diner in New York City.  While there, I discovered the most amazing thing.  At a *real* restaurant, a menu is a list of suggestions only.  Things guaranteed to be available for the asking.  The function of the waiter is someone who knows roughly what the kitchen contains and takes a message of what you are hungry for to the man or woman at the fire.

So I merely glanced at the menu.  What I wanted was angel hair pasta with a mix of puttanesca sauce and alfredo sauce, spice it up a bit, maybe some grilled chicken over the top or mixed in —which ever they though best.  I didn’t say “light on the sauce”, I think I should have.   Anyway, my waitress was confused.  I don’t think she had ever had someone who ordered off the menu before.  In her mind I should have been ordering something by name.  She said, “Uh well, we have _named item_ which is spagatti with puttanesca.  Do you just want a cup of alfredo sauce on the side?”  Oh dear.  She got the message to the kitchen anyway.  

On the other side of my table they mostly talked politics.  I was really disappointed to not hear who they favored.  They didn’t like Obama at all.  He sneered far too much for them.  I am quite positive they wouldn’t have liked my Bernie Sanders sign.  Priest with a martini at the next table molars Obama sneer.  Great thing about the Scalia funeral. 

The bread was very soft inside.  I really wish it had a little more body.  The outside crust was very crusty.  sharp and hard on the roof of my mouth.  I am still recovering here as I am writing on Sunday night.  The olive oil on the table, as dipping oil for the bread, was light, very, very fruity. I even wonder if it was herb infused.  Either way, I enjoyed it.  The smell was beautiful.  It brought out the herbs baked into he bread.  A perfect combination.  I was disappointed I only got four slices of bread and I really wish it had more chewiness. 

My food arrived fairly quickly.  It was way too saucy.  It was very salty.  The olives seemed bitingly so on top of all the rest of it.  …I forgave them of course.  They are olives.  I love kalamata olives!   The pasta was done perfectly al dente.  It had a great flavor.  The chicken was mixed in and really drowning in the sauce.  But very tender and the flavor itself was good.

I would have loved, loved …actually physically loved, a cup of coffee.  But that would keep me awake until four am, easily.  I could *not* go there.  I so miss that from the dining experiences of my youth.

I have to call out one complement specifically.  The guy who was filling the water glasses was great.  He was there often, kept my glass topped up.  It was like he was one of those people who don’t push any air in front of him when he walks.  He would just appear, fill my glass.  Offer a short bow and he was gone.  You know it is these very small things that make a dining experience what it is.  The things you don’t really notice.  A small cog in the large gear that is considered dinner service every night.  Done perfectly, that is what we the customer, is there for.

La Grolla, 452 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102

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It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top. 

Hunter S. Thompson