April 20, 2005
By The Salmon
Santa Barbara, CA
My grandmother always told me that if you want to know a woman, see if her father drives a soft-top; if you want to know a restaurant, see if the eggplant still has the skin on it. Armed with this morsel of wisdom, we entered the holy grail of The Santa Barbara Business Lunch - Pascucci. A quick scan revealed two members of our city council eating at different tables (councilmen always travel single-file, to hide their numbers), a real estate tycoon, a retail diva, and your requisite tables of young men in blue shirts and khakis either plotting the take-over of the world or on break from the Men’s Warehouse.
This restaurant continues to grow in capacity each time I visit, which is rare given the no-reservation policy. It’s as if gnomes are secretly tunneling by night into the back of the Balboa Building. I see a future where Pascucci will be the only restaurant left on State Street, a giant commissary for anybody with a 9-to-5 job and a paycheck that actually has withholdings.
Accordingly, the service was seemingly contracted to a subsidiary of Halliburton - fast, efficient, slightly lacking in true warmth. Although my lunch abettor, The Manta, and I rarely partake of the fruit of the vine before dinner, we decided that the combination of darn-near-retail wine prices and Ed’s generous lunch stipend created a Perfect Storm in which we could order only by the bottle, never by the glass.
They were out of the cheap swill and before I could come up with an alternate The Manta had selected the 2003 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir. Quick into her pocket for the corkscrew the waitress popped it with a flash and then The Manta passed it over. I could see that he was loving it, because of his expression. Me tell him: "This is sensi the healing of the nation.” There were already sidewalk-steppers eyeing our not-so-great table and the sight of the bottle brought a collective groan from those who had to be back in accounting by 1:05 ...
We raised our comically-small wine glasses to the new pope and attacked the menu. Page after page of Italian fare: pasta, pizza, pannini, Vespas, salad, Vic Damone records, soup, and then a whole additional page of specialitas.
Some food critics might be easily seduced by excessive garlic but I swore not to give in. The Caesar salad set the pace for the rest of the meal. It tastes better than it looks. Granted, there’s not much color in your average mix of lettuce, parmesan, olive oil and egg, but this one was particularly monochromatic.
The Manta had procured a blackened ahi pannini. What arrived looked like a garden burger. He substituted sun-dried tomatoes for the standard farmer’s market tomatoes, and that appeared to be a good call. Although it resembled a block of coal on a Bisquik breakfast biscuit, it was quite delicious.
It has been three days since we left Pascucci and I must say that the eggplant is still with me. It’s like a purse. Although the presentation leaned more towards Stouffer’s than Sorrento, it was fabulous. Thick, rich, cheesy, crusty, gooey, and not very chewy.
The wine was gone much too fast and soon a dessert sampler was upon us. At this point we were in freefall. Tiramisu, crème brule, and what appears to be “chocolate turtle torte”. My notes become a bit gnarled at this point. I think we had coffee. Maybe espresso. Black tar heroin would have been acceptable. Manta said he felt like a cigarette and the waitress obliged, though neither of us smoke. We settled into our chairs for one more cup of joe and lingered as the lunch crowd waned. It may be the end or the beginning, but we were at last content. Thanks Ed.
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