Man, talk about a misnomer!
Upon introducing us to this intimate (cramped) authentic (clichéd) fine (perhaps) little bistro (limited menu restaurant) tucked away within a narrowly slotted tenant space occupying a reclaimed 1950s army surplus storefront along East Fourth Street, this dude introduced himself as Santo.
Now, I am usually not one to prematurely judge a book by its cover, but our new friend Santo doesn’t really appear all that saintly to me.
For one thing, his boast of the ‘thickest, heartiest, most sumptuous, and most excellently savory and subtly seasoned Bolognese on this Earth’ is belied somewhat by the large stain of watery, grayish (and probably canned) tomato sauce upon his sleeve. The pretensions of this tiny table clothed eatery are further undercut by the rather threadbare edges of his laundered to death yet still discolored smock with the mismatched buttons. The unmistakable musk of mold wafting from the café’s interior doesn’t help much either. And I would dare say that the touted ‘consummate freshness of dining delicacies prepared a mere instance before I place them steaming in front of you’ doesn’t quite jibe with the fact that the cute easeled chalkboard over in the patio corner has notations of this evening’s daily specials overlain by the odd pigeon dropping and the runoff from the eave gutter above (and it hasn’t rained in weeks).
Though Santo has already spoken glowingly of ‘our Tuscan-trained chefs’, in all of the 43 minutes we have been sitting here, almost-patiently waiting for a menu, a glass of water, a lit candle or just a stick of day-old bread, I’ve noticed no one but Santo streaking about, quadruple-teaming as greeter/doorman, maitre d’, waiter, busboy. With those suspicious little nicks and cuts about his palms and fingertips, could our very own Santo be, in fact, quintuple-teaming, as chef also? Is that why this place seems to be operating at slower-than-glacial speed?
So, I am suspect of Santo to say the least.
My suspicions are abetted by the fact that Santo’s visage strikes me most of all as a mug shot in motion: the too slick hair, the shifty eyes, the squirrelly agitation, the ‘woe is me’ shrug, the microsecond attention span. So I ponder and wonder: Are the mismatched chairs all about us an indication of a quirky interior design motif? or a surer sign of pilferage from other cafés and restaurants within a 500-yard radius? Does that $85 bottle of grappa we just ordered really hail from a cobblestoned villa above Perugia? or from a basement bathtub in Parma — Ohio? Is there really an octogenarian Sicilian paisan of a squeezebox player pumping out traditional Italian tunes from behind that decorative screen? And if so, why did his music seem to skip just a moment ago? Are we in for a truly deathly experience?
[By the way, wasn’t there a newspaper notice last week of the sudden closing — under rather questionable and perhaps criminal circumstances — of a Santo’s Bicycle Frame & Welding on East Fourth?]
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