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Last December, after closing on our new house in Chula Vista, our real estate agent gave my husband and me a $100 gift card for the Busalacchi family of restaurants. There is one, he said, not too far from our new house. We found it in January.

We went, we dined, we came home with $24 left on the gift card. Last week, I found said gift card in my wallet and returned to Via Lago Trattoria alone and in need of some quiet indulgence.

It was about 5:30 on a Wednesday evening. Inside, the restaurant was dim and quiet. A few people sat at the bar. In the dining room, only one table was occupied. The hostess sat me at a table by a window obscured from the outside by foliage. It was the perfect hideout for me.

My waiter, whose name I would later learn was Stefano, took my order for a glass of Clos du Bois Chardonnay ($8.75 per glass), the arugula salad (with pistachios, apples, goat cheese, and lemon herb vinaigrette - $7.95), and the rigatoni sausage (with fresh tomato, capers, and olives - $15.95).

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When I asked Stefano to bring the salad and the pasta at the same time, he seemed surprised. I guessed he wasn’t accustomed to such a request and that threw him off of his routine, but then he said, with a rich Italian accent, “In Italy, we never eat the salad before the pasta. But in America, everyone wants the salad before the pasta. ”

“I was going to eat them at the same time,” I said.

“This is Ok,” he said. “I will bring them at the same time. Would you like some bread to start?”

I hesitated for a second.

“Of course,” he answered for me. “A little bread is good.”

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And he was right. It was very good bread. As was everything else. The pasta was eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-my-head good, and the salad (though a little heavy on the pistachios) was the perfect cool, crisp complement to the spicy sausage.

The food and the quiet atmosphere alone would have made it a pleasant evening, but in Stefano’s care, I was in heaven. Everyone knows what bad service looks like, and most people have an idea of what good service should look like, but excellent service is rare. As other people came into the restaurant and sat in Stefano’s section, he charmed them all. And when he came back to me, I felt as though I were the only one.

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Stefano, the oldest server on staff, has been waiting tables for 28 years. He told me the secret to his brilliance.

“I do this job with my heart,” he said. “I tell everybody, when you do a job only for money, no good. You must do it with your heart.”

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