Farewell toast to Ed’s guiding light
"Victoria! Don’t do this! I ne-e-e-ed you!”
“OK. If you have to go, can we do lunch? Library? One?”
Because Victoria and her friend Marsha have been my crutch on the Transit Info Line these many crack o’dawn mornings, when I know I’ve got to be somewhere, and need a bus to get me there. I call them on 619-233-3004 and tell them my problems. Like, gotta get to Escondido before nightfall. Gotta get back before daybreak. Whatever.
Now Victoria is — eek! — retiring.
“How about three-thirty. I’ll have a red ‘Victoria’ T-shirt on,” she says.
I spot the red tee in the second-hand bookstore here inside the new Central Library. The tee has “Victoria” written across it all right. Victoria Mexican beer.
“So where to?”
This is my treat, but Victoria knows the best place. “It’s around the corner. They have a happy hour that’s just started, and you can sit outside.”
Three minutes later we’re on J, passing by newish East Village places like Basic Urban Kitchen and Común, and come to a halt at this smaller patio basking nicely in the sun. It has a signpost outside that says “Happy Hour, 3:00–6:00, Monday to Friday.”
“Perfecto,” I say.
We head to the patio and a far table with red mesh chairs and brown tablecloth. The place calls itself an “enoteca” as well as a “cucina.” Uh oh. That means wines for upper-crust wine noses on expense accounts.
“Yes, you can pay a lot here,” says Victoria, “but it’s not so bad if you stick to the happy hour menu.” We talk bus culture. She tells me about one customer who started catching local buses in Canada and didn’t stop till he got here.
“Funny to think I won’t have to be answering calls at 5:30 tomorrow morning,” she says.
Toast Enoteca. And Cucina.
The server comes by. Ashley. Happy hour drinks are $3 for draft beer, $5 for a glass of house wine. “And $5 for our happy hour food items,” she says. “They’re smaller versions of pizza and antipasti, like cavolfiore al forno or fagioli verde all’uccelletto.”
She leaves the menu.
“Hmm. Fagioli verde all’uccelletto,” says Victoria to herself, considering the possibility. I like the way she says “fagioli.” Something very sexy about Italian words. And Victoria knows this stuff too. “I have a collection of about 300 cookbooks,” she says.
Fagioli verde all’uccelletto — green beans little-bird style — feature robust Italian sausage
Turns out “fagioli” are beans. And “uccelletto” means “little bird.” Huh? Beans like little birds? Basically it’s green beans with garlic and sautéed Italian sausage.
And zesty pomodoro sauce.
“Italian for ‘tomato,’” says Victoria.
Cauliflower lover's delight — cavolfiore al forno
Whatever, the fagioli dish is an antipasto. So is cavolfiore al forno — roasted cauliflower plus tomato, garlic sauce, and “grana Padano” cheese. Normal price $9, now $5.
They also have three “pizze” in the happy hour $5 line-up (usually $12): the salsicce pomodorini (with Italian sausage, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes), the “gorgonzola e peperoni dolci” (with sweet peppers, pine nuts, red onions, mozzarella, gorgonzola), and the Calabrese (with mozzarella, caramelized onions, and salami. Salami? Of course. As Victoria says, in Calabria, the southern “toe” of Italy, it’s hot. Salami has been king for centuries down there because salted dried meat lasted longest in pre-fridge days.
Victoria's pizza alla Calabrese
In the end she goes for that “pizza alla Calabrese” and a glass of sauvignon blanc, and I get a beer and the roasted cauliflower dish. Her pizza’s crisp and thin, has plenty of cheese and salami welded on top, and they have a nicely mixed salad of mixed greens crowning the center. My “cavolfiore” is a big red mess in a bowl, with the roasted cauliflower sticking out like trees in a flooded dam lake. Plenty of garlic in there too. We arrange a prisoner swap so I get something bready to balance out the liquids, and Victoria gets some liquid flavor to add to her pizza.
“Not bad,” she says about my cavolfiore. “It’s got red peppers, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic… But I’d say it’s a little too acidic. Needs more carrots. It needs a sweeter, rounder feeling.”
Cavolfiore, Pizza alla Calabrese, and fagioli
Part of the reason she knows so much is she has Portuguese family connections. “My family were dairy people from the Azores. We adore things like cheeses and anchovies.”
Then, what the heck, we go for the fagioli, just to see what all the “little birds” fuss is about.
“These beans are very good,” she says. “Sweet, tender, the right amount of crunch and bean flavor.”
For me the best part is those big chunks of Italian sausage hiding in among the green “birds” of string beans. They have that fennel flavor I like.
It ends up, well, not the cheapest, but at $30.24, not bad at all. Especially when you compare it with non-HH prices. “Primi,” first course items like tagliatelle alla Bolognese, run around $14. “Secondi,” main courses, go from $18 for baked chicken breast (in a parmesan-dried fruit crust), to $27 for a New York steak.
Wine on tap
Also, I insisted Victoria get a second glass of wine so I could toast her, and thank her on behalf of, hey, a grateful city, for all the job interviews and doctors’ appointments she’s got us to over the years, plus all the free Life Counseling she did along the way.
We get up to go. I feel like I’ve known her half a lifetime. It’s kinda hard to leave, partly because sun-wise this is the last perfect sun-splashed spot on the street.
“Uh, you catching a bus?”
She nods. “Of course.”
The Place: http://www.toaste...">Toast Enoteca & Cucina, 927 J Street, East Village 619-269-4207
Happy Hour Prices ($5 each): Fagioli Verdi all’Uccelletto (Italian sausage, green beans, tomato); cavalfiore al forno (roasted cauliflower, tomato, cheese); salsicce pomodorini pizza (sausage, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes); gorgonzola e peperoni dolci pizza (sweet peppers, pine nuts, red onions, mozzarella, gorgonzola); pizza alla Calabrese (mozzarella, caramelized onions, salami); baked Brussels sprouts (bacon-seared, grana Padano cheese)
Regular prices: Tagliatelle alla Bolognese $14; baked chicken breast, $18; New York steak, $27
Hours: Monday–Thursday, 11:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; Sunday, 10:00 a.m.–8:00 p.m. (Sunday brunch 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.); Happy hour, Monday to Friday 3:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m.
Buses: 11, 901, 929
Nearest bus stops: 10th and J (southbound); 11th and J (northbound)
Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
Nearest trolley stop: Park and Market