There I was in Boston, a foreign and fascinating city to a Southerner like me, attending a conference, when who – to my surprise – should be sitting in the lobby waiting for me, but The Traveling Pooka! It was a dreary early evening at the boring old Marriot Cambridge, even if the hotel’s afternoon cranberry oatmeal cookies were a bright spot. (Side note: best thing about the hotel- a conference of MIT physicists arriving for a dinner dance, decked in their dancing shoes and escorting their lady loves.) True, everyone was perfectly nice at the hotel, even if Pooka couldn’t have fit a big toe into the concierge-level postage stamp sized bedroom, but it was not a culinary mecca overall and it was about as charming as a potato peel.)
So, here one is wondering how one is going to entertain oneself when the most delightful personage in all of the world appears, waiting as if there were nothing in the world better to do than to wait, just for me In the lobby. Pooka, whom I haven’t seen in weeks and weeks. Pooka, Dear Pooka! I was never so glad to see anyone! It was a Saturday night and I was becoming ever so lonely with whatever it was that we were required to do at a business conference where there was some degree of wit but very little art. And there he was. The Perfection of Pooka, because he knew just what to do in Boston on a Saturday night.
“”I know exactly where we are going for dinner.” he said. And I was absolutely STARVING! Where, Pooka, where? ” I asked as we got into the car.
Before I knew it, we were twisting around narrow Boston streets in the North End a few blocks from Paul Revere’s house to find a parking spot, then a brisk little walk in the crisp spring evening, past blooming fruit trees, and the purple petals of tulip trees dripping over sidewalks and draping a tiny cemetary in fauvist tones. Past the ice cream shop where later we shared a cream puff lobster, and up to a little door one easily might have passed by the unpretentious door 67 Prince St– if one hadn’t been traveling with a pooka.
A tiny, 35 seat spot with brick walls and simple white tablecloths, Trattoria di Monica is a classy charmer. Sincere, and authentic, not fancy, not over the top prices, nor foo foo silliness, just absolutely delightful and delicious food, with a lovely wine list.
Casual in tone, the restaurant is blessed with perfect lighting! Just the right quality of softness to peer into some one’s special eyes. Sensual and warm, Trattoria di Monica is the picture perfect the kind of place one dreams of finding in Boston and rarely does. I’d thought to myself a few days before I left for Boston, “You know, what I have always, always wanted to do and never have is go to a really wonderful Italian restaurant in the North End.” And I thought no further, because I assumed there wouldn’t be time and there woudn’t be anybody who wanted to go, and so on and so on and I was so wrong.
“How do you know,Pooka?” I asked, “my every wish?”
“Isn’t that what friends are for?” he answered with a smile and another sip of his Prosecco aperitif.
We observed the magic of a beautiful young couple, in the dance of romance, sitting against the brick wall, he looking for all the world like a Ralph Lauren model, she with wide checkbones and forehead, as if Russia were not too far removed from her whispers that were just for him tonight.
We ordered, Pooka and I. Tender fried artichokes, an olive oil drenched spinach salad laced with parmesan slivers and goat cheese, followed by homemade pastas. I chose a ravioli filled with butternut squash that radiated with sunbursts of flavor. Had there been room in the cozy dining room, I think I would have danced around the table every time I took a bite. If my body didn’t, surely my heart did. And of all things, Pooka enjoyed “Spaghetti con Polpettine al sugo di pomodoro,” or, reliable as rain, spaghetti and meatballs with fresh tomato sauce. it was all simply heavenly. Simply heavenly.
Savoring the last of our red wine, I remembered the hearfelt film Big Night, a story about two Italian brothers determined to bring “real” Italian food to an American neighborhood during the days when mediocre meatsauce and tough storebought macaroni masqueraded in place of the delicate cuisine we call Italian. In the movie, the two immigrant brothers gambled everything but their integrity in a culture they didn’t completely understand,…. and sadly, lost – after one BIG NIGHT of trying – in the marketplace.
Fortunately, in real life, Trattoir di Monica’s two chef, brother owners Pat and Frank Mendozza, practice their art with intact integrity and a crowded following.
Traveling Pooka, you did it once again! A Bellisima Big Night!