Our bowls of pasta arrived sometime recently, but I don’t remember because time began slowing once our broccoli rabe appetizer, accented with strips of crispy pancetta, arrived at our table.
I am with my friend NE, human glitter, a poet who brims with shine and sparkle and intellect and knows how to appreciate joy and pleasure in big and small bites. We will be having dinner at Fiaschetteria Pistoia, which I will soon learn is a sliver of Tuscan culinary heaven on Christopher Street, where a man with tattoos in the window makes fresh pasta by hand, BY HAND, spinning dough into strips that will eventually become spaghetti, pappardelle, and lord knows what else. Waiting for NE in the tiny hallway next to a kitchen cordoned off by glass, I watch as another man makes slabs of veal in a pan, tossing in generous heaps of olive oil while the cast iron sizzles the meat to a light brown. Small plates of pasta, artichokes, vegetables leave the tiny kitchen window and exit into the room decorated with exposed brick painted white. A Keith Haring poster of Rome and another for Italian ice cream dot the walls. When we sit down at a tiny gray marble table, the words “Fresh Pasta is Never Al Dente Because it Was Never Dried” float above our heads.
We rip slices of bread, offered to us in a tiny brown paper bag, into a olive oil from an equally tiny ramekin. A waiter offers us wine from a selection of empty bottles, each tagged with ‘White’ and ‘Red’ like Alice’s bottles in Wonderland are with ‘Eat Me’ or ‘Drink Me.’ We don’t, instead pouring ourselves water from a repurposed bottle etched with what look like window panes.
NE is talking when the broccoli rabe arrives, its green stalks and florets dipped deliciously in olive oil, but I don’t remember what she says because I slide a chunk of it into my mouth with a sliver of pancetta and my brain stops working, the broccoli falling apart next to the crunch of the pancetta, releasing flowers and spices onto my tongue. She stops mid-sentence, eager to “have what I’m having” as When Harry Met Sally would say, and takes a bite. We look at each other, eyes wide. Wow.
We make our way through the small plate loaded with the shiny green vegetable until there’s just a little bit left.
“Have some more,” NE says.
“You have some more!” I say back, pointing a fork at her.
We both giggle and take each other’s advice. A lone floret rests on the edge of the plate when a waiter tries to remove it, but I make him pause so I can give it to NE. A smile spreads wide across her face.
Our pasta arrives in two small bowls lined with blue trim. I slide mine toward me, ribbony pappardelle made yellow by the redness of a bolognese-style ragu. I'm careful not to “chow down,” and remember to taste. The silken pasta glides next to the chunky, meaty ragu and slowly my brain begins to stop working again. I have trouble forming sentences. I try not to speak because that means more time I’m not eating. And NE is having the same experience with her Cacio e Pepe, this hand-rolled spaghetti with pecorino and black pepper that’s tangy and creamy at the same time. I taste it and eat it with all manner of impropriety, nibbling the strands of pasta from my fork one by one.
We go back to our own dishes, but NE insists. “Have some more!”
When I hear her say it this time, I realize she is not just saying to keep indulging in Cacio e Pepe. Enjoy, she is saying. Take pleasure! Live! Taste! Be in and of your senses and this moment. The food is so good, she says I start blushing. She wants to marry every man in the restaurant, especially the one who makes the pasta. After a while we stop speaking altogether and just look at each other and shake our heads. We both feel a little drunk, despite having only water to drink. This food euphoria is something new, a buzz not unlike a strong glass of wine. The pleasures of good food shared with a friend extend beyond the stomach. We are tasting joy, and in good company.