We go to the restaurant wondering how to pronounce its name. Spar-tee-na, Spar-tI-na. Oh, and to have some good food too. The youngest daughter and I chose the Melrose Avenue restaurant after an odd coincidence. Sailing friend Lynn had been out in Los Angeles and noticed the restaurant's sign, taking a photo and texting it too me. I looked it up on the internet, finding a very appealing menu. So I text my daughter, asking if she had even heard of it. She had, in fact, having driving by it just a few minutes earlier, deciding it would be the perfect place for our dinner on my coming visit. We made our reservations.
So we pick a patio table on a clear, cool southern California evening. And we ask the waitress how they pronounce the name. "Spar-tee-na," she says, saying she thought it was some sort of fruit. I mention the other pronunciation, often used by scientists to describe marsh grass, "spar-tI-na" with a long "I." That's interesting she says, then runs off to get our drink orders. A few minutes later she is back, saying she had checked her information and found the long "E" version to be correct but also that it was not a fruit but instead a grass that grew along the shores in Italy. Marsh grass.
Finishing our appetizer of prime beef carpaccio, arugula salad with light olive oil/lemon dressing and shavings of parmigiano reggiano, the restaurant manager arrives at our table to talk about the restaurant's name, confirming the long "E" version and adding a slight roll to the "r," a nod to the Sicilian influences on their menu. I tell him about the alternate pronunciation, saying I had a boat with that name. His name is Freddy, though I don't recall his late name, and we have a fun discussion about the restaurant, their cooking techniques and their history. Pasta is made from scratch each morning, bones are cracked for the marrow to make sauces. There is a traditional wood stove and a beside it a heavy grate over a roaring fire for grilling and searing. Our food is served; Grace's white pizza with clams, ricotta, garlic confit and virgin olive oil; and mine, trenette, octopus with bone marrow, tomato, red wine and parmigiano reggiano. It looks and tastes just wonderful. We thank Freddy from dropping by and let him get back to work.
A few minutes later another man stops by our table. "I hear you have a boat named Spartina," says chef/owner Stephen Kalt. I hand him my phone so he could see some photographs of Spartina while we laugh about my struggles with the boat's name. He's friendly and takes a great interest in the little boat. And then he mentions a book about a boat, a book named "Spartina." While running a restaurant in New York he had known John Casey, the author. He said he loved everything about the book and chose to name his restaurant based on that. Thinking about the book he smiles and says the main character in the book built a boat, then he looks at me and says "you built a boat too! You have something in common!"
I tell him that he and I also something in common. I read "Spartina" back in 1989 when it was reviewed by the New York Times as a National Book Award Winner. I loved the book then as I love it now. He named his restaurant after the book, I named the not-yet-finished Pathfinder after the same.
We finish our discussion talking about the opening page of the book which introduced both the main character and spartina as survivors surrounded by harsh elements, survival being the theme of a book that caught our attention. I think restaurant owners know something about being survivors.
What a great evening, dinner with the youngest daughter, who helped build the boat, great food, conversations about boats and books. What more could I ask? We say goodbye to Freddy and Stephen before leaving, thanking them for a fine dinner. Walking down the street I wondered why the boat I built to get away from everyone instead leads me to friendly, fascinating people that I would not have otherwise ever met. Go figure.
Next time I'm out to see the the daughter in Los Angeles you can find us on the patio at Spartina.