Many, many years ago, while in exile in Florida, Cranky and I happened upon a swanky Italian restaurant in the town of Longwood, just outside Orlando. It was situated on a lake (there are scads of lakes, actually watered-up sinkholes, in Central Florida) rimmed by trees twinkling with tiny white lights.
The food was good, and the atmosphere was unintimidatingly upscale. In those days, the restaurant was called something like Enzo's Mamma something or other... Dear Enzo loved his mother. Enzo himself would handsomely greet us and make us feel special and smart.
It was almost a rarity in Florida then: a classy, local (read non-chain) restaurant with modern European touches and a whiff of Wise Guy presence. Seriously!
I became obsessed with a pasta dish served there, the bucatini with pancetta, peas, pepper flakes and grated parmesan. Today — I just looked up Enzo's website (the restaurant has changed its name to Enzo's on the Lake) — it's still on the menu! I seem to have forgotten that there were also bacon and mushrooms in the dish... or maybe they're a latter-day adjustment.
Anyway, that was always my dinner of choice at Enzo's. So debonair. So — unknown! Who'd ever heard of bucatini? I didn't really process the fact that restaurants love it when customers order the pasta, because it's so cheap to make. I'd simply pay a whopping entrée price for my beloved, exotic bucatini.
Well, let's just say that I'm still happy about that meal, even in retrospect.
But now I make it at home. Save loads of cash that way (have you seen the price for a ticket to Florida?). Because I can buy bucatini pasta at A.G. Ferrari, a local Italian food importer.
Ferrari's bucatini is almost peculiarly tender. If you're an al dente stalwart, you won't like it: it cooks up pretty soft. But it's so loving, so gentle, so virginal thrown in there with the beasts of red pepper flakes and manly bacon. A wicked contrast.
Just like dinner on a dewy, twinkling lake in Florida... with a Mafia guy at the next table.