Saturday, October 10, 2015

Better Remembered

Some old friends were back in town, and suggested we rendezvous for dinner. The spot chosen was an old favorite, Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve never been, the food is only part of the story. A noisy place set with long family style tables, they don’t take reservations, they don’t take credit cards and they don’t have menus. The waiter tells you a little about what they have (some veal, some fish, a little pasta), you order what sound goods, it comes and you eat. At the end of the night he looks at you, looks at the platters on the table, makes up a number that seems about right and gives you a slip of paper which is your check. Who’s to argue?

The food is nothing fancy, just solid, basic Italian: artichokes, mussels, everything parmesan, all served on huge platters to share. If you want your organic eggplant with heirloom tomato reduction and four-cheese blend on top, go elsewhere. If you want meatballs marinara with spaghetti, enough for an army, you’ve come to the right place. They don’t come more old school than this.

The six of us had been there any number of times, though none recently. And while we were looking forward to catching up, we were of course looking forward to the food. The experience was as we recalled, and the food came out in heaping quantities. But with one or two exceptions, it didn’t live up to our mental hype. Nothing really wrong; it just didn’t put us over the moon as we remembered. The sauce was not as flavorful, the veal not as tender. Bruce said it best: "I always thought having my last meal at Dominick's would've been OK with me, but last night I found the food somewhat disappointing. Oh well, times change, like it or not."

They do indeed. Or is it us? How many things do you remember as the best tasting, the greatest view, the most amazing band or whatever, only to be disappointed when your mental scrapbook didn’t live up to the current reality? For sure, things do change. The ingredients might have been substituted, new buildings might have been built, the singer’s voice might have gotten a little strained with age. As such, even a truly objective measure of that chocolate cake from your fifth birthday party versus the same formulation today might bring about a frownie face.

The corollary can also be true. Things that you didn’t take to way back when can be way better if you only give them the chance. Put another way, some things are most definitely an acquired taste: spinach, naps, Dean Martin’s singing. When you were smaller you didn’t quite get why anyone would pick them over almost any other available option. But today? Today, there are times when "King of the Road" just feels right.

And of course, some things stand the test of time, any time. Whether you take to it or not, Shakespeare will always be the paragon of English literature, just as the French Impressionists will always be the standard by which all paintings are judged. More prosaically, there’s a reason why "Seinfeld" runs in syndication 25 hours a day, why Mick and Keith will soon need wheelchairs to complete their next stadium tour and why peanut butter cups represent all that is holy.

Going back to Dominick’s, there is no doubt that the experience helps to amply the food. But I would say, and I would hazard that Bruce might agree with me, that taken in isolation, either the food had gotten more pedestrian, our taste buds had grown or matured, or a combination of both. In either case, next time we are both likely to find our chicken scarpariello elsewhere with equal enjoyment and easier parking.

Thomas Wolfe said it this way: "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." Eloquently stated as it is, as we discovered that night in the Bronx, to that list you sometimes have to add ziti.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves a good dish of pasta. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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