I like L.A. I really do.
In fact, I chose to settle down in L.A. over my native Bay Area. I love the weather and the fact that I'm able to wear tank tops and flip flops at least 8 months out of the year. I love that I live in a big city with big city stuff to do but where its also convenient to hop in my car to go grocery shopping. (It's a myth that L.A. has the worst traffic. Try driving the Highway 80 Maze going into San Francisco any day...at least we have streets like Sepulveda or Washington to get around freeway traffic)
But there are certain things I hate about L.A., too. I hate the smog. I hate the too-tabloidy news programs. But most of all, I hate the pretentiousness of many of the people that live here. Today, when I had lunch at Ca' Del Sole, a Northern Italian in Toluca Lake, I was reminded of why I don't always necessarily like Los Angeles.
I ended up at this reminiscent-of-a-Tuscan-country-inn-restaurant to celebrate a wedding shower for a coworker/friend. Seated in their outdoor patio, complete with fountains, shady trees and terra-cotta potted geraniums and other flowers I don't know the names of, it felt like something straight out of L.A. Story. Studio people having their power lunches and faaaaabulous women with (unecessarily) turned up noses were everywhere. I kept waiting for the giant earthquake to come so that I could see everyone unaffectedly continue talking about how wonderful their new pilates instructor is or about when so-and-so's screenplay will be done, as wine and water with twists of this-and-that were being shaken up and spilled everywhere.
Well, the earthquake never happened, so I switched gears and focused back on the food. Though tempting, I opted to skip ordering antipasti or insalate for myself because I'm too self-conscious about ordering "extra" stuff when dining with a group of people who aren't close friends and who are going to end up splitting the bill. People end up talking shit behind your back, saying that because of you, they ended up paying 20 bucks for an 8 dollar hamburger. I'll see if any of the others order something to start with and I'll just ask to take a bite, I decided. Ooh, score! I got to sample my VP's carciofini salad, a salad of arugula, sliced baby artichokes, index-card sized slices of parmesan cheese, and lemon vinaigrette. Perhaps it's because I have somewhat of an arugula fetish, but I enjoyed the little bit that I had. It wasn't the most unique creation, as arugula salads always seem to get served up this way--with parmesan and lemon, but this particular combination of pepperiness, nuttiness, and tartness worked really well. I was hoping that somebody would order the carpaccio (thinly sliced raw beef fillet) or moscardini (warm baby octopus appetizer) so that I could do some subtle mooching, but no luck there. Oh well.
My pasta dish was a different story. I decided on the bigoli: Venetian-style spaghetti tossed with clams, shrimp, crab, white wine and tomato sauce. Certain aspects of my pasta were redeemable: the tomato sauce was slightly sweet and not overly tart; they were generous with the shrimp and clams; a few leaves of sauteed basil lent some spiciness. But the pasta was slightly overcooked and felt too starchy, perhaps from sitting under a heat lamp waiting to be brought out. That's not the worst of it, though. Sitting on top of the heap of seafood pasta was a monster crab claw. And admittedly, I was a little excited at first to see the big crustacean hand. I was even kinda thrilled about the nut/shell cracker they provided me. But the honeymoon ended when, after fumbling with the thing endlessly, spraying crab juice and shell pieces on my coworkers, I was rewarded with nothing but dry, un-meaty crab. I was anticipating something like the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts squeezes her escargot tongs too hard and accidentally flings the snail across the table. Luckily for me, that never happened, but I did end up with a bunch of crab shrapnel in my starchy pasta which I had to carefully pick out to avoid mutilating my mouth. What's more, my hands still smell like crab even after washing several times, which makes me fear that my crappy crab claw was very old, and that people will start thinking that I've secretly been engaging in some nasty, nasty activities. (Sorry, didn't mean to be gross, but this smell on my hands is fucking disgusting)
Stinky Crab Claw
The others in my group ordered everything from penne pasta with wild broccoli, chicken sausage and garlic to osso buco to lobster and crab ravioli in a lobster and taragon sauce. I expended so much energy eating my bigoli pasta that I did not try anyone else's entrees. All expressed that their dishes were good, though nothing got raving reviews.
What the penne looks like, in case you're wondering
What the osso buco looks like, in case you're wondering
Our desert, a warm chocolate and almond cake, was, well, your typical warm chocolate cake. The two bites I had were enough to satisfy my chocolate craving for the entire month, and its texture seemed to be just right, not too much dry crust and not too much oozing chocolate. But still nothing extraordinary.
I'm glad I got to try Ca' Del Sole after hearing all the hype. After all, it was a wonderful setting for this wedding shower, and it was nice to be outside on a beautiful L.A. day with my coworkers. Despite the snooty atmosphere, our server was very friendly. But now I never need to go back. Something just didn't work with me here. Or maybe, something just didn't work here. At first, I thought it was just me. I felt a little out of my element...not "L.A." enough. Maybe it's because I am not a "lady-who-lunches" nor a part of "the industry," I thought. But then my mind turned to the crab claw and I realized that it wasn't me. Ca' Del Sole does not have a pretentious atmosphere; it tries to have a pretentious atmosphere, which is in my opinion, almost worse. It's a wannabe snob full of wannabe snobs. Well ya know what? If you wannabe a snob, at least have decent crab claws.
Ca' Del Sole
4100 Cahuenga Blvd.
Toluca Lake, CA 91602