My niece was in town this week, attending a law conference. She lives in Toronto with her husband and children. Her father's passing has affected her deeply, as it has similarly hurt me.
She asked us to join her for dinner. She wanted us to take her somewhere that was important to her father Buzz and to our family, sort of retrace his steps. We are all still processing as best we can. A memorial dinner, if you will.
The only real possible choice for us was Busalacchis. Busalacchis was sort of our family restaurant, back then the location on Fifth and Robinson that no longer exists except in our collective memories.
We would join our father and Shela there when we were younger, all of our separate families, the waiters would dutifully trot out the gold Sommers nameplate for our table. The old craftsman house turned restaurant was like eating in someone's home. The best chopped salad, the best fruto di mare. Superb Italian food. We were at home there. And we felt genuinely honored there too.
The staff were so warm and became so close to us, the maitre 'd Diego such a close friend that he played his native flamenco guitar at Leslie and my wedding. Food and wine always perfect.
Busalacchis moved to various other places, the brothers split up somewhere along the way. Living in Fallbrook we don't get down there to San Diego too much anymore. I stopped by and saw Joe after my father died and he was already aware of his passing and very warm and supportive.
We met Rachel at Nonna in Little India last night and a young man who identified himself as Joe's nephew seated us. We had somehow messed up on the date and he found a space for us anyway. Quickly, in a packed restaurant. I had explained the deal to him and he took care of us. Nonna is a newer Busalacchi iteration, a slightly different paradigm, bit less expensive, bills its fare as comfort food. Real, tried and true, not overly fancy. The block is full of those kind of places, if that is what you are looking for.
Leslie, my niece and I shared story after story of my late brother and exchanged family news. Fabulous food as always, antipasti, lamb, short ribs, funghi pizza, pasta, chopped salad. Enough food to feed an army. A great and entertaining server from Milan.
She told us a story about Buzz and his mountain of unpaid parking tickets that had us rolling off of our chairs.
Cannoli, tortes, macaroons, chocolate covered strawberries, the whole shebang. Sweet quickly became bittersweet for me, they often walk side by side.
For some reason the generosity of the Busalacchi family coupled with the intense sadness and pain that I still feel every single day because of the loss of my brother chose that moment to hit me right between the eyes.
I managed to hide most of my tears but not all of them. The hurt is never far away and it looks for opportunities like last night to bubble to the surface.
I want to thank the restaurant for taking such amazing care of us, old clients that those present were probably too young to remember, for still being family, and to my niece for taking the time to dine with us, my wife for accompanying me. Buzz, it never gets easier for those of us left down here.