A bottle of red, a bottle of white… some things never change in La Jolla

Before heading up to Los Angeles this week to work at Sotto where I curate the wine list, I stopped in my hometown of La Jolla, California, to have dinner with father Zane who was in from Indiana visiting my brothers down there. We decided to go to Carino’s Pizza on La Jolla Boulevard, a restaurant where the décor has not changed since 1971, when the current owner bought the joint and when my family moved to Southern California from Chicago (Remember when Annie Hall moves to LA eats in a vegetarian restaurant, smokes pot and uses black soap? That’s essentially what happened.) The place looks like a movie set and is still adorned by murals of Mt. Vesuvius.

The food at Carino’s is nothing to write home about. But then again, I was at home. I hadn’t been there in literally 16 years. The antipasto was exactly as I remembered it. Over breakfast the next morning mama Judy said, “honey, I hate to tell you this, but you smell like garlic. You should do something about that before you start your day,” she added. I guess it’s the kinda food that “sticks with you.”

Carino’s has a moderate corkage fee of $8 and so I brought this excellent bottle of 09 Toni Jost Riesling that my buddy Jesse sold me. I’ve been drinking a lot of Riesling this summer (and posting about it over at the Houston Press blog, Eating Our Words).The wine was bright and delicious, with a wonderful 12% alcohol. Great pairing for the antipasto.

The pizza hasn’t changed either. We had the peperoni with jalapeños.

I popped a bottle of 05 Benanti Nerello Mascalese from Etna, Sicily. This has been one of my favorite red wines this year: earth and black and red and berry fruit, with bright bright acidity, and that wonderful balance of elegance, lightness, and power that you find in the pharmacist’s wine (Benanti made his fortune in pharmaceuticals before becoming a winemaker).

Zane doesn’t drink red wine, so he didn’t have any.

He talked to me about the usual subjects: his expertise in aerophysics and the recordings arts, Israeli politics, and his legacy as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Some things never change… Es muss sein…

Meatballs and Primitivo with my father Zane

The best advice anyone ever gave about blogging was “remember that all blogs are vanity blogs and always write what you feel.” Well, here goes…

“Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over. And that’s the hardest part. Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”

—Henry Hill, Good Fellas, 1990

Last Wednesday’s dinner with my father Zane at Giovanni’s in Munster, Indiana brought to mind the above passage uttered by Henry Hill in Scorsese’s Good Fellas (he had the Veal Piccata, I had the Spaghetti with Meatballs).

Those of you who have followed along here at Do Bianchi haven’t heard much about my father, Zane. In fact, you haven’t heard anything at all. He left the fold of our family when I was a teenager and, truth be told, none of us — my mother and my brothers — have ever entirely recovered from that fissure. The circumstances of that schism began to unfold when I was 11 years old (1978) and in many ways, my Italophilia was borne out of the fact that my closest Italian friends (most of whom were musicians that I met when I was around 19) helped me to see the “transgressions of the father” in a light (Pasolinian?) disparate from that which shines down from Mt. Soledad onto the sun-filled spelunks of the La Jolla Cove where I grew up.

Today, he lives in Highland, Indiana (not far from Munster), a “bedroom” community (as he likes to call it) of Chicago. After leaving our family, he lived in Phoenix, Arizona for many years, and then Israel, where he made the aliyah and continued to work in the defense industry (his second career). About twelve years ago, when he was convinced that he wouldn’t be arrested by the FBI for espionage (as he tells the story), he decided to return to the U.S. for his retirement.

In Italian new wave cinema of the 1960s and early 70s, directors like Antonioni created landscapes that reflected their characters’s stato d’anima (state of soul). The cold temperatures and intonations of grey that greeted me there (above) felt like they came from within me rather than from the environment around me.

Ultimately, Highland, Munster, Hammond, and Gary, Indiana are towns that could have been depicted in Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town (have you seen the recent documentary?). The main employers here are the steel mills and Giovanni’s is arguably the best place around.

Zane doesn’t care much for red wine but he did share a bottle of Primitivo by Cantele with me. It was one of the two bottles that spoke to me, together with Araldica’s Gavi by the glass (Giovanni’s has an impressive website, with its wine list available online).

A friend once wrote: as “the son of a psychiatrist, Dr. J. is capable of finessing virtually any situation with seamless ease.”

I don’t know if that’s true but like every other human being on this planet, I have one father. It wasn’t and never is an easy trip. It had been too long since I’d gone to visit him… but I’m glad that I did.

As I look back and reflect on my visit and use my blog — my web log, my journal, my diary — as a therapeutical tool, there’s one thing that has come into sharp focus in my psyche: sometimes a meatball is just a meatball.