Italian by Stomach

From the time she was a kid in New York, two things were obvious to Phyllis Daniels: she was born to listen to people's problems, and she was born to eat Italian.

As to the former, Daniels—a psychotherapist with practices in Fullerton and Tustin for the past 20 years—says she "couldn't help it. People just have always come to me." Including the Hunter College friend who unloaded her guilt about plagiarizing from a book for a term paper. Daniels recommended she confess to her professor. That turned out to be sage advice: the book the friend had stolen from was written by the professor under a pseudonym.

"I nailed that one," she says.

As to the Italian matter: Daniels learned sauces at the knee of her Italian mother. "I'm Italian by stomach," she says, and she remains devoted to bella cuisine, eating Italian two to three times per week.

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OC Weekly:It seems a lot of the tension around the holidays has to do with getting together with people we've been avoiding all year. Phyllis Daniels: More than that, I think it's the financial aspect—the catalogs, the TV commercials all tell us what kind of holiday we're supposed to have. We were watching TV the other day, and there was an ad in which this woman gave her brother-in-lawa laptop computer for Christmas! My husband said, "Geez, I'd like to be on her list!" I saw one where a couple give their teenage daughter a Lexus.

We develop this fantasy of what the holidays are supposed to be, and then we're disappointed. And women, of course, are under the added pressure of "Oh, God! I'm going to get fat!"

So we're back to food. What do you tell clients who are dreading one of these family get-togethers?

I always ask, "Do you really have to go?" You're an adult; you can choose not to go. If they decide to go, I tell them to be prepared. The fact is the things you fear will happen are probably going to happen. Aunt Bertha is going to ask you that question. You know—"Why aren't you married yet?" or whatever. Most people feel they have an obligation to respond; I think your first obligation is to yourself. You don't have to give a long explanation like, "Well, Aunt Bertha, the reason is I'm a lesbian." You have a right to a personal life. I tell my patients to come up with some catch phrases to get you through the day, you know, "Gee, I really haven't thought about it" or "That's interesting, Aunt Bertha."

Sounds like survival mode.

I tell them to take good care of themselves. I mean, how many people bother to buy themselves a Christmas gift? I think you should put yourself at the top of your list. Do something nice for you.

Like a nice dinner. Where would you recommend?

A couple of places—both are Italian, of course. The first is Via Roma in Orange. It's the kind of place where you can get dressed up or wear jeans. The food is superb. They use some northern Italian recipes, but the menu is expansive. Their lamb is great and so is the osso buco. They do wonderful soups. They do a cream of vegetable that is absolutely superb.

Where else?

Bella Marri's is a little less expensive, but the menu is very similar. My favorite is the chicken rose marino, made with fresh asparagus, capers and garlic-lemon sauce. It's to die for. I get the veal rose marino; it's not on the menu, so you have to ask for it. They're also beginning to experiment with soups. They make a cream of mushroom that is one of the best I've ever had, and I'm from New York.

How's the atmosphere?

Well, each restaurant is owned and run by someone who is Italian—I think that's important. As for ambiance, they're both very nice. I guess Via Roma is a little more of what you might call special. But they're both very nice.

Sounds great. Happy holidays.

Happy holidays!

Via Roma Italian Restaurant, 2658 N. Santiago Blvd., Orange, (714) 637-1671; Bella Marri's, 20 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 991-9700.

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