In Long Beach, Italian food options are limited to one of two things: delivery-only pizza places where the pasta is a noodle heap with ketchup on it or fancy tablecloth ristorantes that only the one percent can afford. Neither of the establishments that fall into these two categories cook anything like what mi famiglia used to make in the motherland, so imagine my giddiness when I discovered the casual-yet-authentic La Parolaccia and its younger sister across town, Passaparola.
La Parolaccia (whose chef we just recently interviewed) is a decade-old family-owned restaurant specializing in classical central Italian dishes and staffed by a slew of young Anglo-looking waitresses that somehow speak fluent Italian. Passaparola (which basically means "pass on the word") is its year-old counterpart--a Mediterranean-style café that trades Parolaccia's stone-oven pizzas for handmade pastas and offers top shelf wine to customers wearing jeans. A few months ago, it began opening for lunch.
But like most traditional European dining experiences, there is no "grab and go" option here. Lunch at Passaparola should take at least an hour, not because the service is poor, but because you take the courses in slowly, savoring each part of the experience (while hopefully having a good conversation with a cute guy or gal waiter).
I arrived semi-unprepared for an hour-long lunch, however: I was alone; I was on deadline; I was craving chillable red. I sat at the bar and the Italian owner approached. "Life's too short to drink cheap wine," he said at my mention of Carlo Rossi. Then he asked me why I seemed so stressed out. Next thing I knew, I was drinking an exquisite glass of Rosso Bello, talking about the soccer (er, futbol) on TV and cutting up green ravioli that was recently hand-stuffed in the open kitchen with ricotta cheese and spinach.
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After leisurely eating all of the five mounds (and the pomordoro sauce that topped them), I was offered an espresso to cap the meal. As I sipped down the earthy dark roast, the owner asked me if I felt better. He said that food and wine should nourish the soul.
Both my stomach and my soul were nourished by my long lunch at Passaparola. My bank account, however, not so much. In all, I spent around $25 on what was only technically one-third of my food for the day (some of us still operate on a college budget).
But with sustenance like fresh tortellini, a menu full of rare central Italian wines and a staff of affable émigrés, this is one place worth spending your entire per diem. Viva la famiglia!
Passaparola Trattoria Italiana, 6204 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 986-5280
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