Pasta Pasts and Futures
The corner of Euclid Avenue and Ball Road in Anaheim is a ghost of sorts. The buildings date from the 1960s and once housed grocery stores, restaurants and shops patronized by the city's working-class whites. The businesses remain, but they now cater to Arabs, Latinos, Asians—almost everyone but whites. Only one remains from the old guard: Rufino's Ristorante Italiano.
Here is a time capsule, a dive where a giant photo of Sophia Loren hangs on the wall with no hint of irony, where murals glow with the yellowing of time and black-and-white-tiled linoleum make up the floor. Georgina and Tony have been there from the beginning in 1967, and they handle all the duties with thick accents and thicker sauces. Rufino's specializes in heft: noodles spilling off massive plates, soups almost solid due to the bevy of goodies soaking up the broth, dishes that inspire too many bad Mafia jokes. Even though Rufino's and its owners come from another time, it still succeeds in the present, attracting all of Anaheim's groups with the promise of pasta.
We started dinner with tomato bruschetta and fried calamari. Rufino's calamari is how God wants it: golden-brown, crunchy, the chewy tentacles still attached, served with a cup of warm marinara dipping sauce. The bruschetta, meanwhile, was warm and chewy, and I regretted not ordering more once the last glistening chunks of tomato rested in my mouth. But that would've been gluttony, and even better dishes were just minutes away.
Tony soon emerged with a panoply of plates. He placed before me the linguini alle vongole, homemade pasta bathed in a sea of red sauce and Manila clams. Food critics often use the term "inhale" when describing a dish so delicious they scarf it down; I would describe my time with the linguini alle vongole as more of a quick, powerful sniff. The other people in my party weren't even halfway through their plates before I had finished off mine. Even so, the generous amount of sauce Georgina and Tony put on all their plates meant I was able to use their prepared-on-the-spot bread to soak up the excess.
Mikela, the Weekly's newly promoted office manager, ordered the mostaccioli, a dish similar to lasagna but heartier: a layer of cheese on top hid strands of penne pasta. The final dish for the evening was the manicotti, placed before my friends Sami and Deanna. The gooey, stuffed pastas were still bubbling when they arrived at our table.
This should've been it for the night—we would eventually stagger out of the restaurant as if we had suffered an ACL tear—but all of us insisted on dessert. Mikela and Deanna each ordered the spumoni, milky scoops of ice cream, while Sami and I enjoyed a creamy, dense tiramisù that made the treat essential rather than an afterthought like in so many other Italian restaurants.
While we were finishing off the desserts, a table of about 12 next to us were celebrating a birthday. Georgina and Tony emerged from the kitchen a couple of minutes later holding a piece of that wonderful tiramisù topped with a birthday candle. They sang "Happy Birthday" with an earnestness that no longer exists, another welcome artifact from the days when Rufino's reigned supreme and a reason why it will never fade away.
RUFINO'S RISTORANTE ITALIANO, 938 S. EUCLID AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 491-0880. OPEN MON.-SAT., 11 A.M-10 P.M.; SUN., 2-10 P.M. DINNER FOR TWO, $25-$50, EXCLUDING DRINKS. BEER, WINE.
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