August 1, 2011
Monday postscript: Making it personal at Palermo Ristorante

photo (11).JPGEvery once in awhile, I go into a restaurant or store and am so impressed by something - the food, the service, the selection of groceries or some intangible - that I will find myself thinking: I wish a place like this could be located within walking distance of where I live.

It has happened with Café Luna in Placerville, with Taste Restaurant in Plymouth and Ambience in Carmichael. I wish Corti Brothers were across the street, so I could scuttle over there for a bottle of wine and some pasta. I wish Taylor's Market was around the corner. I can ride my bike to both, but walking is a stretch. We were in Newcastle riding our bikes this Saturday and we dropped by Newcastle Produce. I wish there were a Newcastle Produce II somewhere downtown. Great little store.

Still, I'm lucky. I can walk to Ella, to Mulvaney's, to Moxie and to Magpie. I can walk to Nationwide for a burger and fries. I've hoofed it to Red Lotus and to Biba. This is what's so appealing about the urban lifestyle. The scale of design is more compact. Density is a good thing. You get to walk to places and from places. You see things at a slower speed. You might run into people on the way. You can say hello to strangers. When I pick up my shirts at Mercury Cleaners, for instance, I take our dogs in and the owner gives them treats. The dogs can't walk by there now without turning toward the door and wagging their tales, even when it's closed. That's a little thing, and something so simple, that adds to my quality of life.

But my latest "discovery," Palermo Ristorante, is also my latest lament, in a good way. This Palermo is in Elk Grove - a good 30 minutes of car travel on Highway 99 and Elk Grove Boulevard, with a right turn into a strip mall. There, as unlikely as it might seem, is one of the warmest and most inviting casual Italian restaurants I can remember. As I said in my review, the food is good and the menu is expansive. But it is the people in the restaurant who make it special. They make it fun and they make you feel like your visit is important to them. I actually found their conduct entertaining. We sat and watched as they hugged and kissed their regular customers, waved hello, said goodbye. The chef came out to banter at one table while his wife, the host, was having a quick glass of wine with customers at another table.

We don't get to have a restaurant experience like that often enough. When we returned for another visit, our server this time remembered what we had the last time - when the restaurant was packed and she didn't even wait on us. It made us feel like our visit counted for something. Maybe there is a lesson there for other restaurants.

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