Trattoria Contadina

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Every street in San Francisco eventually leads to a hilltop. It’s as if the whole city has an unspoken agreement to salute each other from afar, perched upon each of the highest peaks.

It was along one of those quintessential hills that I stumbled upon Trattoria Contadina. Aaron, my boyfriend at the time, and I had just finished exploring City Lights Books and we were ravenous for food. We started walking west and inevitably began to incline. In addition to overpriced hardcovers and a city map, I dragged a bad attitude up that hill. My blood sugar was low and I needed to eat. Immediately. We stopped at the corner of Union and Mason to catch our breath.

The universe must’ve listened to my plea because just then, in my peripheral, I noticed a dimly lit Italian joint and the promise of free tableside bread. I could almost feel the button on my jeans pop.

Inside, Trattoria Contadina feels like walking into the home of the Italian grandmother I never had. It’s unapologetically unfussy and so tiny that the wait staff stands in the walkways, eager to sprinkle pepper and refill wine glasses. The cable car hurled by every few minutes, but I never noticed. I was too busy locking eyes with the plates coming out of the open air kitchen, each dish more beautiful than the last. I ended up ordering the first thing on the menu, Aaron too.

We were fresh in love and this was the first trip we’d taken together. I can’t remember what we talked about, but it didn’t matter. Everything he said to me during that time seemed profound. We were in college, hungry for experience, and the only plan we shared was to stay together through it all.

The thought of him came back to me last week when, years later, I spent the weekend in the city with a friend I’d met through work at Nike. We were staying a few blocks from the restaurant and decided to go one evening. It was May this time and still light out when I realized I could see Alcatraz from the entrance. We walked in and were seated right away. At once it felt both familiar and foreign.

When the waiter came to take our order, I chose the dish with creamy tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, bacon and peas. I knew before I took the first bite that I’d inadvertently ordered the same meal as the last time I’d eaten there.

Even though I was a stranger to the person I was back then, eating that pasta returned me to her. She would’ve had no way of knowing that in five years so much would change.

I wanted to tell her so many things.


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