Eight years ago my father died on a cold winter’s day. It was a relief for him and for us, my mother and me.

The years following were very difficult for my mother. Our relationship was strained because she became depressed and depended on me to fill the voids in her life, which I could not do. I had a young family, a baby on the way, work, music, and a social life. Although I did what I could to help my mother, not much could really propel her from the deep depression she was suffering through.

There were distinct times that brought her out of the doldrums and they invariably involved sitting down and eating food with us. Often this involved just a mere chili dog from the Mack Avenue National Coney Island in Detroit. Sometimes it involved a trip to Olive Garden where my mom would use her finger to scrape up the last of the alfredo sauce from the dipping bowl which would, in turn, cause Kim to dry heave. Every now and then, we would enjoy a two hour trip to Frankenmuth to enjoy the all-you-can-eat splendor of Zehnder’s family-style chicken dinner. No matter what, through this dark period and all throughout the rest of my life, food was at the center of our happiness and gatherings. The holidays, the summer celebrations, the random Sunday barbecues, the Catholic commemorations – all reasons to eat in communion.

Mom and HaroldAfter moving my mother to Portland while hoping that some how, some way her mood would lift, a man appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Harold was another resident at Chestnut Lane and he fancied my mother quite a bit. Being a widower himself, they both had quite a bit in common. He’d even converted to Catholicism in the recent past, which my mother thought was quite an attractive quality – along with his cigar smoking habit. On Valentine’s Day of 2004, they became an item and have been ever since. The love they share is beautiful and downright cute in their older age. They’re both younger sharing each other’s company and, indeed, my mother’s depression lifted immediately.

This is why, later my second day in Portland, after a good nap to sleep off the croque monsieur, I went with my mom and Harold to dinner. There is definite reason to celebrate their companionship. Considering that they each cannot drive and I was hoofing it, our dining choices were limited. I also needed to consider their geriatric eating habits, as well. Luckily for all of us, Pastini Pastaria made the brilliant decision in the last few years to open a downtown establishment reasonably close to the MAX lines. I couldn’t have been happier at the news.

See, Pastini Pastaria doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is – a wallet-friendly, family-friendly, pasta place with decent, fresh ingredients, good wines, and simple, excellent desserts. Of course, in Portland fashion, Pastini stays on top of all the food trends and tries to remain as local as possible. It also doesn’t shy away from being fashionable and modern in its decor all the while being as far away from kitschy as possible. This is not The Old Spaghetti Factory here – although their prices are just about the same. Pastini is serious about good, freshly made food and it shows.

We were helped inside by the remarkable staff with every consideration made for my mom and Harold’s walking assistance. Their walkers were moved off to the side after being seated (They were helped down the ramp to our booth). Our server – a mighty convincing doppelganger of my fellow iddreamer, Randy, but gay – was more than patient with us and made sure that when he spoke, his lips were visible just in case my mom and Harold needed to lip-read (For those of you that do not know, they are both deaf). It made me so glad that we made it out to dinner and it made me ecstatic to be in Portland.

Chicken Piccata LinguiniOur orders came promptly after we snacked on the parmigiana bread. My mother and Harold shared a bowl of the rigatoni with meat sauce bolognese and I ordered for myself the linguini with chicken piccata. Because it was a fairly warm day, I aimed for something lighter and refreshing – and refreshing it was. The sauce comprised of white wine, lemon, butter, and capers hit my taste buds with the brightness I’d been hoping it would. Tart and smooth, it was a great accompaniment to the grilled chicken. The linguini was al dente in texture and soaked up the sauce well. Truly delicious – especially for less than ten bucks. My mom and Harold loved their pasta as well – and they are indeed a picky twosome. I tried a quick bit of the bolognese and it was dead-on with the meaty texture and the sweet overtones. Nicely done pasta – although I would’ve preferred this on a rainy day in November.

Dessert followed with a coffee for Harold and for me the lemon pudding cake, which knocked my socks off. The cake was moist with the lemony pudding and dressed with sweet berry sauce. I savored every last bit of that dessert. My mom – who hasn’t had a sweet tooth for years – loved it, too. I was sort of worried she would eat it all! However, the most interesting part was Harold’s coffee, of all things. I immediately noticed the aroma and knew that it was damn good coffee. It didn’t smell like your average crap that most restaurants serve. Just as I mentioned this to my mom, Harold took a sip, black of course, and the first words from his hands were: “This coffee is very good!” I asked our Randy doppelganger what coffee it was and, of course, he filled us in on the wonders of Portland Roasting – a local roaster renowned for its coffee but not widely available through retail outlets.

Ah, Portland.

So ended our lovely evening dining together, as we always had in the past….

I, however, wanted to walk out my full tummy. Strangely enough, I later ended up drinking coffee in a place that I would’ve sworn was an indie rock bar if I didn’t know better…..