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Al Martinez

Bury me with a plate of pasta, and that will be heaven enough for me. : Eat, Eat, Eat

July 16, 1987|Al Martinez

For about 11 months I have been on a diet fashioned by the Pritikin Health Center, which is an organization dedicated to reconstituting those who have led lives of shameful excess.

The Pritikin diet is built generally around the triumph of neutral taste, especially in products marketed under its own label. Not good taste, not bad taste, but the absence of taste.

Neutral taste, like perpetual motion, has been a goal of science for hundreds of years, and its achievement could mean high honors for those who finally managed to bring bland out of the laboratories and onto the dinner table.

How Pritikin conquered flavor is, of course, a trade secret, but sources tell me that soy bean and cardboard were at least two of the ingredients involved in final testing.

I mention this not to demean what we on the treadmills call the Pritikin Way, but to explain why for the past several weeks I have been involved in an orgy of eating. I am just plain damned tired of good health.

Part of the problem is that I am married to a person who can turn half a pound of hamburger and a month-old head of cauliflower into roast duckling with a peppercorn glaze and explain it by saying she just threw some things together.

Going from that to Styrofoam tofu is a shock to the system from which one does not easily recover. I find it necessary, therefore, to occasionally eat my way through several miles of restaurants before realizing that if I continue down that path my complex carbohydrates will explode and take me with them.

But meanwhile it satisfies a dormant urge for la dolce vita to engage in an almost suicidal quest for calories my body has for too long been denied. There is no better place to die of overeating than in the Westside.

I went from Polly's Pies and Bo-Jay's Pizzeria to Les Anges and the Rangoon Racquet Club, from breakfast for two at $12.36 to dinner for four at $232.67.

The big dinner came at a place in West Los Angeles called Primi Un Ristorante, and it is fortunate I was past dessert when I called for the check or I would have choked on my gelato.

Paying $232.67 for dinner is not only morally excessive but financially draining as well when American Express comes pounding at the door.

There was no way I could submit it on my L.A. By God Times expense account, because I deal with people who still refer to food as chow and who celebrate special occasions at Sizzler.

So I had to eat the bill as well as the linguine carbonara con pancetta, which taught me not to take guests to a place like Primi. Pete's Italian Corner will do just as well.

I stuck to mostly pasta during my period of excess, due, I suppose, to a residual memory of someone at Pritikin admonishing that if I must fall off the tofu platter, it is better to fall into a mound of spaghetti than onto a whole suckling pig.

That is not to say, however, I didn't go Asian, Persian, Cajun and French, because I did. The only ethnic restaurant I missed was Mexican. Contrary to what you might otherwise believe, I consider poitrine de veau , not refried beans, as soul food.

My odyssey into gluttony ended at Damiano Ristorante on Pico Boulevard, where I finally learned the meaning of surfeit.

I wanted to interview the owner, Damiano Carlo Albanese, because he is the only person I have ever met who has eaten pasta at least twice a day every day of his life.

Damiano is 60 years old, so I figure he has probably eaten 10,950 pounds of pasta since birth and therefore ought to know something about it.

I deliberately had lunch before the interview so that I could take notes and not worry about trying to eat and write at the same time, since a notorious lack of coordination results too often in trying to eat my pen.

I informed Damiano of that, but he still brought out platters piled high with pasta smothered in puttanesca and arrabbiata sauces, and I dug right in as though I had not eaten since Father's Day.

We discussed chocolate fettuccine, rigatoni grooved so that the sauce will cling and black linguine made from the ink of squid, but I didn't take notes on any of it.

When I tried, Damiano would say Eat, eat! and I would plunge again into the penne arrabbiata with an enthusiasm that defied good sense and maximum capacity. Only when Damiano began talking to a waiter about angel hair pescatora did I call a halt.

There may be some things I am willing to die for, but angel hair pescatora is not one of them.

I have since returned to the Pritikin Way, lingering without enthusiasm over bean curd cooked in rain water, but my heart is still at the Ritz and at the Beau Rivage and at Ruth's Chris Steak House and at Patout's and at Chez Helene.

I know I will go on another eating binge in six months or so, and if the next one finally does me in, that might not be a bad way to go. Bury me with a plate of pasta, and that will be heaven enough for me.

Nothing fancy. Some linguine, perhaps, and a little white clam sauce.

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