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  • 1. First find the wrong one. Or try to. The one the people in the hotel tell you to go to. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted a guidebook. Check out the restaurant in the afternoon as you prowl the city looking for the right light, the little between moment of magic for your greedy camera. See how cute it is, how the menu is in Italian only, how the people speak no English, how it is way off the beaten track, how the prices are good. Make a reservation, even, if your Italian will hold up.

    2. Dress up. A little. Enough to do the city proud. Not too much though. This is important. You don’t want to be seduced by the fancy restaurants recommended by the guidebooks that line the way to the little out-of-the-way one.

    3. Hope you forget how to get there and have to ask someone. Choose that someone carefully, a someone whose advice could be interesting, surprising. You like surprises. Good surprises. Have your daughter’s Italian boyfriend do the talking. The woman he asks looks at you all skeptically—You want to go there? Fine. I used to go there twenty years ago when it was really good. Follow me. She shrugs. Take it as a good sign.

    4. Let her take you there—well, almost there, chatting away as she does, and then stop when she stops in the middle of the sidewalk, pauses, looks you over and says—Do you want to eat well? Drink great wine? Not too expensive? Nod. Nod vigorously. Follow her wherever she goes, winding this way and that way. Thank her when you get to a sweet little place and see all the locals hanging about with a spritz at the outside tables. Breathe in your good luck.

    5. If you don’t find someone to ask--do not interrupt someone having a spritz--go ahead, walk back to the wrong trattoria that you still think is the right one. Peek through the window. Shrug at your group and go in. Sit down at the table they have reserved for you. Take in the transformation of the place. The loud pop music. The bright lights. The table filled with noisy Austrians giving the wait staff a hard time.

    6. Look a bit sad. Have your group notice. Have them ask what’s wrong. Ask them if they saw that little charmer a few doors down, the one you hadn’t seen that afternoon. Watch them nod. Watch them understand you. Send your Italian-speaking daughter down the street to see if the charmer has a table. They do. Just one. Come now.

    7. Look at your group. Say you’ll do what they want. They all leap up—they know your feelings. They say go with your intuition.

    8. Apologize to the waitress. Look sad. She understands. Leave.

    9. Feel the air lighten around you as you skip down the street, walk into the sweet sweet little place with a menu that changes daily, has locals at all the tables but the one saved for you—take it as a sign--a table by the window no less, a table that fits you all snugly, a table in a restaurant without music, without bright lights, without noisy tourists. A table in a restaurant that serves sublime local food by a wry waitress who lets you taste four wines before choosing one and who tells you what’s what on the menu, in Italian of course.

    10. Thank your lucky stars. Mangia!
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