Sunday, March 27, 2005

My childhood memories...

When I was growing up in Nagoya, Japan, I lived near an Old Spaghetti Factory. It was one of my all time favorite places to eat, and I even had some of my birthday parties there. I LOVED it. It always smelled great with the seductive aroma of fresh baked bread permeating the air, the grown-up atmosphere with dim lighting, fancy chairs with velvet seats, pretty waitresses with their hair nicely done in a bun, a scoop of strawberry ice cream with plump strawberries waiting for me at the end of the meal... The taste of the spaghetti itself is less memorable, although the four-sauce plate always seemed like such a luxury - four sauces in one plate! What more could a ten year old girl ask for?! Over the years during my short visits back home, I always longingly stared at the Old Spaghetti Factory by my house, but could not quite justify going out for spaghetti when I was in Japan for only 72 hrs or so...

So this is why I jumped with joy when I saw an Old Spaghetti Factory on my way home from Lake Tahoe a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, on my first ride back, we'd already missed the exit by the time I spotted its trademark sign. It was an amazing coincidence when we drove by it, since I was telling my ski mates about how I'd had birthday parties at Old Spaghetti Factory just a few minutes prior to driving past one. My heart literally skipped a beat when we drove by that sign.

osf4
Just last weekend, we made another trek to Lake Tahoe, and this time, my buddy Charlton and I made a conscious effort to remember which exit led to the Old Spaghetti Factory. There were two of them on our way to Lake Tahoe from Dublin, and we noted both with careful attention. And on Sunday evening, we made sure to eat dinner at one.

The first Old Spaghetti Factory we stopped at was in fancy mall and it was bustling. I walked in, almost skipping with joy, my heart beating fast with anticipation. When I saw the interior, it almost brought a tear to my eyes - it was essentially the _same_ restaurant as the fancy, grown-up restuarant of my childhood. I stood a bit in awe as I stared at the 'antique' lamps and the train car in the middle of the restaurant.

osf1
Unfortunately, there was a 30 min wait for a table, so we decided to move on to Old Spaghetti Factory #2. The drive to the next one was only 45 min or so, and I waited patiently, quietly reliving my childhood weekend meals with my sister and my mother.

Old Spaghetti Factory #2 was not in a fancy mall. It had dubious neighbors - something like a Super Motel 8 and a West coast version of Denny's whose name escapes my mind right now. I have to say, at this point, I was kicking myself for not waiting the 30 minutes at first one.

When we walked in, we were told to wait ten minutes or so for a table, which we agreed to do. The ten minutes was more like twenty, even though less than half of restuarant was full. To put it nicely, the interior in this Old Spaghetti Factory was a lot more Factory than either the first Old Spaghetti Factory we stopped at or my childhood Old Spaghetti Factory. The chairs were just wooden chairs - no velvet cushioning to treat my bum with - and even the 'antique' look wasn't working here - it looked like things were made by Walmart.

I shook off the initial disappointment and looked forward to our meal. My excitement wore off fast, since our server took another fifteen minutes or so to come take our order. We saw very little of our server, except for when it was time to pay the bill - he was there instantly for that. Strange, since by then, we'd alrady made up our mind on how much to tip him...

osf2
When we finally got our fresh baked bread, it was warm, bringing a light of hope...except it was just re-heated warm, not fresh baked warm. The center was still cold, and the aroma just wasn't there. And it was SOURDOUGH. Sourdough! I know I am near San Francisco, but sourdough????? I SOOOO wanted my childhood "French" bread with its light yet chewy, salty flavorful innards and crust so crunchy that I always felt like it was almost going to cut my mouth open. Not this limp, half-cold, half-hot (not even luke warm!) sourdough bread...

I hid my disappointment and tried to continue with my meal. After all, I had dragged my ski mates to here... And when my four-sauce Potpurri plate came, I was almost recovered, as it looked just like I had remembered it...

osf3
But sadly, the similarities ended there. The cheese sauce was too salty, the clam sauce was off (something wierd going on with this one, but I couldn't pinpoint it), and the mushroom and meat sauce reminded me more of the pasta bar from our college cafeteria than of the luscious experience at my Old Spaghetti Factory in Japan. Sad, sad, sad. They didn't even have the strawberry ice cream I was looking so forward to devouring...

I am going back to Japan in April. Maybe I will make a special request to my mama to take me to the Old Spaghetti Factory this time... Although, I ought to know by now. A trip down memory lane is dangerous...

5 comments:

Uchipu said...

OMG!!!!!! That's so funny that we have the EXACT same impression of the place!!!!! Same menu item too!!!! The four sauce pasta!!!

To tell you the truth, there is one in Toronto - quite close to a beer hall David and I usally go to. David for beer, and me for the best Mussles I have ever tasted in my life.

The Old Spagetthi Factory is there, right next door to it. I never ate there, but I did walk in there - the same smell of warm bread and sauce fills the air. The interior is almost identical with the train car in the middle with velvet cushions.

But I did not eat there. I am afraid of eating there.

Why? Because I have become more sofisticated in my taste for all things Italian. Pasta that is not at the verge of al dente and undercooked is not acceptable - it must be perfectly timed so that the pasta finishes cooking once the sauce is poured - so that the pasta itself soaks up the sauce. Sauces that do not have the smokey garlic flavor and pungent olive oil is not worth the carbs that comes with it. Any white sauce better be up to par with me or else that white color starts to look like lard that's about to stick to my bum. The minestrone soup that I enjoyed so much as a child is probably less stellar than Campbell's Select.

...and I know being a 'chain', it must've not been that good, even in Nagoya...

But I still yearn for those days when it was very special for you, mom and me, when we went out for dinner at the OSF in Nagoya, and I talk about with my hubby about it whenever I go to Toronto and walk by the restaurant.

Why do I not eat there?

Because sometimes, food tastes better in memory.

umetaro said...

There's one in Hawaii that I used to go to as a child.

I went back a few months ago and the food made me angry.

drbiggles said...

Spaghetti Factory, I think there was one in Oakland 15 some odd years ago, down in Jack London Square. We went once and had about the same experience you had recently. Surely the bread is made off site, frozen only to be 'baked' at each installation.
My local Childhood memories is from a place here in Richmond, The Hacienda. My grandmother & uncle used to take my sister and I to eat there often. And when I say often, over the years we figured I'd been over 500 times. I loved their tacos. And of course, when I got old enough to take myself, found that their food was horrible. 1950s Americanized Mexican food. Scary by any standards.

Biggles

molly said...

yeah, I think the days of the OSF are long gone. It's a chain of the worst sort now, low end food for those with 1 million children it seems.

Hate it when memories don't match expectations...

mariko said...

Alice, there's an Old Spaghetti Factory in Oakland in Jack London Square! I grew up LOVING the Spaghetti Factory (the one in Portland), but now it's kind of gross. My husband still loves the place, though. He thinks it is outstanding, and he always gets the same thing!