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Everybody’s Port: He Has What It Takes

blankIn my 60 years in Port, restaurants have come and gone.

Not many can boast of Louie’s longevity. In truth, however, Louie’s, once a family-owned and operated restaurant, is no longer in local hands.

Conversely, another of our eateries continues with the same fellow at the helm that dropped anchor here in 1978. Originally, a seafood restaurant, Ship to Shore, roughly seven years later—and succumbing to its captain’s ancient genes— became La Piccola Liguria (“Little Liguria”), at 47 Shore Rd. Why its long life, you ask? The man in charge, say I: Victor Raimondo. What’s so special about him, you ask? Read on, please.

Take the man himself. He speaks with candor and a ready sense of humor, some of it self-effacing; he has an expert’s knowledge of food and its preparation. To my statement about a restaurant’s permanence depending on the one who is in charge, Victor’s response was typical. “Who else am I going to blame,” he said, “I look around, but it’s only me.”

His accent is decidedly Italian—not surprising since he hails from Liguria, a narrow, crescent-shaped region in northwest Italy that opens onto the Gulf of Genoa. And if you were paying attention in history class, you know that Genoa gave us Christopher Columbus, and Christopher Columbus proved that neither he nor the world is square.

“The temperature in Liguria is so mild,” Victor said, “you can go swimming in the winter. It’s the Italian Riviera.”

Victor was one of six kids: four brothers, two sisters. His father, Alberto, was a stonecutter and his mother, Angela, not surprisingly, was a housewife. Angela is close to the word Angel. Was she? “She had to be,” he said, “to raise six kids.”

September and October in Liguria were winemaking months. Victor and his brothers crushed the grapes. Where and how? “In a barrel,” he said. In a barrel, said I quizzically. “In a barrel,” he repeated. And how? “When they harvested the grapes, they put them in a barrel and we crushed them.”

And what did you use to do that? “Our feet,” was the answer. He said they got into a barrel feet-first (no shoes, thank heaven) and tramped on the grapes. How long? “All day,” said Victor. (I had seen drawings of barefoot peasant girls in Italy happily crushing grapes with their feet, but this was the first time I ever met somebody who actually did it—and in barrel yet.)

Rarely does a business last by accident. While learning everything he could about food and restaurants, Victor pursued his calling and honed his skills in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the French Riviera, and Bermuda. Although he’s no longer on kitchen duty, as a chef, he can cook with the best of them. He speaks German, French, English, and—big surprise—Italian. He apologizes for not being as fluent in English as he would like; I tell him if I spoke Italian as well as he speaks English, I’d be very happy.

Exemplary service is a nonnegotiable priority of Victor’s. To ensure the best for his clientele, he recruited and nurtured two men who have been mainstays for a quarter of a century. One is the charming Vlemir—whom I suspect is part imp—and the hamish Ciccio, who regularly rattles off at least two dozen appetizers and an equal number of specials and main courses minus a menu or notes— just a warm, welcoming smile. (Said Victor of Ciccio’s feat, “If we don’t know what’s on the menu, we got one big problema.”)

On a more personal note, Victor has two daughters by a previous marriage: Michelle practices law in Boulder, CO; Suzanne teaches biology in a Los Angeles high school. His wife, Davia, does her own thing in Port with Davia Salon.

If you’re at all like me, you like to know what’s going on in town. Here’s something that many don’t know; I know that I didn’t. Quite by accident during my two-hour conversation with Victor, I learned that every Thanksgiving Day, La Piccola Liguria—sotto voce—opens its doors to anyone who’s alone with no place to go for Thanksgiving dinner. “No questions asked,” said Victor.

With that gesture of good will catching the Spirit of the Season, more I cannot wish you than the happiest of Happy Holidays.

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