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I have a dining dilemma.

I am perfectly willing to jump through hoops for a good meal. For 3 years I cheerfully tolerated all of Pasta Mia’s rules (line up with no wait list, cash only, whole party must be present to be seated, no substitutions) and idiosyncracies (staff who tried to sell us iPhone apps and Italian vacations while we ate) because the food was worth it.

Unfortunately, my last two experiences at Pasta Mia were akin to actual nightmares. First, after a hapless waiter spilled cream sauce all over my companion’s new wool coat I was dragged back to the kitchen and accused by the owner of making the story up. Second, and WAY worse, I was full-on screamed at by the same owner for several minutes in front of the entire restaurant because a different hapless waiter messed up my order and brought me meaty bolognese, which I deigned to send back. Yes, you read that right. Yelled at twice because of mistakes made by the staff.

Needless to say, I haven’t been back.

Shameful to say, I’m considering it.

Here’s the thing: over these 3 years, Anupama and I have crafted the perfect experience at Pasta Mia. The kind of meal that we anticipate for weeks, that makes us roll our eyes in ecstasy, and that we hesitate to include others in lest they try to mess with perfection. And, until Coat Night followed by Scream Fest, I thought we had beat the system. We laughed at the suckers who showed up right after the first seating. We shook our heads at couples who both ordered cream sauce. We scoffed at those bravely waddling their full bellies and fuller leftover containers out to the bars to meet post-dinner obligations.

Here’s the magic formula:

1. Show up at 6 pm (5:50 on Friday or Saturday) or 7:40. Bring cash. Anupama has been known to also BYOB – bring your own butter – because she prefers it to the olive oil they give you with bread.

2. Order the spinach and cheese ravioli with pesto (it’s mostly chunky tomato sauce with a dollop of pesto), the gnocchi gorgonzola, and a huge side of broccoli done just right.

3. Talk now because conversation will end as soon as your food arrives.

4. Alternate between bites of pillowy yet bouncy gnocchi, broccoli soaked in creamy gorgonzola sauce (it’s like you get fondue and pasta in one), and zippy ravioli. Make slightly inappropriate sounds of appreciation.

5. Ask for the leftovers split between two boxes so each of you gets the perfect combo for your next 3 meals. Which averages to $8 per meal. Which is pretty awesome.

6. Optional: Make a bite of space for tiramisu (don’t worry, you’ll get another box). I’ll admit I’ve only managed this once or twice for a special occasion. The cream is lovely and thick and just slightly sweetened.

7. Roll on home to digest.

Now you know. But the problem remains: there is no controlling for the truly terrible ‘service’, even for the most law-abiding patrons. On a good day, the waiters, apparently fearing their own shadows (who can blame them?), fly so far under the radar that they are practically invisible. And on a bad day – bad meaning that the smallest thing doesn’t go according to plan – well, we already covered that.

So what do I do? Abandon one of my favorite. meals. ever. or continue to support this mini-dictatorship while risking further abuse?

You’ve been warned:
Pasta Mia
1790 Columbia Road Northwest
Washington, DC
(202) 328-9114
Closed Sundays and Mondays