There is a strip mall outside the glowing center of a certain desert town, and in it, you can see the mountains from the parking lot. Without the mountains, you could be in any other strip mall. About five years ago, a very worldly, vibrant former pro tennis player bought some restaurant space in this strip mall. I never knew his last name, something Spanish or French, but his first name was Cesar. This guy never won any of the big tennis championships, but he played with a lot of the big names, from what I heard. After he was too old to play, he took on cooking wholeheartedly and even had enough money to be trained by some legendary chef in Napoli. That’s when he brought his passion of cooking to the desert, and opened this little café, Cesar’s. It was a casual place, serving a range of pretty inexpensive bistro-style foods and pastries. Cesar created the menu for Cesar’s, applying to it all his lessons from the sunny kitchens of Napoli.
Back when I lived in the desert, this girl I knew worked there part-time, so I would come in on slow nights to hang out. This meant I was there every few days or so, because Cesar’s had slow nights often. Lea, the girl who worked there, would text me on these nights and I’d walk there from my apartment. If Cesar was there, she’d write “c at the end of her message, and I would put on a hat and a sweatshirt. If Cesar was there, I would have to order something, too, which wasn’t a bad thing, since he made good food. But even though it was good food, it was just better when he wasn’t there.