Silence at a restaurant is a wonderful thing, even if the first few moments after the grand entry into La Piazza sting. There you are, alone and forsaken by all your friends, the social diamonds in the human rough that you've been neglecting lately, those who calm you when you're going crazy, those who kinda sorta understand you, those who'd love a chance to catch up and leech a few drinks out of your peach gig as a professional taster/bullshitter. Forsaken by your ladyfriend, busy practicing. Forsaken by your serotonin levels, dangerously low. Forsaken by Clint Eastwood, who made a movie called Mystic River that will break your frickin' heart. But ultimately, forsaken by yourself, for not making the effort. Your brain feels like a brick wall in desperate need of tuckpointing; your heart, like a clump of dirt. Was that a hound in the distance, starting to bay? Whippoorwills crying? Welcome to life, loser; get used to it.
But then, the room, and the lighting, and the calm atmosphere of La Piazza enter your humdrum, and as you're seated and offered a cosmopolitan, the fog starts to burn away and here you are, alone and forgetting. If there's a more charming, soothing room in which to sit and read about the history of cement, we've yet to find it. On a Tuesday at La Piazza, a rustic Italian restaurant nestled on a University City corner in the shadow of downtown Clayton, the space is half-empty but the lighting is perfect, the smiles on the faces genuine, and the laughter of the tableful of housewives in the back infectious. You can hear them clear as a bell, and that's because, it dawns on you, La Piazza, at least on a Tuesday, opts for a silent soundtrack. No cheesy Italian music. No jazz. No tepid Chopin. Pure, unfiltered silence, and it sounds okay.
Sip the cosmopolitan, which bartender/server Heather (like Pele and Bono, she has opted for the one-stop moniker) has perfected. Long live this workhorse of a drink, one that never goes out of style because it's so pretty on the eye and soft on the palate. Heather's secret is excellent ingredients, which shouldn't be a secret at all in this world, but, alas, is. She deploys Grey Goose vodka (always nice) and adds a touch of Cointreau, fresh-squeezed lime juice and, she says, an excellent brand of cranberry juice, which adds the distinctive rosy tone that blends perfectly into this exquisite room. If you're not schooled in the joys of a good cosmo, the key is restraint on both the lime and the cranberry -- especially the latter. A good one suggests the berry without dictating it. You want to know it's there for more than just its color, but you don't want it to subsume the subtle Cointreau and the Grey Goose. It shouldn't be like the "p" in psychologist, a useless appendage. Rather, it should be like the "h" in whippoorwill: It's there, and you can hear it, but it's more a breath than a sound, more a feeling than an expression.