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AT YOUR SERVICE : Pasta and Palaver

Gino Setola does not so much run a restaurant. He holds court--and feeds the customers, too.

Setola, 46, is the owner/operator/waiter/cook/busboy/jester at Gino’s Trattoria on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, a small establishment that enjoys a loyal clientele.

The father of two, Setola is a skinny, earthy man, well-suited to his earthy cuisine.

“My relationship with the customers?” Setola asks in the heavy accent of his native Naples, Italy. “It’s ‘Ciao. Hey, hey, how’re you doing?’ Simple. Nothing fancy. They feel at home; you feel at home.”

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So homey is the atmosphere at his 32-seat cafe that Setola often pulls up a chair and tells you what is best on the menu, while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with other diners. He hates to see a woman dining alone, and does his best to coax a smile out of her. When the place starts hopping on weekend nights, Setola points his guests to the wine bottles and loaves of crusty bread and lets them serve themselves.

Service a la Setola is a mixture of humor and bluntness. His sentences are punctuated with, “Ah, forget it,” an all purpose “pffft” sound to express disdain, hand claps and finger snaps.

For regular customers, Setola whips up a special appetizer, chats in one of four languages or regales the visitor with a story about his years in the merchant marine and the Italian navy. Voluble as he is, don’t ask him to violate certain culinary customs.

“It’s my place, pffft,” he explained. “It’s my way or no way. In my culture, we don’t serve chicken and pasta together, and we don’t put the cheese on the lobster. Simpler is better.”

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That philosophy holds true throughout the restaurant. The tables are covered with plain white cloths, and Setola wears khakis and plaid shirts rather than jacket and tie. “I don’t try to impress nobody, nothing like that,” he says.


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