Reservations were a must at Bombara’s Ristorante

July 23, 2002 7:43 AM
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HE CALLED HER Mrs. Bombara. She called him Mr. Bombara.

That’s the way it was at Bombara’s Ristorante Italiano in the late 60s in Las Vegas.

The restaurant was at the end of East Charleston Boulevard. The road has since been extended farther and the neighborhood has built up quite a bit. But, back then it was an isolated desert area a mile or two past the edge of town and you had to really crave Italian cooking to venture that far.

Since the casinos in those days thought a gourmet restaurant was a fancy steak house and that Italian food meant spaghetti and meatballs, I was hard pressed to satisfy my palate when I came to town.

Then one day a pit boss told me about Bombara’s.

It wasn’t your typical Italian restaurant. Mr. Bombara was a character and he had a lot of rules. First and foremost, you had to have a reservation to eat in his restaurant. Without one, you would not be admitted ”” even if there were no Âí­other Âí­patrons. And, no matter how well he knew you, he Âí­always made a show of getting his reservation book and looking for your name.

Newcomers often made the mistake of asking for a menu. Mr. Bombara had one and would gladly give it to his customers, but it had nothing to do with what was being served.

Usually, he had a little fun by allowing the patrons to inquire about various items on the menu and telling them a story about why each one wasn’t available that evening.

At some point, he would explain that the Bombara’s went to the market daily and shopped for that evening’s menu. It was as close to eating at home as you could get.

When you inquired about what was being served that night, Mr. Bombara would call Mrs. Bombara from the kitchen. He would introduce her to you, and proceed to make a great show of talking to her and relaying to you what had been prepared.

Mrs. Bombara was painfully shy. She would politely say hello to diners, but then confined the rest of her conversation to Mr. Bombara. It was easy to see she couldn’t wait to get back to the security of her kitchen.

Her shyness, however, did not affect her cooking. It was fabulous! If I closed my eyes it wasn’t hard to imagine that I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen in Manayunk, Pa.

But, as much as Mrs. Bombara loved cooking, Mr. Bombara loved story telling. He would entertain customers with stories of the early days and all the celebrities that came to the restaurant. He was very proud of the fact that he did not bend his rules for these important people. They needed a reservation just like anyone else.

One of his favorites was the time Frank Sinatra wanted to pay him a lot of money to close the restaurant so he could have a private dinner. Mr. Bombara was adamant. Mr. Sinatra was very welcome to make a reservation to come and dine, but the restaurant would remain open. Mr. Bombara would not insult his good friends by closing his doors at the whim of Mr. Sinatra.

To help with the story telling and while waiting for Mrs. Bombara to serve dinner, Mr. Bombara often suggested a bottle of wine. There was white and there was red. No fancy labels here.

Of course, it would be insulting to your host if you didn’t invite him to have a glass with you. If you didn’t know that, Mr. Bombara found a way to tactfully clue you in.

And so it went for the Bombara’s for many years. The restaurant was their home, which they shared with their customers, their good friends. You could taste the love in the cooking and it was easy to see the warmth and admiration they felt for each other.

When Mr. Bombara passed away a number of years ago, Mrs. Bombara tried to keep the restaurant going. But, it wasn’t the same. Sadly, Bombara’s Ristorante Italiano was closed.

Mrs. Bombara retired and eventually moved to Reseda, Calif., where she lived in a home for seniors and shared a room with her sister, Sadie Margolin.

Last Tuesday, Mrs. Bombara passed on. She was 95.

In addition to her sister, she left behind three sons, Carlo of Arizona; Guiseppe of North Las Vegas; and Mario of Las Vegas. Also, 26 grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, three great-great grandchildren and a legion of friends who loved her cooking.

And, while Bombara’s Ristorante Italiano no longer exists on East Charleston, of one thing I’m certain. Mrs. Bombara called ahead for a reservation and Mr. Bombara was waiting at the door to greet her.