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Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses

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Overview

Mira Rinaldi lives life at a rolling boil. Co-owner of Grappa, a chic New York City trattoria, she has an enviable apartment, a brand-new baby, and a frenzied schedule befitting her success.

Everything changes the night she catches her husband, Jake, "wielding his whisk " with Grappa's new Mâitress d'. Mira's fiery response earns her a court-ordered stint in anger management and the beginning of legal and personal predicaments as she battles to...

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Overview

Mira Rinaldi lives life at a rolling boil. Co-owner of Grappa, a chic New York City trattoria, she has an enviable apartment, a brand-new baby, and a frenzied schedule befitting her success.

Everything changes the night she catches her husband, Jake, "wielding his whisk " with Grappa's new Mâitress d'. Mira's fiery response earns her a court-ordered stint in anger management and the beginning of legal and personal predicaments as she battles to save her restaurant and pick up the pieces of her life.

Mira falls back on family and friends in Pittsburgh as she struggles to find a recipe for happiness. But the heat is really on when some surprising developments in New York present her with a high stakes opportunity to win back what she thought she had lost forever. For Mira, cooking isn't just about delicious flavors and textures, but about the pleasure found in filling others' needs. And the time has come to decide where her own fulfillment lies—even if the answers are unexpected.

Keenly observed and deeply satisfying, Aftertaste is a novel about rebuilding and rediscovery, about food passionately prepared and unapologetically savored, and about the singular contentment that comes with living—and loving—with gusto.

"A delicious debut. " —Jamie Cat Callan, author of French Women Don't Sleep Alone

Meredith Mileti lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their three, mostly grown children. She is a graduate of Hamilton College and the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology, and subsequently served on the faculty. Since taking her first home economics course in junior high, Meredith has loved to cook. An adventurous and eclectic diner, she appreciates any well-cooked meal, whether from a lobster shack in Bar Harbor, Maine, a friggitorie in Naples, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris or a Deluxe Double Egg & Cheese at Primanti's in Pittsburgh. Aftertaste is her first novel.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780758259912
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 9/1/2011
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 383,314
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Read an Excerpt

aftertaste

{a novel in five courses}
By Meredith Mileti

KENSINGTON BOOKS

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Mileti
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-5991-2


Chapter One

The best thing about the location of the Manhattan County Courthouse is its proximity to Nelly's. Nelly's is a take-out stand that serves the best lamb burger this side of Auckland. Cooked rare, and topped with goat cheese and a fried egg so fresh its yolk oozes orange, it's the last meal I will ask for if ever I find myself on death row.

Climbing the steps to the courthouse, I imagine I am one of New Zealand's intrepid settlers, a nefarious wanderer let loose on the shores of a place new and dangerous, armed with the fortitude only a good meal can provide. I stuff the last delicious morsel into my mouth, savoring the finale, the unctuous tang of the cheese, the bracing bite of the lamb, wishing I'd ordered a beer to go with it. Maybe two.

The criminal division is on the second floor, and stepping off the elevator, I pass through security, where I'm checked for weapons before being let loose to wander freely among the drug addicts, street criminals, and those poor souls wrongly accused of being criminals (of whom, looking around, I suspect there are few). Everyone has a hunted look. They huddle in doorways and dimly lit hallways; some are handcuffed or shackled. The air is thick with the smell of unwashed bodies, of anger and despair. Police officers in various stages of disenchantment with humanity mill around officially, sipping burnt coffee provided free of charge by the grateful taxpayers of Manhattan.

The probation department is located in a slightly more hopeful annex, seven steps up and to the left of the criminal courtrooms. It is the third time I have found myself here, and I know it will not be my last. I have been court-ordered to attend a series of anger-management classes. We meet on Tuesday afternoons, a half a floor removed from the felons, but the smell of anger and despair is here as well. Although it is the third class of six, I think I've regressed. My anger is closer to the surface this time; I can feel it hot and palpable under the collar of my shirt, in the pulse in my neck, and in the palms of my clenched fists. Six of us sit in a circle on the green linoleum floor that looks and feels as if it hasn't been washed in years. The instructor, Mary Ann, is a licensed clinical social worker. She walks slowly behind us, repeating what are supposed to be soothing phrases. "Breathe in the clean, white air. When you exhale, picture your breath as black and hot. It is your anger. Release it, and let it go." It is how we began the last two classes, and it is, I assume, how we will begin them all. When she gets to me, she places a light hand on my shoulder and says softly, "Mira, you're very tense. Try to unclench your fists. Exhale that black, hot anger." She gives my shoulder an encouraging squeeze and moves on.

"Think of what makes you angry," she continues, in a hushed, singsongy voice. "When you feel your body begin to tense, take a cleansing breath, let out that black smoke, and repeat, 'I will not lose control.'"

So here I am, a person who's never so much as gotten a speeding ticket, a person with nary a youthful transgression to speak of, now a regular in the probation department, where I have been ordered to be by Judge Celia Wilcox, who one would have thought would have been more sympathetic to me—a woman scorned. I repeat, "I will not lose control," mantra-like, as if by some wild stretch of the imagination a mere verbal affirmation could make it so.

The truth is, I'm out of control and I know it. I'm out of control and justifiably so. I have just lost everything.

Mary Ann tells us to slowly open our eyes. Amazingly, the air around us is not cloudy with the black smoke of our exhaled anger, which can mean only one of two things: We have all kept it corked up inside to be released later when no longer under Mary Ann's watchful eye or, two, Mary Ann is full of shit. I know what I think and, looking around the room at my fellow miscreants, I know what they think, too. We are doing our time, all of us, thankful to be here and not downstairs, shackled in those orange jumpsuits.

We get up and stretch a bit, then move to chairs that are placed in a circle behind us. We do this more or less silently. The other people in the class, four men and one woman, do not seem to be given to lighthearted banter. They probably do not have good social skills, which might help to explain why they are in this class.

I, on the other hand, am a person with excellent social skills, a gifted conversationalist, a person used to lighthearted banter. A person who occasionally used to smile before rage and disappointment took up permanent residence, lagging in the pit of my stomach like an indigestible meal. I'm angry, and who wouldn't be? I'm forced to be here because the woman who screwed my husband is now trying to steal my restaurant. All I was trying to do was to protect hearth, home, and business, which in simpler times would have been a perfectly permissible and legally defensible option.

In fact, if I'd been a cave woman or even some medieval wench, I would have been considered the victor when I emerged, only slightly bloodied, and holding in my hands great clumps of Nicola's black hair—hair I pulled out by its roots while she sat naked, helpless, and sobbing, hands pressed to her bald and bleeding scalp. I would have won Jake back by a show of sheer physical dominance, and I, not Nicola, would now be presiding over the dining room at Grappa. That I am here, and she is in my restaurant and in Jake's bed is beyond anathema, and a testament to the decline of modern civilization.

A snort escapes me, and I look around, embarrassed. Mary Ann begins. "How did this week go for you all? Let's talk about triggers and what we did to address them. Larry, how about beginning for us?" She gestures to a large man wearing a New York Rangers jersey over white carpenter's pants who, we learned last week, beats his wife.

"I dunno. She got mad and left. So, since she wasn't there, there was nothin' to piss me off."

"Do you know what made her angry?" Mary Ann asks.

I squirm in my chair. I want to say, How about being married to a guy who beats you? Isn't that enough for you, Mary Ann?

"Who the hell knows," says Larry. Mary Ann doesn't say anything. After thirty seconds or so, the uncomfortable silence forces Larry to continue. "Might be because I didn't come home one night."

And I think, great, another adulterer, and because I have no impulse control where infidelity is concerned, I glare daggers at him, then wonder fleetingly if he is likely to turn his rage on me. He looks at me and then at Keisha, a large African American woman, an ex-professional boxer with a cauliflower ear and the only other female in the group besides me and Mary Ann (who, I guess, doesn't really count). Keisha is also glaring at him.

As if sensing our mutual disgust, he proceeds. "I had too much to drink, and I get mean when I'm drunk, so I thought I'd better not go home, just in case."

Mary Ann is all over that one. "Well, Larry, that is an important step. You recognized drinking is a trigger for you, and you were trying to keep yourself from doing some harm. I think you can see that as progress." She smoothes her limp, gray pageboy hair behind both ears, adjusts her cardigan sweater, and gives him a milquetoast smile.

Keisha, who may have even less impulse control than I do, says to Larry, "Hell, she's mad because she don't know where you been sleeping. I'd be mad. Miss Priss and Miss Chef over there"—she gestures to Mary Ann and me—"we'd be mad if our man don't come home, and we don't know where he is or who he's been sleepin' with."

Before I can jump in with a "Right on, sister!," Shawn, a middle-aged man in an expensive suit, waves his hand in a dismissive manner and says in a clipped and condescending tone, "Oh, come on, that really isn't the issue. It is not about what makes her mad. The point is, this guy, Larry here, is trying to get his act together. He knows there are probably a hundred little things his wife does that annoy the crap out of him, and when he's drunk those hundred things become a thousand.

"He's taking one step at a time, and if his wife doesn't see that, to hell with her. This isn't freaking marriage counseling. Larry's got other things on his mind besides other women. Why is it you can't understand it isn't always about you?"

Shawn's tone is full of disdain and thinly concealed misogyny. He hasn't spoken before, and I wonder what he has done and why he is here. One thing I'm sure about, it somehow involves a woman.

Mary Ann, a traitor to her sex, replies, "Thanks for sharing that thought, Shawn. Would you like to say some more about that?"

Shawn puts his forearms on his knees, buries his head in his open palms, and says in a tight voice, "No, that will do it."

Mary Ann turns her attention to Keisha and me and opens her mouth, poised to deliver a lecture, but before she can begin, before I even know it myself, I'm off and running. "Do you want to know what my trigger is, Mary Ann, Shawn, Larry?" I say, louder than I had intended. "Lying, cheating, scumbag husbands and their whores!"

I hear Mary Ann say "Mira," and I know she's about to tell me I'm smothering in the thick, black smoke of my anger. But I don't care, and I don't stop.

I blurt out my story, how I had hired Nicola to be the maîtress d'hôtel at our restaurant, Grappa, when I was seven months pregnant. How I suspected Jake and Nicola had begun having an affair when Chloe was just hours old; and how one night, when Chloe woke up and Jake still wasn't home at two-thirty in the morning, I bundled her up and strapped her into the portable infant carrier, walked the three blocks to the restaurant, and snuck in the side door.

The door was locked, but the alarm wasn't on, the first odd thing, because Jake always locks up and sets the alarm before leaving the restaurant. Chloe had fallen back to sleep in her infant seat on the way over, so I carefully nestled the carrier into one of the leather banquettes.

I crept through the dining room and into the darkened kitchen, where I could see the office at the far end was aglow with candlelight. As I moved closer I could hear music. "Nessun dorma," from Turandot, Jake's favorite. How fitting. On the marble pastry station I found an open bottle of wine and two empty glasses. It was, to add insult to what was about to be serious injury, a 1999 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Masseto Toscano—the most expensive wine in our cellar. Three hundred and eighty dollar foreplay.

I picked up the bottle and followed the trail of clothes to the office. Jake's checkered chef's pants and tunic, Nicola's slinky black dress, which I hated her for being able to wear, and a Victoria's Secret, lacy, black bra. They were on the leather couch, Nicola on top, her wild, black hair spilling over Jake's chest, humping away like wild dogs. Carried away by their passion, they were oblivious to my approach. I drained the last of the wine from the bottle and hurled it over their backsides where it smashed against the wall, announcing my arrival.

Before Jake could completely extricate himself, I jumped on Nicola's back and grabbed hold of her hair and pulled with all the strength of my hot-blooded Mediterranean ancestors. Nicola screamed, and clawed the air, her flailing hands accidentally swiping Jake squarely on the chin. He squirmed out from under her and tried to tackle me, but I'm not a small woman. Armed with my humiliation and anger, I was a force in motion.

In desperation, Jake butted his head into the middle of my back, wrapped his hands around my waist, and pulled with all his might. He succeeded, pulling so hard that Nicola's hair, which I had resolutely refused to yield, came away in great clumps in my hands. Nicola's screams turned to pathetic whimpers as she reached to cover her burning scalp. She then curled herself into a fetal position, naked and bleeding, and began to keen.

My co-offenders are riveted as I tell them everything, right down to my fantasy of feigning a reconciliation with Nicola and then beating her senseless on the stage of The Jerry Springer Show.

When I stop to take a breath, I realize my hands are shaking, as my recollection of the events has triggered an adrenaline rush. I look around at the group. Shawn has removed his head from his hands and is looking right at me as if I have just confirmed all his worst suspicions about women. Keisha is smiling so broadly that I can see all of her white teeth. She shakes her head encouragingly and utters, "damn," under her breath with unconcealed admiration.

Larry does not meet my eyes. He has the look of a trapped animal, a typical bully who, once cornered, melts under the gaze of his captor. I'm receiving validation from my fellow thugs, and I begin to think maybe this group therapy stuff isn't so bad after all.

I do not realize the full extent of my blunder until my gaze finally reaches Mary Ann. Apparently the thought has occurred to her, long before it did to me, that an encore performance on national television would not provide favorable testament to Miss Priss's anger-management counseling skills. It is just one more time my temper has gotten the better of me, and I know, with an element of fatalism, it will not be the last.

I will not be graduating from anger-management skills training as planned, Mary Ann tells me after class. She can see there's much work to be done, and it doesn't take a licensed clinical social worker to see that an outburst like mine speaks of deeper issues to be explored. She then presses into my hand a white slip of paper on which is written the name and telephone number of a person she knows to be an excellent therapist. She adds, after a few seconds, that although she has no authority to order me to individual therapy, she hopes I'll seriously consider it. Then, with a depth of understanding I'd failed to credit to her, she deals me the coup de grace. "Mira," she says, looking fully into my eyes for the very first time, "you owe this to yourself, but more than that, you owe it to Chloe."

On the first floor I stop to buy a Diet Coke at the vending machine. It's now late in the afternoon, and most of the people awaiting trials have gone for the day. I'm spent emotionally and physically by my display in class, and I guzzle the Coke greedily on the way to catch my bus. By the time I get to West Broadway, I've finished the Coke and, as I run for the bus heading to the Village, I toss the empty can into the garbage, only to see the little, white slip of paper that has stuck to the side of the moist can, the piece of paper on which Mary Ann has written my ticket to sanity, disappear into the trash.

Chapter Two

You cannot know the type of person you really are, I mean truly, deep down, appreciate the measure of yourself as a person, until you've felt the cold steel of a pair of handcuffs against your wrists. What does it evoke? Pain? Terror? Remorse? After my attack on Nicola, they had restrained me, in order to protect me from myself, the officer told me, her hand atop my head as she gently, and I'd like to think sympathetically, assisted me into the back of the cruiser. She had been kind, allowing me to call Hope, our downstairs neighbor and Chloe's sometime babysitter, and wait for her to trudge the three blocks in her bathrobe to pick up Chloe. She had even graciously removed the cuffs so I could hold her for an instant, allowing me to brush a trembling kiss across her forehead before transferring her into Hope's waiting arms. But the act for which I remain most grateful was her unexpected humanity—she had waited for Hope and Chloe to disappear around the corner before re-cuffing me, apologizing as she snapped the locks into place with a dispiriting click. Perhaps because I've spent my life working with my hands, I find it terrifying to have them immobilized. But, sitting in the back of the cruiser, my neck craned uncomfortably to watch the diminishing specters of Jake and Nicola out the cruiser's rear window—Jake's arm wrapped protectively around Nicola, a white tablecloth draped over her heaving shoulders—all I can remember feeling was a strange detachment, as if I were watching a Lifetime Channel movie of the week, waiting patiently for the next commercial break. It wasn't until Jake and Nicola had completely disappeared from view, and I struggled to turn around, the steel of the handcuffs uncomfortably chafing my wrists, that I found a piece of Nicola's long, dark hair had wedged itself firmly in between my two front teeth and was tickling my bottom lip. All I can remember thinking is, "How the hell did that get there?" No remorse, God forbid. No guilt. Just pure incredulity.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from aftertaste by Meredith Mileti Copyright © 2011 by Meredith Mileti. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 20, 2011

    "A Varied Menu for Everyone's Taste"

    Mira Rinaldi seemed thoroughly satisfied with her daily chaos-filled life as co-owner and chef at "Grappa", the renowned NYC trattora, plus being the mother of their newborn daughter, Chloe and wife of chef and business partner, Jake. All is rolling along smoothly until the fateful night that Mira discovers Jake's indiscretions with Grappa's Maitress'd ; the sultry Nicola. Mira's already stress-filled life evolves into an emotional, anger-filled"roller coaster ride" culminating in her arrest for assault and an order to take anger-management classes. Between deep-seated anger and an unforgiving schedule, her participation in the classes is not successful, and so, after being overheard and misunderstood, as well as to avoid going back to jail, Mira offers to leave the New York City area (as well as her beloved Grappa) for six months and heads to her childhood home and her Father in Pittsburgh, Pa. With the upheaval comes sad memories, some revelations, new and renewed friendships and a lot of soul-searching within herself. Mira had always considered herself a strong woman, but, is she strong enough to create a new life, one not only for herself-but for Chloe as well? She will discover it includes enticements, opportunities, realizations, frustrations, exhilaration, excitement and, maybe peace and contentment she never thought she'd find. You'll cheer for her attempts at righting her topsy-turvy life, helped by a steadfast group of friends including tough businesswoman; Renata and husband, Michael, the guy with the heart of gold from her past; Richard, Ruth and toddler son Carlos, the new lady in her Dad's life; Fiona, crusty newspaper editor; Enid, and especially Ben. Your heart will reach out in sympathy, as Mira experiences the pain and loss of not only her marriage, but the business she poured so much of herself into. Ms. Mileti touches alcoholism with a skillful pen, and how it affects not just the abuser, but their friends and family, especially, younger generations. The attention to detail, especially the descriptions of the scrumptious dishes is enough to make your mouth water! I never thought about Karma much before reading this tale, but, I will now! "Aftertaste" may be Ms. Mileti's first novel, but I, for one, sure hope it will not be her last. I'm ready to embark on some new adventures with Mira, how about you? Nancy Narma

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 16, 2011

    Good Reading!

    This book opens with Mira, the main character retelling her assualt of her husbands lover. It is funny, but not over the top, just funny in a looking back sort of way. This gets the reader hooked in my opinion, however the book has some lull around pages 120 or so and it takes about 50 pages to get back into it. Mira is depressed at that time and it is almost as if the emotion transfers to the reader and the pages. Once you get over the depression the book picks up a great deal and I found myself rooting for Mira the whole way. To me this book was like living Mira's life, the reader truly feels the emotions portrayed in her life. For an author's first novel it is a homerun, not sure how she will be able to top it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2011

    A Terrific Book Club Pick!!

    This extraordinary novel combines two of my favorite interests-- food and literary fiction. There are a lot of things I loved about the book-- the story, the humor, the drama, but most of all the beautiful writing-- hard to believe that it is Mileti's first book.

    I'm really looking forward to discussing this at our next book club meeting. Without giving anything away, there is a lot to discuss-- preferably over some good food!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2012

    I loved this book, too!

    I loved this book, too!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2012

    Recommend for an easy, fun read

    We read this for our book club. Author has a conversational, easy to read style, reminds me of Jennifer Weiner in tone. Mira, our main character, is feisty and delightfully imperfect. Story explores anger, loss and friendship with a foodie theme for readers who have spent time in Pittsburgh, a wonderful flavor of the Steel City.

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  • Posted June 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I loved this book! I am also, as Meredith Mileti puts it in a no

    I loved this book! I am also, as Meredith Mileti puts it in a note about herself at the end of her fabulous book, “an untrained, albeit incredibly enthusiastic, home cook” and I fell in love with the heroine of this book, Mira! She’s funny and sarcastic and amazing in any kitchen! She has to take control of her life after finding her husband and a co-worker together…well…control may not be all she takes…she also took a chunk of the other woman’s hair without even realizing it! Love it!! And that’s just the beginning! It’s a wonderful story of finding yourself again after a long relationship ends (or does it?) and also about this beautiful love affair with food we all have and the important role food, or feeding those we love and care about, plays in our lives!
    At the end of the book Meredith includes several amazing recipes that were used during an important part of the story! Perfection!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

    Good story and easy read

    Good story and easy read

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  • Posted December 28, 2011

    Delightful and well-written

    Entertaining, engrossing, and very well-written for its genre, Aftertaste is a non-guilty pleasure. The book opens with the main character's husband cheating on her shortly after the birth of their child, and her rather violent, but understandable reaction that forces her to Anger Management courses. Similar to Bread Alone, the book narrates her painful and sometimes circuitous journey back to believing in herself and to creating a meaningful life. The writing is excellent, the characterization is rich and complex, and the book grabs the reader and doesn't let go until the final page. I look forward to more by this author.

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  • Posted November 9, 2011

    Food & Romance -- what more can you ask for?

    Mileti had me hooked from the first page! The rebuilding of life, love, and career was overpowering. I laughed and cried along with Mira. I groaned when Mira was acting foolish. I beat my head with the book, saying ¿NO! Not again!¿ When a reader has such great emotions from simply reading, you know you have an excellent author! Mira had the perfect life. She had a gorgeous and smart chef husband, a darling infant, the lucrative restaurant of her dreams, yet it shatters like a mirror hitting cement when Mira finds her husband in the throes of passion with one of their employees. Mira explodes, causing many legal battles to come about. She looses her husband, her business, her self-esteem . . . she is alone with an infant and has to rebuild her life. Regretfully, she returns to her hometown of Pittsburg where she slowly, and stubbornly, rebuilds her life, from herself up to her career. It takes a lot for Mira to do, but she succeeds! Not only does she succeed, but she does it well! Her friends and family are there for her throughout the story. She not only finds herself, but she finds love along the way ¿ and peace! Mileti has tapped into a foodies dream! The use of the five courses was an excellent way to divide the chapters in Mira¿s life! The knowledge of food, cooking, baking, cuisine, etc. that Mileti has included leaves no doubt that she has done the research, and done it well! I have fallen in love with Mileti¿s writing and truly look forward to another piece!

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  • Posted August 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a terrific drama

    When she was seven months pregnant, Mira Rinaldi hired Nicola as the Maîtress d'hotel at her Manhattan Italian restaurant, Grappa. Two months later she gives birth to Chloe. However, Mira begins to think her spouse and restaurant co-owner Jake is having an affair with Nicola. When two months old Chloe wakes her up in the wee hours of the morning, she finds her spouse not home. Mira with Chloe walks to nearby Grappa; there she finds Jake and the Maîtress d'hotel having sex. She explodes attacking Nicola. Later Judge Wilcox places Mira on probation and makes her attend an anger management seminar.

    Mira files for divorce and flees with her baby to her family in Pittsburgh. She knows she may lose her beloved Grappa but Mira refuses to retreat. Instead as her family and friends surround her with love she seeks a revised gourmet five course meal while Jake betrays her again even after their divorced.

    This is a terrific drama due to the mercurial Mira's reactions to life changes (having a baby, a cheating husband, a divorce, a potential move and much more). Mindful of No Reservations but with its own five course story line, fans will enjoy Mira's heartfelt love of cooking as she seeks a new way to balance the loves of her life.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2011

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    Posted March 19, 2012

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