Our water glass is perspiring so furiously, it's making a puddle on the bar. Diners are fanning themselves with menus. We are waiting for a table at the newly renovated Stellina Pasta Café. It's Friday night, the place is packed and the a/c is on the fritz. An employee opens a few windows, and the hot, sticky air that rolls in is actually welcome, because at least now the hot air is moving.
We have a dirty little secret when it comes to St. Louis summers: We love them. We love them with a fervor and unreasonableness that few can understand. Give us a hundred-degree day, so hot it stings your nostrils to breathe in. You know how when the weather gets like this, people around here are always griping, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity"? We couldn't agree more. It's the magical alchemy of heat and moisture that we find so seductive. Moisture imbues heat with tropical lushness, with weight, substance. Give us 90 percent humidity, the air so thick it feels like warm vanilla pudding.
We sleep with the windows open as late into summer as we can get away with (as long as our bedmate can stand it), because we like waking up on damp sheets with the ceiling fan spinning above. We like to sweat. Not one for colonics or trips to the confessional, our preferred method of purification is a long, sweaty run. Sweat is one of the sexiest substances on Earth, intimate and unaffected. Which is maybe why you're not supposed to do it in polite company, and you're definitely not supposed to do it at dinner. It feels a bit naughty to be out in public, in heels and a dress, with hair sticking to our face and a damp upper lip.
Perched on a barstool, legs crossed, thighs slip-sliding together, we watch bartender Nicole mix up this week's featured cocktail for our dining companion. She muddles fresh strawberries, then adds strawberry vodka, triple sec, a squeeze of fresh orange juice and a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar. She serves it up with an orange twist. It's tasty, full of bright strawberry flavor, but we want something we can gulp, not sip.
Nicole suggests a drink that someone requested earlier in the evening -- limoncello and iced tea. Limoncello is a lemon liqueur that comes from southern Italy. Made from lemon rinds and sugar, it is citrusy and sweet. Served in a highball glass over ice, the iced tea dilutes and caffeinates the liqueur. Like a sophisticated take on sweet tea, it's exactly right: summery and light and cold.
Winter is for a hardier sort than Drink of the Week. Retired people who move to Arizona can have their dry heat. We'll take angry summer storms, sunny skies suddenly darkening with clouds, the air so full of water that it can't hold it any more, and big, fat raindrops, plop, plop, plop, hitting the ground. Give us the round, heavy fruits of a Midwestern summer -- peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, the juice running down our arm. Bitch about the humidity all you want, St. Louis, we'll hold our tongue. We might keep quiet about it, but we think hot and wet is a winning combination, and we're looking forward to all the sultry, steamy, sweaty days ahead.
Stellina Pasta Café 3342 Watson Road 314-256-1600
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