This evening my friend Clark Mitchell and I had dinner at Per Lei on the Upper East Side. It being Good Friday and Clark being an Episcopalian, he was at church that night and was running late, so I had a drink at the bar. Per Lei being an Italian restaurant, I asked Francesco, the bartender, if he could make a Negroni.
“I make the best Negroni in the city,” he said. So of course I had him proceed. He started with a rocks glass, added a dash of bitters and then flipped a bottle of gin from behind his back and poured some into his glass. Then he grabbed a bottle of sweet red vermouth in his right hand, a bottle of Campari in his left and poured from them simultaneously into my glass.
Yes, if the Tom Cruise character in Cocktail had been from Rome, he would have been very much like Francesco. He practiced flipping plastic shakers between orders.
I snacked on the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and olives that Francesco had set out for me as I waited for Clark. He arrived in due course and ordered a Martini with a twist and we began catching up. For reasons neither of us could quite figure out, we hadn't seen each other since December, so we had plenty to talk about. We recounted our respective trips to Gstaad and Niigata for work (Clark works for Travel + Leisure), and I tried to work out some of the intricacies of Clark’s romantic life.
Per Lei is very much an Upper East Side restaurant with a fairly lively social scene at the bar. We were comfortable where we were, so we ate there. Two women named Henrietta and Lois began chatting with Clark, and I took over the conversation when he left for his 11pm date — with the nephew of a big magazine editor, if I remember correctly. Lois was proud to tell the world that she was 61, which is fair, because she didn’t look it.
What we ate:
beef carpaccio with Parmesan and marinated artichoke
cocoa pappardelle with duck ragù
Chilean sea bass over caponata
Veal with red wine and asparagus