Apparently NASCAR did, indeed, evolve from moonshiners fleeing revenuers (yeehaw!), just as Ballantyne Resort food & beverage manager Peter Grills told me it did.
A publicist from that car-racing circuit confirmed the story for me last night at Olives. My boss Pam Parseghian and I had been invited to some sort of NASCAR event there. Todd English and Pam were the only people I knew at the event, and I tried to remember why I was there.
Looking back now at the invitation, it said English was launching NASCAR-inspired cuisine, including Speedway Sliders, which are venison sloppy joes with cranberry ketchup; deep fried drumettes with ham gravy; crispy tater tots with truffle aïoli; spicy tuna tartare tacos with avocado crema; warm carrot soup shooters with sesame and carrot chips; and bourbon-glazed lamb ribs with spiced cider sour cream.
The invitation said he also was introducing the Triple Champion Cocktail: Champagne, cognac, cherry brandy and lemon juice.
I think Pam might have had one of those cocktails, but I just asked the bartender what she had. She didn't mention the cocktail and I didn’t remember why I was there, as it was one of three stops I had planned for the evening. So I had a beer (a bottle of Blue Moon, into which she stuck an orange wedge for some reason). I did get one of those lamb ribs, but none of the other stuff rings a bell. Instead I had roast beef with truffled macaroni and cheese, home fries and creamed spinach, and some paella scooped from a massive griddle.
I ended up talking with the wife of the NASCAR publicist, who then introduced me to her husband, who didn’t say anything about Todd English’s menu items. But he did explain that this week was an annual NASCAR custom in New York, where its members and corporate partners throw parties at restaurants all week long and finish it all off with a televised, 1,500-person gala at the Waldorf-Astoria.
No one I spoke to at the party, except for Pam, had noticed that the Mac & Cheese had truffle oil in it.
Having eaten too much, and with the crowd swelling to a size that made it hard to get around, I left and walked uptown to Prespa, in Murray Hill (unless you put Murray Hill’s southern border at 34th St., as Prespa is on Lexington between 31st and 32nd).
Prespa’s not a new place, but it does have a new chef, Richard Farnabe, probably best known for his stint at Lotus. In his new gig he’s serving Mediterraneanish tapas, like chic pea fries with tzatziki, although servers also were passing around a pear panna cotta with foie gras mousse — which wasn’t Mediterranean at all, but it tasted good — Alsatian tarte flambée and other items.
Allergic Girl Sloan Miller was there, not eating much because, you know, she has a lot of allergies. I told her all about the Waldorf-Astoria NASCAR gala and she shared my fascination that we knew nothing about it.
I caught up with others, too, but I spent most of my time at the party talking with Jennifer Watson, a medical equipment saleswoman and restaurant lover. You know how if microwaves are present in public spaces you see big signs warning people with pacemakers (or at least you used to; I don't see those around much anymore, but maybe I just don't notice)? It turns out they’re a bit extraneous. If you have a pacemaker, you shouldn’t stick your chest up to a microwave that’s in-use — and if your pacemaker’s on your left side you should talk with your cell phone in your right hand — but if you are at arm's length from the thing, you’re fine, according to Jennifer, who sells pacemakers and defibrillators that are implanted into people.
Jennifer was in medical school when she got tired of being poor, quit and followed her father’s footsteps into sales. She entertains in restaurants a lot and is obsessed with them in a way that I usually find off-putting, but she was actually really charming about it. She’s one of the only people I’ve ever met who will spend her own money to eat at Masa.
So of course we talked about restaurants, but I also quizzed her about sales and wining and dining clients and wondered how that could affect the sale of medical equipment, because you’d think that surgeons would want to buy the best pacemakers possible whether they liked the salesperson or not.
Jennifer said relationship building was important but didn't affect how much stuff she sold. But then how important is it? You know what I mean?
I spend a lot of time building work relationships, but I don’t fully understand it. Emotionally it makes sense, but if you parse it logically, well, work-related entertainment is a boon to the economy, so I’m not going to knock it too much.
I said hi-bye to Food & Beverage editor Francine Cohen as I was leaving. She chided me for not saying good-bye when I left the opening party of Fishtail, David Burke’s new place, the night before.
Fishtail was an interesting party, full of David Burke's bridge-and-tunnel New Jersey fans and his Upper East Side patrons with the furs and plastic surgery. As a general rule, I find the Upper-East-Side types to be a lot more boorish and ill-behaved.
But the party was good, and David Burke explained the name and the restaurant’s gimmick, as it were.
David Burke is a gimmick genius, adding whimsy to his food without letting the whimsy take over. He also knows what sells, like the $88 "millionaire’s fried rice” he and his executive chef Eric Hara offered at davidburke&donatella a couple of years ago. At one point they were selling $1,000 worth of fried rice a day.
Fishtail is more of a budget proposition, David said, because the tail tends to be a cheaper part of the fish (as opposed to the belly, for example). And he will be offering a lot of tails and tail-themed items — and obvious things like lobster tail and shrimp, which is all tail.
See? A gimmick that still leaves room for food.
Speaking of which, many people at the party were taken with the pastries of the restaurant’s pastry chef, a newcomer by the name of Romina Peixoto.
Soa Davies was also at the Fishtail opening party, but I didn’t know her then. I met her last night at my third stop, Bar Q’s holiday party. I left Soa’s business card in the camel hair sport coat I wore last night, which is at home, so I can’t tell you her exact title, but she’s an executive at Eric Ripert’s company, which includes Le Bernardin but also an array of consulting ventures etc. As she explained it, she does with savory items what Michael Laiskonis does with pastry for the company.
She also recently became an owner of Merkat, and is working on repositioning that. That’s her in the picture, flanked by brothers Jeremie and David Kittredge.
Jeremie’s the one on the left, with the stylish facial hair and salesman’s smile. He’s a creative/marketing guy at a clothing store on Bond Street across from Il Buco, the name of which I’ll put here once I retrieve my notebook from the pocket of my camel hair sport coat [update: it’s Billy Reid]. I took an instant liking to Jeremie because the first thing he said to me was that my glasses were great.
It is always good to give someone an accurate compliment. People see right through fake ones, but notice something good about someone and he or she will like you forever. And my glasses really are good.
I guess I should update my profile picture, because I’m not wearing my current glasses in it. I’m wearing my new ones in the picture on the right. It’s not a good picture, but you can see that the glasses do suit my face well. I asked other fashion advice of Jeremie, because I would really like to manage to wear a long, flowing scarf or something, and I don’t think I can pull it off. He said the key to wearing something really feminine as a man is for everything else you’re wearing to be really masculine. And, of course, you have to wear it with confidence. You have to look in a mirror and feel great about it. “Dress with your gut, not your head,” he said.
Anyway, to the right of Soa is Jeremie’s brother David, who is the drummer in a band called Meridian West, sort of; the band members are all taking a break and David is in New York, chilling out, living life, weathering the recession etc.
I took that picture of Soa and the Kittredge brothers while we were waiting for publicist Moira Campbell, who had gotten distracted inside after asking us to wait for her to go get cupcakes at Batch, Pichet Ong’s pastry shop.
While we waited I also got better acquainted with the Kittredge brothers, who are from Tulsa, although David most recently is from Austin and clearly claims it as his adopted home, but their ancestral homeland is, in fact, Kittredge, Colorado, which was founded by their family.
At Batch I had a cappuccino and a carrot-and-salted-caramel cupcake. David fell in love with Pichet’s ovaltine pudding.
Pichet wanted me to join him for dinner at Kurve, but I had already eaten at three parties (I had Anita Lo’s ribs and pork buns and pickled vegetables at Bar Q, and drunk two shiso juleps), and it was getting close to midnight.
It was time to go home.