Thursday, September 24, 2009

Patrick Swayze, Wolfgang Puck and the mystery of the Morning-Show TV producers

September 24

You’d think that this Great Recession of ours would take the wind out of the sails of party planners — and restaurant operators and others who host parties will tell you that, indeed, it has. But considering the events I’ve been invited to lately, you’d have no idea that we were struggling through an economic crisis. I’m sorry that the general autumnal mishigas of my job, exacerbated by more staff cutbacks, has kept me from keeping you as abreast of my activities as I’d like, because it’s all been pretty intense.

Last Wednesday found me at lunch at Gramercy Tavern with a couple of people from Pali Wine Co., a new operation based near Santa Barbara that focuses on buying undervalued or over-produced Pinot Noir grapes and making them into affordable but delicious wine.

So there we sat — me, the winemaker, his publicist and Time editor-at-large Justin Fox (you might have seen him promoting his book, The Myth of the Rational Market, in recent weeks), with four glasses each on our table, sampling wines from Santa Barbara, the Russian River Valley, the Sonoma Coast and Willamette Valley, while munching away on chef Michael Anthony's food (I had chilled corn soup with crispy oysters and shishito peppers, followed by halibut with romano beans, wild rice and American caviar). We spoke of many things, including the passing of Patrick Swayze and the fact that most of his obituaries failed to mention his role in the movie Red Dawn.

Patrick Swayze came up again the following night, when I had dinner at the James Beard House, where Boston chef Dante de Magistris was cooking.

It was an unusual dinner, not because of the food, which was every bit as creative and tasty as you’d expect, but because the press table was dominated by media from television — and from morning shows. Those people have to get up at, like, 4 a.m. They can’t be boozing it up at the Beard House on a work night.

But indeed, there they were — two producers from The View, one from the Today Show, I think three from Good Morning America, and a young fella from CBS Early Show.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Dante seems personable and good natured. He’s probably just fine on television, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the entire morning television world was there to eat his food.

I was in a bit of a grumpy mood that night (“Why?” I bet you’re wondering, “because you had to buy your own lunch, you spoiled brat?”) and in general I have a fair amount of hostility toward television news, because I think it’s unbearably shallow and a detriment to the spread of knowledge or the creation of useful, interesting dialogue in this country — that indeed one reason why mainstream media is in crisis right now is because it has failed its public, which eagerly seeks other sources of information on the Internet.

So I surmised, based partly on my observations of the evening but probably mostly on my dislike for television news and no-doubt jealousy that they can actually exert broad influence on public opinion, that all of those TV people also were just what you’d expect, quick-witted and shallow. But I’m sure it’s not really true. I’ve met a number of TV people, and like in any field, their personalities and cognitive abilities come in all shapes and sizes.

But the topic of how people get their news came up, and I said that I don’t watch TV news (except for NY1 in the morning to tell me if the world ended the night before, what the weather’s like and if my train’s running), nor do I read daily newspapers, but somehow I keep abreast of what’s going on. And if I don’t know immediately about breaking news all the time, that’s fine. I’d rather read the third-day story, anyway, because by then most of the gross inaccuracies are usually weeded out.

But I did admit that I had gone two days without knowing that Patrick Swayze had died (lunch at Gramercy Tavern was the first I’d heard of it).

I’m pretty sure that Sue Solomon, hard-nosed, platinum-blonde producer of The View, at that point determined that I was a ridiculous human being and was done with me. She did say that she occasionally liked watching News Hour on PBS, because they actually take the time to explain the stories, but that as a general rule it’s too slow for her.

One of the TV producers referred to News Hour as MacNeil/Lehrer, which is funny because Robert MacNeil retired 14 years ago, in 1995. You’d think news hounds would know that.

That lunch at Gramercy Tavern the day before actually had just been the beginning of my eating and drinking for the day. Late in the afternoon I stopped by the Calvisius Caviar shop at The Four Seasons hotel, which was having an open house for the media, and had a couple blinis with caviar (one osetra, one white sturgeon) and a glass of Champagne, before finishing up at work and going to the 50th anniversary party of Brasserie.

Cocktails from each of the five decades were being served. I narrowed in on the Kir Royale of the 1970s and caught up with the entire food-writing world (I can say that, because Regina Schrambling was there; she gets cross when I say that everyone was there when she wasn’t). At one point I was actually in a circle with Bob Lape, Gael Greene, Glenn Colins (from the Times) and Sara Moulton. I felt like I was standing in the shadows of giants.

And from there I went to a multicourse meal at Beppe, promoting chef Marc Taxiera’s new fall menu.
So that takes care of Wednesday and Thursday.

On Friday I had lunch at Le Bernardin with Judy Shertzer, who sells spices and flavorings to restaurants and other people. That meant I was overdressed for the Mets game that I went to, organized by my friend Ray Garcia, the coolest computer geek in the world.

The Mets, as you may know, are completely, 100 percent out of the running for the playoffs this year, and that really took the pressure off. It was a really mellow evening, and I ate a sausage-and-pepper hero (the bread was a little dry) and drank several Brooklyn lagers while watching the Mets lose.

Then on Saturday it was off to Atlantic City, where I had dinner at the new Wolfgang Puck American Grille at the Borgata (I call it "the Borgata," its official name is just "Borgata," but that sounds awkward to me; sometimes you need a definite article).
A number of interesting people were there, including good old (well, young, actually) Joshua David Stein and his wife Anna.
Josh's shaggy beard is long-gone and now he’s working on growing a moustache. He also had his hair relaxed, giving him a look from another era. If it weren’t for the tattoos, I think he would have fit in well in the 1920s. I think it’s a good look for him.

Wolfgang Puck was there, and Josh spoke to him of boxing and I scheduled a more in-depth interview with him later on.

Also at the table were Jill and Andy Freedman, the nice lawyer couple who do the blog Wined & Dined.
The following day, as we rode the ACES train back to New York, Andy asked me if, given my job, I could go out to food events as often as two nights a week.

Oh, if he only knew.

But why, perhaps you’re wondering, were all those TV people at Dante de Magistris’ Beard House dinner?
I had to wait until this week to learn the answer, so stay tuned, and once I get to recounting this weeks’ adventures, you’ll learn the answer to the mystery of the Night of the Morning-Show TV producers.

What I ate at The Beard House:

Oxtail raviolini with ovoli mushrooms
chicken liver bruschetta
pomodorini, burrata, Sicilian oregonal and pistachios
baccala polpettine
NV Prosecco di conegliano, Tofoli, Veneto

baby octopus affogato, potato gnocchi, guanciale, garlic chives
2007 Vermentino ‘Solosole’ Poggio al Tesoro, Tuscany

“pizza” gialla, braised greens, pig's feet and tail
2008 Lacrimosa rosé, Masterberardino, Campania

Guinea hen “spezzatino,” potatoes and kale
Slow-roasted Guinea hen, porcini crema, buckwheat orzo and grapes
2006 Grilli di Testamatta, Bibi Graetz, Tuscany

veal braciolettine, tomato, pine nuts, raisins and escarole
Veal loin tonnato, giardiniera, rughetta
2003 Negroamaro ‘notarpanaro”, Taurino, Puglia

Chocolate hazelnut torta della nonna
Poached peach, panna cotta, almond and moscto broth
2006 Brachetto d’acqui ‘passione,’ Coppa, Piedmont

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