The Date: Oct. 5, 2006
The Venue: The Piedmont Room at Del Posto
The Bar: Select wines at cocktail hour, wine pairings with dinner
The Crowd: Exclusive, except of course for the Freeloader
The Freeloader gets invited to a lot of parties thrown by New York's finest media outlets. So passing a platter of free cheese? Puh-leeze. The government gives out cheese. We've seen open bars close faster than you can watch a YouTube clip and chased servers bearing shrimp toasts around more back rooms than you want to know. You want to impress us? You better step it up.
With that said, when the evening practically begins with Chef Mario Batali claiming the 110 seats at the party were harder to get than a spot in Gourmet's recent "Top 50 Restaurants" in America feature, you know you should have dressed better.
And when James Humphrey, Gourmet's director of media relations-advertising, claims he was beating back the non-RSVP-ed at the door, then you also know to be pretty damn grateful you're not at home debating whether to watch "Grey's Anatomy" or "CSI." Hello? What part of sit-down dinner did they think was crashable?
The freeloader couldn't say no to an invite from the food-porn magazine, particularly when it bragged of a menu created by Batali's battalion of A-list chefs such as Michael White (Fiamma, New York), Nancy Silverton (Campanile, L.A.) and Mark Ladner (Lupa, New York). We were basically guaranteed a meal we'd never be able to afford on a plebian salary and wine pairings our palate won't understand, but would sound impressive when dropped in casual conversation. We knew we'd be forced to enjoy ourselves.
Gourmet was celebrating this weekend's national launch of its foodie-blog TV series on PBS and it couldn't have been more accommodating to those of us who have never and likely will never cook from their pages (not necessarily from lack of want, but more so for lack of kitchen, skill and capability).
The cocktail hour was a flurry of persistent servers constantly checking to see if we really didn't want to try the tuna caponnata crostini, fried zucchini blossoms or stracciatella crostini with celery-leaf pesto. We did want, we had tried and we wanted more options and fewer trays in the crowded anteroom, but hey, who were we to complain -- we learned the difference between 2-year-old, 4-year-old and 6-year-old parmesan cheese. (As you might expect, the difference was smell. Freeloader's palate is now a little bit smarter.)
Dinner began after what was supposed to be a 10-minute presentation by the magazine's editor in chief, Ruth Reichl, and "Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie" producer, Laurie Donnelly. They promised the clip of the show would make us hungry, but after 20 minutes we had difficulty discerning if the grumble in our abdomens were from the images of roast duck in China and droplets of olive oil encased in sugar-glass or the late hour.
We're not food writers, so attempting to describe the dishes placed before us would be folly. Besides, we were having enough difficulty keeping track of forks and wine glasses; it would not be an overstatement to say the table was too crowded for the breadbasket, not that we really needed it.
We did note, however, that Fiji Water (not San Pellegrino or Evian) had an interesting presence at the event. For a brand well-known for placing itself in the hands of celebrities, it was being poured this time for the likes of Brian Manning, Unilever senior director of Bertolli Frozen, Kiki Rees, VP- media and internet at Revlon, Steve Farella, president-CEO of Targetcast ,and Larry Boland, president of Piaget.
And we were duly impressed by the tableside pasta-making demonstration that resulted in Orecchette with Lamb Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Pesto. For the record, Butterscotch Budino with Pine Nut and Rosemary Biscotti is a fancy way of saying pudding and a cookie.
For all our grumbling tummies, lack of sparkly black outfit and utter inability to distinguish one red wine from another, we have to say that was one party the Freeloader was glad to show up for. Folks, the bar has been raised.