Monday, February 26, 2007

Top ten restaurants: Babbo

When I lived in New York, I remember the GM of my restaurant talking about how when she got off of work she would shoot down to the West Village and go grab dinner at the bar at Babbo with her fabulous litany of friends. Incredibly chic, stylish, and fierce about work (not to mention a complete coke addict, but aren't they all?), this woman knew the restaurant scene inside and out, and after hearing her describe Babbo, I determined that it was the kind of place that I would love. I had to go at some point.

Life happened. Even though I'd been to two of his others, I just never quite got around to Mario Batali's most famous restaurant. It was always in the back of my mind, though, how much I wanted to go there. So when my mother and I started planning a trip to New York for December, 2006, I knew that this would be the perfect time to go. We booked our table for four a month in advance, and invited two of my favorite people in the world to join us - my friends Blake and Trey.

Tucked away on one of those quaint side streets in the West Village, the exterior of Babbo is unassuming to the point of being almost hard to find. When we walked in at 8:00 on a Sunday night, the bar area was so crowded we could hardly navigate our way to the hostess stand. The atmosphere was a perfect blend of warm and trendy, and while you immediately felt that you were in a very special place, there was no cause to be intimidated by your surroundings. Perfecto.

The four of us settled in and the wine list was promptly shoved in my direction by everyone at the table. After giving me just a few minutes to peruse, the wine steward confidently, but not intrusively, approached and asked if I had any questions. I had been scanning the Barberas, and asked if he had one to recommend in the price range of the number that I gestured to on the page. His eyes lit up - not because my price range was extravagant, but because he is good at his job and excited about all of his wines - and he named a new bottle on the list. When the wine came it was beautifully served and blew us all away. I cannot stress enough how ridiculously on-point I considered this aspect of the meal. In my mind, the sommelier should be there to assist and excite, not to intimidate. Bravo.

I don't remember everything we ate. Three courses each - an appetizer, pasta dish, and dessert. I could probably figure it out if I looked at the menu on the website, but that's ok. I don't need that sort of obsessive recollection, or a play-by-play of every bite. I'd rather remember the aura, the laughter that we four shared, whilst frequently moaning at how fabulous everything tasted. I'd rather remember random little details of service that made the meal truly unforgettable, like the constantly refilled basket of fresh bread, and the way that they brought out four different kinds of grated cheese with the pasta, and only offered each of us the one that was specifically intended to compliment with the dish in front of us. I'd rather remember how our forks did not even pretend to stay on our own plates, and how we liberally shared everything around, in the way that only people who fell complete ease and happiness with their company can.

This being said, there is one detail that will never get hazy in my mind - the exact look on Trey's face when halfway through the meal he sat up very straight for a second, looked to his right severely and only with his eyes for a moment, and then leaned forward to us.

"Um, guys," he mumbled/whispered out of the side of his mouth, "I think Gwyneth Paltrow is sitting over there."

After several gasps of excitement, we all did our best to look without staring and confirmed that, indeed, we seemed to be dining with an Oscar winner and her rock star husband a mere ten feet away. Priceless. And certainly my most impressive celeb-sighting to date. (By the way - she was luminous.)

So that's it. We left with our bellies stuffed, lots of laughs under our belt, my craving for the restaurant satiated, and great memories. Memories of great wine, conversation, and much happiness tucked away in the West Village. Thanks, Mario.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Top Ten Restaurants, in no particular order

I've decided on a new series on this blog, inspired by a client of mine. A few weeks ago, we drove up to DC together for one of my importer's Barolo presale tastings, and stayed or dinner. The place was fantastic, and on the way home my client declared that it was now "in his top ten".

"Top ten?"

"Yeah, my top ten favorite restaurants. I had to knock another one off of the list to make room, but this one is really worthy."

"You keep a running list of your top ten favorite restaurants in your head?"

"Yeah," he grinned at me while pulling his car onto 95S. "What would be in your top ten?"

"Um... wow, I'd really have to think about it." I stuttered. I rambled off two or three, but realized that before I could really answer the question that I'd have to really ponder what great restaurant experiences I've had in the past ten years or so.

Of course, there would be a lot of factors in making up my list. Of course, an amazing dining service is very important. But also, the experience, the company, and the place that it was in my life was obviously going to have huge impact.

So I thought about it. And made some decisions. So in the next few weeks, I'll be writing about them.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Too close for comfort

So, you're talking to one of your out-of-town coworkers, who a few weeks ago you suddenly realized that you're kinda attracted to. He's a bit verbose, so he blathers on for a bit. You sorta stop listening, and just start hearing this:

"Blah, blah, blah... our products... blah, blah, blah..."

"Um yeah," you say. "Hey, why don't you drive to my city tonight and we'll have sex?"

Holy shit! You did not just say that. Oh my god, how are you ever going to recover? Your stomach drops, and you immediately panic.

"Blah, blah, blah..." he keeps going.

Oh wait. Thank god, that sentence was just in your head and not out loud. Is it a little scary how close you came, though. Might be time to swing back into the dating game - if for no other reason than to avoid potentially throwing yourself at co-workers via cell phone.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Just be

I've been completely out of it this week. Sleep walking through life, getting everything done, but finding myself detached, or trying to detach, from everything around me. Getting lost in fogs, perfectly happy to sit and daydream. Sleeping fitfully, longing for a day or evening when I can follow my instincts and just sit, doing nothing, hoping that after a day or two of that the fog will lift.

I think it's just a delayed reaction to the events of the last six weeks, which I haven't had time to fully process until now. There was the end of a love affair last month, which hurt more than I allowed myself to realize at the time, and is now numbing me to the possibility of beginning anything new because I just can't allow myself to take that risk again just yet. There was the whirlwind, tension, and exhilaration of rehearsing and putting up a show in less than a week, the high of which I wasn't able to come down from because... The very next week was the culmination of a way-too-short planning period where two friends and I organized and executed (and cleaned up after) a black-tie gala for 200 people.

Ups and downs galore is what my life has been about, and now there seems to be a bit of a calm. I mean, at least there are no huge projects or dramas on the horizon, but life certainly hasn't stopped. Drinks with this person, working here and there, signing new leases and getting my current apartment sublet, belated birthday brunch with parents, doing taxes with uncle, family reunion in Williamsburg - which I will have to leave another party to go to, people wanting to set me up on dates, new goals at work, car inspections due... on and on and on.

And all I want to do is curl up into a ball. Throw away my cell phone. Hop a flight to Paris. No, scratch all of that. I want to figure out how to just be.

Not be charming. Not be motivated. Not be pretty. Not be trying for this, or working towards that.

I've spent most of the afternoon so far oscillating between wanting everyone to leave me alone and then wondering what is going on tonight. I want to turn of my cell phone, but then can't resist sending out a text or two. I'm only taking pleasure in little things, like the chocolate covered coffee beans that are my favorite indulgence to keep around. I've had this Joni Mitchell song on repeat for an hour now. For some reason the only thing I'm able to tangibly relate to lately is her desire to just wander around and be inspired by strangers, without the people in the life that you so deliberately built pulling you in every direction all at once.

On second thought, maybe I will start looking for a last minute flight. Wandering down the Champs Elysees might just do the trick.

Friday, February 16, 2007


*Idea for this post blatently stolen from This Fish.

Things I'm a sucker for:

- Fraizer reruns

- any kind of cheese, or anything with cheese on top

- commercials with talking animals

- old-lady slippers

- the original "The Parent Trap"

- anything Maeve Binchy has ever written

- having my back scratched

- dessert wines

- greeting cards (electronic are ok too)

- intelligent men

- ok, men

- wait, no. men who assert themselves (for better or for worse)

- flavored lattes

- Rachael Ray

- any excuse to travel

- coupons

- cliffhangers (did anyone watch Grey's Anatomy last night?)

- grabbing "just one" drink

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ride-with cringing

"Oh my God. If someone I was riding with said that, I would fall throught the floor with embarassment," I said.

Every once in a while, us wine reps will have someone in town who either works for an importer or directly for a winery that we represent. (Hi, Elijah!) They will be assigned to us all day and will ride around visiting our accounts and tasting them on their wines. Usually the days are fun, but you always run the risk of riding with someone who is... ahem... eccentric, let's say... and you never know what might come out of their mouths. To your accounts. Who you are trying to protect and guard your relationship with. And not offend.

So when one of the employees at my biggest account on Monday was gossiping with me about another rep whose ride-with earlier that day had said that instead of aging in actual oak barrels, their winery ages in stainless steel vats and dips burlap sacks full of oak chips and cow manure into the wine for months, I felt for the guy.

"Rees, he actually referred to the process as 'teabagging'," he said.

I nearly spit out the wine that I had in my mouth. "You are shitting me!" He shook his head. "He was actually able to refer to it as teabagging without the slightest bit of irony and laughing? Wow." Needless to say, we all had a good laugh, and I felt inwardly sorry for the other rep.

Until the next day when it was my turn.

I had a ride-with yesterday with a very nice winemaker from New Zealand. His wines were showing beautifully and we were getting a decent amount of placements on them throughout the day. Sure, the Pinot Noir was still a bit young, but nothing that a few more years of aging, or a couple of minutes of decanting, wouldn't cure.

Mid-day found us back at my biggest account tasting with the two owners and the same employee who had told me the story the day before.

"Yes, the Pinot is still a baby," the winemaker said, "but honestly, the best way to cure that is to just pop it in the microwave."

I closed my eyes for two seconds and said a little prayer that this statement would just be glazed over. When I opened them and scanned the tasters, who had those blank what-the-fuck-did-he-just-say looks on their faces, I knew that there would be no such luck.

The winemaker saw those looks too, but unfortunately took it as reason to continue, not shut up.

"Oh yeah. 30 or 40 seconds in the microwave will open this one right up. You'd be amazed what a great trick that is!"

I saw the lips of the employee curl slightly as he made eye contact with me for a fraction of a second. The owner quickly poured out the Pinot in his glass and announced that he was ready to move on to the third wine.

I knew that that statement would make me an object of a few laughs later that day. Luckily, I'm pretty good natured, and am doing a tasting in that store on Friday. With a tiny bit of self-deprication I should be able to turn the situation around to my favor and we can all have a good laugh about it.

And I'll go ahead and get a muzzle for my next ride-with. Just in case.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

Heard on my favorite radio station, in a monotone, promo/announcers voice:

"We're planning on living forever. So far, so good. 98.9, Liberty."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cheap Mexican food never looked so good

Does anyone else love this comercial as much as I do?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Best Birthday Memory - '07

Some of you might remember last year, when this happened on my birthday. Well, thankfully this year there were no psuedo-fights with other restaurant patrons, but I do have one favorite moment from the cocktail party that a bunch of my friends and both sets of parents came to.

My father and my stepfather were making small talk (flows much easier now that my father seems to be over the whole "you married my ex" thing), and joking about a bunch of different things. At some point I happened to overhear this:

Dad to Stepdad, out of nowhere: "So here's a question for you - are you going to enter the paternity race? Are you Anna Nicole's baby-daddy?" Then, after sharing a few good dirty-old-men chuckles, they started talking about their vasectomies.

Maybe it's weird, but I genuinely found the whole conversation to be pricelessly amusing in its pure oddness, and was glad that I caught it. One of those great slices of life, ya know?

Happy Birthday to me!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


When you wake up mid-week with a sore throat and a nose so runny you can hardly breathe, it is never a good sign for the days to come.

Especially when, in addition to your normal full day, you are due in traffic court at 11am.

And you are in the throwes of planning a black-tie gala for 200 people on Saturday, so your to-do list is as long as your arm.

And you are supposed to speak at a wine tasting for 100 people at 5:15 this afternoon.

And your birthday is Friday.

Nope, never a good sign.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Next thing I knew...

"Heidi asked me last night what my type was so that she could be on the lookout for people to set me up with," I told Jess as we got out of the car and walked towards one of our favorite spots last night. "But you know, I just really don't want to date anyone right now. I'm not in the mood to get caught up in another emotional drama."

"I hear that," she said as we swung the door open and walked towards the bar.

"Excuse me," I said a few minutes later to the two guys who I was leaning in between to order my drink. Next thing I knew...

"Rees, right?" the very handsome one on the left said.

"Oh, B! Hi!" I said, attempting casual. Someone I'd met a few times through the wine scene here in Richmond, recently single, and so good looking that he has always made me nervous.

We spent the next hour talking to him and his friend, and having a great time.

Next thing I knew, they accepted our invitation to come with us to the next destination - a bar nearby to hear a friend's band play. We talked more than we listened.

Next thing I knew, we were all doing an impromptu late night at his house, sipping on Grand Cru Champagne and dancing in the living room.

He had asked me earlier why I liked wine. Watching his friend twirl my friend around and then lead her into a low dip, I turned to him.

"This is why I like wine," I said. "Because right now is what it's all about. New friends sharing a special bottle, dancing, laughing, having a great time. This is the most important thing in the world. This is life."

Next thing I knew, he was softly kissing me.