A few months ago, my boyfriend and I took a trip to New York City for his 30th birthday.
At least that was the “official” reason. In reality, the sole purpose of the trip was to eat as much delicious food as humanly possible.
We ventured deep into Brooklyn for the best pizza I’ve ever eaten:
… schlepped all the way to Harlem for delicious, Obama-approved fried chicken at Red Rooster, and put away our fair share of bagels,
New York Cheesecake, and delicious, sugary street nuts.
Mmmm. street nuts.
The pièce de résistance , however, was the special birthday dinner at Babbo, Mario Batali’s restaurant in Greenwich village.
This was a big deal for us. Not only was it the first time either of us had set foot in a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was also owned by a famous TV chef.
I mean, when the dude gets away with wearing this outfit 24/7:
you know he’s a boss.
The maître d led us to our table upstairs in a quiet corner of the restaurant, and introduced us to our server for the evening, Paul.
Paul was about 6’2, with sandy blond hair and electric blue eyes. He wasn’t what you’d call “fat”; more “pleasantly plump”, with a pot-belly suggesting more than a few indulgent staff meals. With laugh lines crinkling around his eyes and a broad smile that just wouldn’t quit, he looked sort of like Bradley Cooper’s less successful, lesser known older brother. I pegged him at about 35.
“Welcome to Babbo!” he bellowed, barely containing his enthusiasm. “Will you be enjoying the tasting menu today?”
Startled, we looked at each other, then at our menus. “There are two choices,” he continued; “the Chef’s menu, or the 7-course pasta tasting menu”
A pasta tasting menu?
“We’ll have that one” I said, instinctively “Great Choice!” he shouted “You can never have too much pasta. And will you be having the wine pairings?”
Even though I am no wine connoisseur and knew the value of such an expensive add-on would be wasted on me, something about his eager, hopeful eyes made it virtually impossible to say no. Plus, he already thought I was a good chooser- I didn’t want to let him down.
“Sure,” I responded, trying to quiet the chinging dollar signs in my brain.
As the evening unfolded, it became clear that Paul was quite the entertainer. Every course was accompanied by a well-timed story or joke, and his award-winning smile never ceased. Plus, his knowledge of food and wine seemed infallible. He described our mushroom ravioli in exquisite detail, even citing the origins of decorative floral garnish. (Hilsbury Farms, West Haven, Connecticut. Organic, obviously.) Our second course wine pairing, a Casina Ebreo, was “unctuous” with a “cacophony of aromas”, and our Italian Montefalco Rosso “confident” and “playful” with some “nice legs” on her.”
If anything, Paul’s descriptions were a bit overzealous; as evidenced by his explanation of our fourth-course pairing.
“This is a 2008 Terredora di Paolo,” he explained, “the summer of record high temperatures in Italy, where hundreds died from the heat. The heat, however, was excellent for the grapes, and produced some extremely fine wines”.
“So it wasn’t all for naught,” said my boyfriend, jokingly
“It certainly wasn’t” replied Paul, deadpan.
The real kicker, however, was when he described our fifth course pairing, an Italian Tabborini, as having “hints of potting soil”.
Both of us looked down at our napkins, trying not to burst into hysterical laughter. “He must be an actor”, I said after he had left, “because he has got to be making this shizz up”.
I was sort of joking, but once I had the idea in my head, I couldn’t let it go. As I’ve learned from my visits there, everyone in New York has an angle- and everyone has to pay the bills. Maybe he was a struggling stage actor, trying to crack the big-time with his heartfelt, groundbreaking one-man show. Maybe he had his sights set on Days of Our Lives, auditioning to be the next possessed, resurrected evil-genius heart-throb. Or maybe he was angling for his own reality show, having amassed legions of social media followers with his clever and relatable series of YouTube videos on what men are really thinking.
I had intended to ask him, but after my seventh pasta course and seventh glass of wine, formulating any kind of coherent thought became impossible. So I guess I’ll never know the true story behind Paul, the server-sommelier-Broadway/soap/reality star; but I do know I enjoyed his performance that night.
Question of the Day: Ever had an extremely colorful server?