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New York Stories: Encounters of a Vinous Kind (Checking In at Da Silvano)
filed under: Ramblings,

dasilvanologo1.jpgThis spring I found myself heading into downtown's Da Silvano, a New York institution, for a late weekday dinner. I was with one of my best pals, and another - always late - was making her way to meet us at an unknown time we hoped wouldn't be too late, as we had been instructed to order on her behalf. As I ducked through the door and into a room popping with lively diners, my friend asked if I'd been there before. No I had not, I said, but reminded her we'd enjoyed way too much wine on the patio of Bar Pitti, next door, a couple of years before.

Almost as soon as we'd crossed the threshold, the words "I know you! I know you!" were shouted over the din, unmistakably directed at me by an Italian waiter walking briskly my way. Flummoxed, I was sure this stranger was going to embrace me, which he did, after which I found myself being kissed on both cheeks by the spot's affable owner. My pal looked at me, incredulous. Somehow - though I had never been there before - I was the recipient of one of the warmest restaurant welcomes in history, whereas she was ignored, though she had been to the spot dozens of times over half a decade. Having recovered from the onslaught of attention, I shrugged weakly and simply said, "Italian men. They ALL think they know me."

Alas, not so Alec Baldwin, who we discovered was holding court at the table next to ours once we'd been ushered - with much fanfare and more air kisses - to our seats. The spot was full of stylish downtown types of all ages, mostly wearing black or variations thereon. Psyched to be there with one of my besties amidst all this fabulosity and no longer bewildered by my welcome, I settled in for some vino.

The First Glass
First I ordered a glass of Veuve, which arrived less cool than it ought to be (tepid?) and with a single, sad trail of bubbles making its way up the glass. At a spot so atmospheric, I reasoned, you don't come for the wine. Still, when I was ready to move into my second glass I allowed my expectations to bubble up a bit. Consulting the menu, I spied an Aglianico by the glass, vintage 1998. Given the wine's advanced age and the shady Veuve I'd just quaffed, I was both intrigued and wary. I beckoned a waiter, the same one who had greeted me so effusively. "How is the Aglianico?" To which he replied, "What kind of wine do you like, darling?" Then, without waiting for me to answer, "I bring you something you like, trust me."

The Second
At this moment so much is running through my head, but mostly: I am a sommelier, I know exactly what I want when I taste it, I know that I mostly love Aglicanicos and I will probably like yours, bu-uuut...yours hardly seems like the kind of establishment to cellar wines, and, given the spotty reputation of many older, imported Italian reds outside of those of the very top tier, I am wary. And are you even going to serve me the Aglianico, or some random pour you're promoting this week that I'll find infuriatingly banal? Instead, knowingly, I simply say, "okay."

Why? Experience. Experience with Italian men.

The Buzz
The waiter rushes (sashays, really) off to bring me some vaunted pour, presumably. And never comes back. Twenty minutes later, I get up from the table to ask him again to PLEASE bring me some wine (damnit). It finally arrives, and is - rather than some surprise - the same Aglianico I'd initially inquired about. Of course, it's sour, so I send it back. A different waiter materializes and replaces it with a Barolo. To my great relief, it's okay and all is well until I order my third and final glass of the evening; it, too, doesn't arrive until I wrangle yet another waiter and demand that my wine be delivered. When this final glass arrives, I nearly get down on my knees to thank the wine gods on high, who colluded at last to get me at least a little bit buzzed.

The Backlash
But let's talk about this irksomely foppish Italian waiter. He was doing his thing - preening, condescending, claiming to know what I didn't even know for myself - and then under delivering. Of course, he most definitely didn't 'know' me, because if he did he would be keen to some stuff like the following:

I am capable of making my own decisions. I don't want to be charmed within an inch of my life. When I stop batting my eyelashes I am no less me, though certainly less agreeable. And mostly: I WANT TO SEE THE WINE LIST AND CHOOSE FOR MYSELF. He'd literally spirited it away after claiming he'd bring me something amazing to drink, as though to say: you (women?) don't really need to look at this.

Last Words
Then: At the very end of the night, this guy - who hadn't let me see the wine list and who'd patently forgotten to serve up not one but TWO glasses I'd ordered from him - "saved" us from a broken martini glass my late-arriving pal had knocked onto the floor while putting on her Burberry Prorsum coat (hey, at least she was fashionably late). "Da Silavano pays!" he'd shrieked while running over to scoop up the broken glass. After theatrically sweeping the biggest chunks into his hand, he shoved the dangerous pile under my nose and said to me, from beneath smoldering brow, "I play with this stuff." Riiiiight. Now could you just move that quickly when there's wine to serve?

quid pro quo
The food was very good. That goes for all three of our entrees. And when I suspend my frustration about the wine orders and choose to view the condescension as something amusing (to, say, write about in my blog), I can sincerely say that I enjoyed my evening at Da Silvano. In fact, I might - almost - call the experience charming. Almost.

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