Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pulling a Clousseau

My first professional outing since getting pink-slipped was a decidedly mixed affair. I brought back the story, a report on a clever group promotion for New York City restaurants (you can see the coverage on my other blog, Restaurant Reality Check). But I pulled a gaffe that would’ve made Larry David wince.

The event I covered was the official announcement of the new promotion, the Vintage Dinner Series. It was hosted by the Zagat organization, and featured the big-name chefs and restaurateurs who are participating in the nostalgic series of banquets (each of the 16 restaurants is scheduling a dinner that resurrects the dishes, drinks and service flourishes that would’ve been found at a 19th century American banquet). One restaurateur whom I didn’t know came up and introduced herself. Her surname immediately identified her as part of the family that runs one of New York’s true dining landmarks.

“Ah,” I said to her, “I’ve had many a fine meal in your establishment. And one of my prized possessions is a letter that your father wrote to me about a column I’d done.” The young woman thanked me and beamed.

Fast-forward a few moments to my discovery that the letter-writer himself was in attendance. We made small talk until he announced, “Well, I’ve got to go find my wife.”

I watched in horror as he threaded his way through the crowd—right to the woman I’d addressed as his daughter.

Maybe I was still shaking off cobwebs from my forced hiatus. Or perhaps I was just daunted by covering an event in the new guise of freelancer. But I had confused the woman with another member of a famous Gotham restaurant family, a gaffe facilitated by her seemingly tender age.

It was a tribute to her sense of hospitality that she didn’t respond to my error with gritted teeth and a sotto voce, “Putz.”

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