Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Sweet and Savory Side of Tennis

Bethenny Frankel created a drink epecially for Andy Roddick, above. Think he likes it? Below, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Taste of Tennis hostess Hannah Storm get some culinary pointers from Carla Hall. The crowd, bottom, at the W Hotel sampled the fare of top restaurants and chefs. Top photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for AYS World. Bottom photos by Donald Bowers/Getty Images for AYS World.

WHO knew tennis could party in such grand fashion?

It jumped off last week at the 10th Annual BNP Paribas Taste of Tennis at the W Hotel in midtown Manhattan just days before the first balls were served at the U.S. Open.

Here we are on the “green" carpet leading into the swanky hotel. There’s Brad Gilbert. Lumbering his way down the carpet is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Flashbulbs go into a tizzy. His expression seems to say, “Where am I and what am I doing here?” Himself looks even more like the spawn of Muhammad Ali in the flesh.

Inside, where J-WT is going, is where the real party is. The setting is a huge space comprised of various lounges, nooks, crannies and one large room. One’s olfactory senses are working overtime. This is the TofT, after all. Culinary stars partner with tennis stars to serve up some powerfully good chow for a powerfully good cause. This year it is the Food Bank for New York City.

With Pete Daversa’s Barbecue Beef Sliders with Confetti Cole Slaw and Sweet Pickles onboard, Yours Truly almost collides with Carla Hall (“Top Chef”). “Don’t I know you,” she asks.

She does not, I assure her, then introduce myself and declare my esteem for her culinary skills and curly hair. “I’m a huge fan,” say I. Speaking of huge, I tell her how slim she is. In person, she looks like a 4 or 6, not a 12 or 14.

“Yeah, the TV adds weight and the chef’s smock is baggy,” she says, indicating her get-up.

She should have won the season, I declare.

Thanks me humbly, she does, and I promise to come by to sample her dessert. Or is it a savory? Now, though, I must scurry over to the bar to see what Bethenny Frankel (“The Real Housewives of New York City”) and Andy Roddick are up to. En route, I pick up a conversation between a man and woman who do not know each other. In one hand, the man has a cocktail; in the other Scallops with a Blood Orange Reduction (by Chai Trivedi/Pranna Restaurant):

Man: (Bumps into woman). Excuse me.

Woman: (Affronted) This is an expensive dress.

Man: This is an expensive drink.


Meanwhile, BF and AR are tending a very busy bar. Over the den of noise and deejay El Debarge's pulsing rhythms, BF discloses what is in the drink she named for AR. Alas, all I can make out is vodka.

I can hear AR better, though, because I’m standing right across from him. He’s in a fine mood. “I’m looking forward to the U.S. Open,“ comes his semi-answer to my query about how he feels going into the tournament.

Quickly, I switch my tactics. I congratulate him on his performance in the Wimbledon final against my favorite active male player, Roger Federer, assuring him - as thousands probably already have - that there was really no loser in that match. “I liked you OK enough,” I volunteer, “but I became a fan of yours during that final. Never have I seen you play and comport yourself so well.”

“Thank you,” he says extending his hand for a shake. “I appreciate that.“

And I’m off because the bar patrons are becoming annoyed with me. No worries, I see my buddy, Brad, again and I’m going over to jaw with him.

Yours Truly: Hi, Brad. My name is Vevlyn Wright. I run the art/culture/fashion/food blog, VEVLYN’S PEN. May I ask you a few questions?

Brad: Are you gonna be able to record me with that thing (referring to my digital voice recorder)?

YT: Yes, it’s small, but it’s very powerful. What are you eating?

Brad: (Chewing) It’s lamb; it’s the best lamb I ever had. My wife would love this.

YT: (Smiling because I think it’s funny that Brad mentions his wife. Does he think I’m flirting. I’m not.) Where’s it from?

Brad: (Looking at one of his people and pointing). Yeah, it’s from The Lonesome Dove Western Bistro. “It’s delicious.” (Tim Love’s Grilled Game-rubbed American Lamp Chop w/Yuzu Aioli).

YT: (Watching Brad chew and thinking fondly of Adrian Richardson‘s [La Luna Bistro] “Lamb Bisteyah” Middle Eastern inspired, Australian Lamb and Filo Pastry Pie, aromatically spiced and served with a Mint Spice Labne and Baby Herbs) So are you excited about the U.S. Open?

Brad: Of course. It’s a great roster. We’ll see some good tennis.

YT: (Nodding in agreement) For sure. So who are you rooting for? No, who’s your favorite on the women’s side and the men’s side.

Brad: (Smiling/smirking/tempted).

YT: Brad, come on. You know you want to tell me. Look, it’ll be between you, me and my 5,000 readers. Brad, I knew you when you were winning ugly. I remember the book. We go back a long way. You gotta tell me!

Brad: (Devilishly smirking). Serena and Roger.

YT: Thanks Brad, EUROSTAR!

Learn more about BNP Parisbas Taste of Tennis at www.bnpparibastasteoftennis.com; Food Bank for New York City at www.foodbanknyc.org.

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