Remembering September 11…

Above: This shot is from Arlene’s Grocery in Lower Manhattan but that’s pretty much what I and the French band looked like in 2001, when we used to perform regularly at The Greatest Bar on Earth (Windows on the World) in the north tower of the World Trade Center.

“There’s no fucking meeting today,” said the French voice on the other end of the line. “Turn on the news.” It was 9:00 a.m. and I was heading out the door from my apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to a 9:30 a.m. meeting with a client on Desbrosses Street in TriBeCa. Thank goodness I didn’t get on the 2 train. I’m not sure if the second plane had crashed at that point but by the time I was able to tune into WNYC on my Mac (I didn’t own a television then), the south tower had been hit as well.

I picked up the phone and called my mother in California. She was still asleep. “Something’s happened, mom,” I told her. “You won’t be able to reach me today but I’m calling to let you know I’m okay.”

“Thanks for calling, honey,” she said yawning. She went back to sleep and would only learn what had happened when she woke up. By that time, my cellphone (my only phone) no longer worked.

My upstairs neighbor and landlord Janet knocked at my door. She was in tears and hysterical. She asked me to sit with her in her living room until her husband and son could make it home. I did.

Later in the day, singed pieces of paper — from all sorts of documents — gently rained down on our neighborhood. All of the fire fighters from our local fire station — just a few blocks away — perished in the tragedy. In the days that followed, we learned that some of the terrorists had resided just a few blocks from the house where I lived. I passed in front of their mosque nearly every day on my way to the YWCA gym where I had a membership. On my way home from my workout, I would often buy falafel at the deli next door on Atlantic Avenue.

All of these memories flooded into my mind last night when I came home from a food and wine event in downtown Austin and Tracie P had the TV on: “President Obama is going to make an announcement,” she said. Osama bin Laden was dead.

Between 1998 and 2001, the French band (above) performed once a month at The Greatest Bar on Earth (Windows on the World) in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Burlesque was the new fashion in hipster circles and we often played with The Pontani Sisters, who danced on stage as we played. Giuliani was mayor and you could still smoke cigarettes (and pot) in NYC nightclubs.

When I finally made it back into the city to visit my client, Desbrosses Street was closed to the public but the police let me through because I had business to conduct there. The staff in my clients office were literally shell-shocked by what they had seen and heard. I saw David Bouley cooking on Canal Street for the fire fighters and police.

Later that week, I interviewed Drew Nieporent for a trade publication. He told me that the entire morning staff at Windows on the World had perished in the tragedy. I’ll never forget how he choked up during our conversation…

All this memories flooded my mind when Tracie P and I heard the news last night.

It seems like a lifetime ago… and it was… I had just purchased my first digital camera. It used 3½-inch floppy disks as memory cards. Today, I can take larger and more photos with my phone. I didn’t even know what (we)blog was.

Good Italian food and wine grow in Brooklyn


Above: The Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica was just one of the killer wines poured for me and BrooklynGuy by Albano Ballerini at his excellent restaurant Aliseo Osteria del Borgo in Brooklyn. Aliseo doesn’t really have a website (although it does have a FB). Trust me: just go there and ask Albano to bring you food and wine.

May is the most beautiful month in Brooklyn. When I visited with Tracie P, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled in the springtime sunshine of Brooklyn Heights by the waterfront. And when I returned — alas, alone this time during my work week — for dinner with BrooklynGuy and Brooklyn Lady, I discovered that the sunny days of May and its temperate nights are ideal for fine wine and dining in this borough so often neglected by the gastronomically minded.


Above: This Colline Pescaresi 2008 Pecorino by Ciavolich was awesome. Originally from the Marches, owner Albano (an ex-fashion photographer) offers his patrons a tidy but impressive list of wines from the central Adriatic coast of Italy — probably the best representation of the Marches and Abruzzo I’ve seen.

I must confess that I loved everything about Albano Ballerini’s Aliseo Osteria del Borgo: the décor, the vibe, the food, and the excellent wine list. I can see why it’s become one of BrooklynGuy’s favorite haunts. Albano and chef Gustavo Fernandez seem to operate in perfect synchronicity and symphony.


Above: Handmade spaghetti alla chitarra tossed with herbs and fresh pistachios were off-the-charts good.

Who knows how many lives Albano has lived? He’s a real character (un vero personaggio) and an ex-fashion photographer who loves (and knows) great food and wine. When you enter his restaurant, you enter his world, you enter his stories, and you are bound (quite literally) to eat and drink well.


Above: Even something as simple as Gustavo’s grilled steak and pork loin was prepared and presented with such care and poetry that the experience (very reasonably priced) went from A to A+.

When I moved to Brooklyn back in 1997, there was no Al di là, Convivio, or Franny’s (these names will not be unfamiliar to anyone who watched Brooklyn’s culinary street cred grow in the late 90s and early 00s). Back then there was just Cucina on 5th Ave. (remember that joint?).

Albano is an amazing and ambitious gourmand and gourmet and a great host. His tidy wine list is probably the most interesting gathering of central Adriatic wines in this country.


Above: This 50% Montepulciano and 50% Merlot from the 2001 vintage was killer (and I do not use that term lightly where Merlot is concerned!). I’d heard of Serenelli’s wines but had never tasted them. I’d really love to taste the winery’s Rosso Conero (pronounced KOH-neh-roh btw).

Thanks again, BrooklynGuy and BrooklynLady, for hipping me to this excellent dining destination. Great stuff. Highly recommended.

Aliseo Osteria del Borgo
(no website)
665 Vanderbilt Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238-3831
(718) 783-3400

osteria del borgo