Yesterday, Italy played Paraguay in the World Cup. The Times had done an article the previous day about where to go to watch certain teams, recommending restaurants or bars where they’d be showing the games of specific teams. I figured that, since I was the only one in this current household who was interested in the World Cup, I’d go to one of the Italian places mentioned, have a nice lunch and then head out to catch up with my cousins. So, that’s what I did. I took the train downtown to Scuderia, and was seated at a table by the big screen, next to a man and his young son. The restaurant was somewhat full but the game hadn’t yet started so there were still a few empty tables around.
I decided I was going to go all out and order whatever I wanted. I was paying, after all. So, I ordered an antipasto of arancini stuffed with rice and cheese, a panino with eggplant, speck, taleggio and champignon. Also, a glass of chardonnay from Puglia (and eventually I ordered a tiramisu that was enormous and almost as good as Alba’s). About halfway through the rice balls the game started. People were pouring into the restaurant. The manager, who had greeted me in both English and Italian (yes, I took the cue and reveled in speaking my favorite second language) was running around like a mad man trying to set up tables, coordinate big groups, and make sure everyone was happy. Waiters were also literally running to serve patrons. The kitchen, placed directly under the big screen tv, was churning out primi and secondi like their lives depended on it. Families and friends were watching the game intently, many dressed in their Italian blue jerseys, yelling “dai, forza!” when Italy took shots on goal. Snippets of conversation in both languages spilled off tables.
A few minutes into the game, a man and a woman walked up, clearly to meet the man and his son who were seated next to me (their family, I learned from a brief conversation, was Sicilian). By this time, the restaurant was very crowded, so one of them pulled up a couple stools and sat at my table. I had no problem with this at all. It seemed to match the overall atmosphere of the place–very communal, very loud, very Italian.
Paraguay scored and a slight sense of urgency and horror fell over us. Halftime came around, and I knew that I would have to leave soon to catch my train. My tiramisu eventually came as the second half was starting. I pulled my debit card out to pay for my meal, when the waiter waved his hand. “That man has paid for your meal,” he told me.
“Ma quale?” I asked. Who in the world would have done that for me? I hadn’t noticed anyone making eyes at me or anything! I turned to where he was pointing, and it was the man who had sat at my table with his date (they had moved so they could sit by each other and were now kitty corner from me).
I thanked him, and he thanked me for letting them sit at my table. It turned out that he and the other man were both in the restaurant industry. I couldn’t catch his name, but apparently he’s involved with running or managing or cooking for Pastis, a restaurant in the meat packing district. I was so taken aback. New Yorkers get a bad rap. It was a really wonderful, generous surprise. Plus, it saved me a good chunk of change.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. But it was missing something; rather, it was missing a whole lot of somethings. My friends. I can just imagine how much more musical it would have been if I had had my other italophiles with me, as well as my favorite Italians. So, amici, I say this: I was thinking of you all during the Italy game, wishing we could have been watching it together, enjoying good food, good drinks, and excellent company. And cheering for gli azzurri, naturally. Un bacione a tutti!