Luckily when we arrived there were two seats at the center of the bar and we settled in and ordered a glass of wine before looking at the menu. One of the bartenders (the other was off for the night) greeted me warmly and said he had just been thinking about me the day before while driving in my area. He was happy to see me. As we were talking, my friend, who has never been to this restaurant, was looking around at the crowd and getting a little giggly, whispers a little too loudly about what great hair the young bartender had and how she'd like to run her hands through it. I was a little mortified and pretended not to hear her and hoped he hadn't either.
In this particular restaurant (like others in the area) you have to reserve in advance to get a good table and, in my experience, rather than a "not so good table," the bar is an excellent place to be. The two regular bartenders are great and take good care of me when I drop in spur of the moment, like tonight.
We were on our second course (pasta and truffles) when I looked up and noticed there was a group of men still standing just past the reservation desk. They had been waiting for a while. Looking closer, I immediately recognized the tanned, very well dressed man and his white haired partner. I said nothing to my friend (fearing another loud reaction) and continued eating, when a few minutes later she says to me (more quietly this time, thank goodness)..."Doesn't that guy look like he could be Valentino's double?" I grinned and told her that it WAS the "last emperor" and, like everyone else, he had to wait until his table (the best one in the house to see and be seen) was ready. She almost didn't believe me but finally started tittering a little...a giggle kind of thing, when she realized it was true. She is a fan of his and I realized he was probably in town to dress some of the Oscar beauties and enjoying a few nights in L.A. before returning to Italy with his consort.
|The Last Emperor and some muses.|
Four courses, two and 1/2 glasses of wine, one espresso and a limoncello later, we were getting ready to leave, my friend still very much in awe of having seen Valentino, when our host comes over one final time. He takes out two little cups and pours us another limoncello on the house, before taking my hand in both of his, kissing it and saying good by. He tells me he wishes his English was better so he could make himself better understood. I smile and tell him he does well enough, but will teach him English if he will teach me Italian. We strike a bargain, all the while knowing that we both know it is precisely that lack of English that gives him charm and allows him to be who he is.
A few minutes later, as I waited for my car at the valet, one of two young fellows who was standing around, approaches and asks if he can interview me. I grinned from ear to ear when in response to my inquiry, he tells me he is from TMZ. I looked fairly good, wearing a fitted black wool jersey dress, a cashmere sweater and boots but realized it had probably been a slow night (after all the pre-Oscar festivities) and his inexperience drove him to take a chance in case I was some kind of celeb. Or perhaps it was my double again (we all have a double somewhere). I thought to myself he probably didn't even KNOW who Valentino was, much less that he was in the restaurant with his entourage. I simply smiled and told him to say hello to Harvey. The kid got a little wide eyed and said "I'm surprised someone like you even knows about TMZ." I didn't have time to ask him what he meant because the valet, having brought my car around, was impatiently holding my door open and waiting for his tip.
As I drove off, I could tell my friend was impressed by the encounter (if not by the whole evening). She looks at me, then back at the kid and suddenly we both burst out laughing.
Between Valentino, TMZ, a lovely dinner, and the savvy attention of a smart restaurateur, I was a very relaxed and happy person who, after dropping my friend off, drove home humming "I Feel Pretty."
It was one of those nights...
Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate