Friendly Jeff

Publicist Lizzie Grubman, about to serve her 30-day sentence at Suffolk County jail in Riverhead, N.Y., might want to get her love life sorted out before she checks in.

The Oct. 15 edition of the New York Post ‘s Page Six column reported that Ms. Grubman-who recently pled guilty to charges stemming from the July 2001 accident at Southampton’s Conscience Point nightclub that involved 16 people, Ms. Grubman and the Mercedes S.U.V. she was driving-has been living the clean life in the days leading up to her sentence, set to begin Oct. 23.

According to the Post, Ms. Grubman has quit smoking in anticipation of her incarceration and has taken up kick-boxing. Brightening Ms. Grubman’s Spartan, even nun-like existence is her “relationship with financier Jeff,” which according to the Post is “going well, despite the obvious strain.”

Though the Post did not print Jeff’s last name, he is Jeff Tognetti, a financier from Rockland County who was convicted in January 2000 on charges of securities fraud. Not long after the Post first snapped a photo of Mr. Tognetti with Ms. Grubman at the Alice Roi fashion show in February, The Transom learned that Mr. Tognetti had been married for eight years. When The Transom called Mr. Tognetti’s home, his wife seemed dismayed to learn of his bond with Ms. Grubman.

At the time, Mr. Tognetti confirmed that he had attended the fashion show with Ms. Grubman, but maintained that they were “not dating in any way, shape or form.” Ms. Grubman said that Mr. Tognetti was a “special friend.”

But in August, a Page Six item referred to Ms. Grubman’s “beau, Jeff, a financier” with whom she was spotted, mid-”canoodle,” at Nobu.

When The Transom asked a representative for Ms. Grubman about the lasting “special friendship” between Ms. Grubman and Mr. Tognetti, she denied that the two have ever been an item.

“[Eight] months ago they weren’t dating, and today they’re not dating,” said Ms. Grubman’s spokeswoman. “They are just friends.”

A woman who answered the phone at Mr. Tognetti’s residence in Rockland County identified herself as Leigh Ann, which, according to tax records obtained by The Transom, is the name of Mr. Tognetti’s wife. She took down every word and promised that she would convey the message. Mr. Tognetti did not return the call by press time.

– Rebecca Traister

Smells Like Schemer’s Spirit

“The National Arts Club & Board of Governors request the honor of your presence at a ceremony of National Historical Significance,” read the breathless invitation to the Oct. 2 members-only black-tie gathering billed as a “private preview of the official unveiling of The Spirit of September Eleventh.”

But members and observers of the frequently controversial arts club contend that the “Spirit” in question-a nine-foot-tall bronze sculpture by the Southern artist Alyse Lucas Corcoran -was not a genuine tribute to the heroes of Sept. 11, but a calculated attempt to capitalize on the emotional resonance of that day.

As Christopher Hagedorn, editor and publisher of the neighborhood weekly Town & Village, pointed out in a recent editorial, Ms. Lucas Corcoran’s sculpture, which was presented as an artifact inspired by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, was in fact exhibited in May 2000 under the name Spirit at the Sculpture in the South show in Summerville, N.C.

Indeed, the artwork-a classical rendering of the female form, its arms stretched towards the back in some kind of inspired flight-can be seen in Sculpture in the South’s online archives.

Although the National Arts Club’s “unveiling” managed to draw, by one account, some 20 to 30 guests, the imbroglio had some club members rolling their eyes.

“It’s like throwing a pot roast in the icebox and bringing it out with some parsley to pretend it’s new,” said one longtime member. “Or like going up to the trunk in the attic and pulling out an oldy-goldy and updating it to find cheap relevance today.”

Charlotte Carroll, the manager of Sculpture in the South, confirmed that Spirit had been part of the organization’s exhibit-and for two summers in a row, at that. She did not, however, know who had originally commissioned the sculpture, and said she was not aware of its reincarnation as a tribute to Sept. 11.

Ms. Lucas Corcoran, whose online biography relates that she grew up on her grandfather’s Spring Island plantation and has some four residences, did not return calls made to her many Southern homes and her Atlanta studio. Her online bio also reported that she was working on a life-size sculpture of Senator Max Cleland and that Spirit had been considered as the “signature piece” for the National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum did not return The Transom’s calls seeking comment. The National Arts Club president, Aldon James, also did not return calls.

– Elisabeth Franck

Eat , the Documentary

Andrew Rossi grew up in New York restaurants. For approximately 30 years his parents, Rubrio and Suzanne Rossi, owned and operated Parioli Romanissimo on First Avenue, between 76th and 77th streets (and later, on 81st Street between Madison and Fifth), which may be the only Italian restaurant ever to win four stars-the highest rating-from a New York Times restaurant critic.

Mr. Rossi often helped his parents out, but when it came time to make a career choice, he heeded his father’s advice: Don’t go into the restaurant business. Unlike his St. David’s classmate, Mauro Maccioni-who followed his father, Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni, into the kitchen-Mr. Rossi went to Harvard Law School and, after a stint at the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, ventured into the nice, secure business of filmmaking.

On Oct. 18 and 19, Mr. Rossi, 29, and his wife, co-producer and co-director Kate Novack, 30, will show their first film at the Hamptons Film Festival. It’s called Eat This New York and is-surprise, surprise-a digital-video documentary about the New York restaurant business. As their press materials note, every year more than 1,000 new restaurants open in New York City; only one in five survives. Eat This New York juxtaposes interviews with a number of the city’s successful chefs and restaurateurs-including Daniel Boulud, Mauro and Sirio Maccioni, Montrachet’s Drew Nieporent, Pastis’ Keith McNally and Jean-Georges Vongerichten-with the mind-boggling experiences of two friends, commercial photographer Billy Phelps and fledgling restaurateur John McCormick, who are both now 37, as they test the limits of their relationship and their solvency by attempting to open a tiny little restaurant called Moto with their own money (80 percent of it Mr. Phelps’) in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

As is often the case in the restaurant business, pretty much anything that can go wrong does for Mr. McCormick-who was previously involved in a Soho restaurant called Palacinka-and Mr. Phelps. After initially estimating that it will take a few months to realize their vision, the job drags on for a year and a half.

In one painful scene, the men begin to pour the cement stoop to their restaurant as a rain storm begins, and what should have been a minor construction job blossoms into a major ordeal, leaving little doubt about what the elder Maccioni means when he says on camera that when he comes into work in the morning, “I am mad.”

Mr. Rossi admitted that he couldn’t help feeling for Moto’s partners. “At the nadir of their project and their relationship,” he said, “I thought, ‘This sucks. These guys have been through hell and back.’” But Mr. Rossi said he also remembered thinking: “Whoa-now we have an arc to the story.”

Interestingly, as Mr. Phelps and Mr. McCormick’s experience was bottoming out, the filmmakers’ relationship was blossoming. Mr. Rossi and Ms. Novack, a Dartmouth and Columbia journalism-school graduate whose father is AOL Time Warner vice chairman Ken Novack, had been dating off and on since 1999-long before they began the film-and on June 1, almost two months before Moto opened, they decided to marry. “It was a very intense experience to film this and work on it together,” Mr. Rossi said. “We spent 24-7 together, and we definitely liked it enough to get married.”

The couple’s wedding reception took place at the Four Seasons restaurant. Mr. McCormick and Mr. Phelps were in attendance.

Reached at Moto, which is located on Division Street beneath the elevated J and M subway tracks, Mr. McCormick said that he and his partner saw a cut of the movie a couple of weeks ago. “I enjoyed it,” he said, though he added: “It was painful to watch and to relive the whole thing again.”

Moto has been open about 10 weeks now, and Mr. McCormick said business was “pretty good” and “getting stronger,” and that the restaurant had already expanded its menu beyond panini and salads to “roasted lamb with roasted tomatoes and potatoes, and porchetta stuffed with fennel, garlic, oregano and other ingredients.”

When asked if his restaurant’s finances had reached a point where they could estimate when Moto might break even, Mr. McCormick gave a little laugh. “That’s going to be like a whole other full-time job,” he said. “We have to sit down with some professionals … and try to figure out a plan on how to right ourselves and begin to keep up.”

As for the state of his friendship with Mr. Phelps, who contributed the lion’s share of the money for Moto, Mr. McCormick got a little quiet. “It’s addressed every couple of days how we’re going to repair that,” he said. “Now that we’re open, we’re starting to feel that camaraderie return.”

Mr. Phelps, who was interviewed separately, noted that he had broken two business taboos-”never open a business with your best friend and never open a business with your own money”-and had lived to tell the tale. All told, he said, he had sunk $170,000 into the project (Mr. McCormick, friends and family contributed as well). “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I went against my intuition at moments-but in the end, it turned out to be exactly what we wanted it to be,” he said. “We built every square inch of that place ourselves. And one of the things that is noticed about it is the attention to detail and the integrity that is living and breathing in the place. It sounds kind of trite, but that’s what we did.”

Mr. Phelps also said that he and Mr. McCormick “still are best friends, definitely.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Rossi and Ms. Novack are looking for a distributor- paging Fine Line! -and thinking that for their next project, they’d like to follow Al Sharpton’s Presidential campaign, which has about the same odds of success as opening a restaurant in New York.

– Frank DiGiacomo

Der Beek Speaks!

On Thursday, Oct. 10, Dawson’s Creek star James (the Beek) Van Der Beek stood in the V.I.P. section of Serena’s nightclub with a drink in his hand and a furrow in his brow. Studiously avoiding eye contact, he scanned the middle distance, as if some sort of rescue vehicle might crash through the red banquettes and rescue him from this interview.

Mr. Van Der Beek had just watched the premiere of The Rules of Attraction -the staccato adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1987 novel, directed by Pulp Fiction screenwriter Roger Avary-a movie in which he is depicted doing such un- Dawson things as wiping his ass ( not a typo! ), doing a lot of cocaine, kissing another man, having bad freeze-frame sex and glowering demonically.

And now he had to talk about it.

When The Transom asked Mr. Van Der Beek if his two-year stint at Drew University in Madison, N.J., had anything in common with the film’s fictional Bennington stand-in, Camden College-a place muggy with drugs and date-rape-he nodded toward the horizon and observed that “everyone is confused and lonely.”

Had Mr. Van Der Beek hung out in college with the kind of people depicted in The Rules of Attraction ?

The actor cocked an eyebrow and aimed it at The Transom. There was an awkward pause.

And then he said, “In terms of insecurities, the confusion, the choices-yeah.”

Had Mr. Van Der Beek read Mr. Ellis’ novel as a college student?

“You know, I really tried to take all my cues from the script,” he said.

Silence.

Last question; no doubt about that. So what did Mr. Van Der Beek think his Dawson’s Creek fans would make of his role as the glowering and ass-wiping campus psychopath?

“I would hope my fans think of me as an actor ,” he said.

– Rebecca Traister

Shoo- Wha ?

A new Italian restaurant with shiny white metal walls punched with holes, like a cheese grater, opened on Monday, Oct. 14, in the cavernous basement of Hotel Giraffe on Park Avenue South. Unfortunately, no one is quite sure how to refer to the damned place.

It’s called Sciusciá. You try and say it.

“Soo-SHEE-a?” said Neil Rosen, the mustached film critic for New York 1 and self-proclaimed inventor of the Big Apple rating system, who was lapping up free champagne and trying to find someone in the hipster crowd who knew who he was.

Village Voice columnist Michael Musto-ignoring his own rule that restaurant openings make for the crappiest parties-sat nearby, looking ready to choke on boredom.

Over by the bar, Aisha Tyler-the sleek former host of Talk Soup set to play a cleavage-baring Mother Nature in the upcoming Santa Clause 2 -mused over the white aura of the venue. “I find white to be very soothing. The human animal is attracted to bright things,” she said.

We asked her to say the restaurant’s name.

“Is it SOO-sha?”

Close!

“It’s SHOO-sha,” said the restaurant’s owner, Gianfranco Sorrentino, who also owns Il Gattopardo, formerly Sette MoMA, on West 54th Street. He explained that Sciusciá is Italian slang for “shoeshine.” It was used at the end of World War II by young boys in Naples, who’d chase after American soldiers hoping to shine their shoes for small change. He said he shines his own shoes, which are custom-made in Italy, every other day.

Bobbing near Mr. Sorrentino’s head was the 36DD rack of Mia, a Montreal-born singer with massive lips, a “club play” single called “Woman” that had spent several months on the Billboard charts, a Web site on which she doles out raunchy sex tips, and a career as a Las Vegas dancer in her seemingly checkered past.

“She looks like she used to be a man,” a roving photographer whispered to The Transom as “Rock and Roll High School” blared.

“SHEE-shee-a?” Mia said, spewing spittle.

“She’s buonissima !” said Mr. Sorrentino, smiling lasciviously. “But I can’t translate that for you.”

– Anna Jane Grossman

The Transom Also Hears…

… Actress Ginnifer Goodwin of NBC’s Ed spends much of her time in Comedy Central’s Porn ‘N’ Chicken film toting around a water gun full of fake sperm. Ms. Goodwin didn’t bring the gun to the film’s premiere at the old Studio 54 on Oct. 9, but she did come with a few good lines. About her black chiffon Betsey Johnson dress, Ms. Goodwin said: “I think it’s from last year! It’s my ‘event dress’: I wear it to every event until my picture is taken in it, and then I know it’s time to find a new one!”

Naturally, fashion talk segued into a discussion of her personal fantasies. Ms. Goodwin said that if she could switch sexes for a day, she’d like to be the President of the United States, specifically J.F.K. “For Jackie O,” she explained. “I’d love to have had Jackie O!”

-Noelle Hancock

…Will somebody please buy the rapper, songwriter and producer Timbaland a subscription to Time magazine? After watching him perform with up-and-coming hip-hop artist Ms. Jade at Gear magazine’s rather flaccid “Denimocracy” party at Planet Hollywood on Oct. 8, The Transom asked the producer-whose work with such performers as Ginuwine, Missy (Misdemeanor) Elliott and Aaliyah has helped sell more than 10 million CD’s-what he thought about the likelihood that the U.S. will invade Iraq. But Timbaland’s lifestyle apparently keeps him away from the news. “Huh? I don’t even know about that. What’s up with that?” he said. “What’s been going on?”

– N.H.