Sopranos in Manhattan, Without Reservations

Even die-hard New Jerseyans (and we’re betting that’s a pretty small group) covet New York’s culinary scene, and–no disrespect to Artie Bucco– The Sopranos don’t seem to be any different. Now that the oldest Soprano child, Meadow, has landed at Columbia University, the HBO series’ writers seem to be taking advantage of the situation to drop the names of a few popular Manhattan joints, where even New Yorkers have a hard time getting a reservation.

In the premiere episode of the third season, Meadow’s eccentric freshman roommate (do they make them any other way?) came home tanked and yammering about her night at Ruby Foo’s. Stephen Hanson, owner of BR Guest Inc., the corporation that operates the two enormous Pan-Asian eateries (in Times Square and on the Upper West side) that go by that name, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the nod, which he found out about while watching the premiere, along with the rest of America, on March 4.

Mr. Hanson is no stranger to having his restaurants name-dropped in television series. Another of his restaurants, Isabella’s, figured into the plot of an episode of Seinfeld .

“It’s an honor just to be included,” he added, noting that he didn’t even mind having the name of his place invoked by a sloshed coed in The Sopranos . “It’s just entertainment. It’s fun.”

Mario Batali thought it was fun, too, when–during the episode that ran on March 11–Soprano mama Carmela brought a plate to the table and announced that “these are Mario Batali’s string beans with Parmesan.” The Food Network hottie and co-owner of Babbo, Esca and Italian Wine Merchants said: “I was actually watching it, and I wasn’t expecting it.”

Mrs. Soprano must know someone in Babbo’s kitchen. Although Mr. Batali’s signature bean dish is on the restaurant’s menu, it is not in either of the two cookbooks that Mr. Batali has published. But the chef said that the recipe will appear in his forthcoming Babbo cookbook, which he handed to his publisher two weeks ago.

At press time, HBO had no answer as to how these restaurants got inserted into Sopranos scripts, but a spokeswoman for Mr. Batali said that the series creator, David Chase, as well as two of its stars, James Gandolfini and Steven Van Zandt, have dined at the restaurant. Mr. Hanson said he didn’t know if Ruby Foo’s had hosted any of the Bada-Bing crowd. But don’t be surprised if Tony Soprano takes a sit-down at the Four Seasons restaurant with one of the Manhattan mob bosses sometime soon; Mr. Gandolfini is an in-law of Four Seasons co-general manager Alex von Bidder.

So, now everyone can shut up about the time that Carrie and her posse went to the Helena Rubenstein Beauty Gallery on an episode of Sex and the City . The Sopranos are coming, and they’re hungry.

–Rebecca Traister

French Cinema’s New Vague

While some consider cultural pride to be France’s biggest export, it was in strangely short supply at the opening cocktail party for the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series on March 12. Francophiles sampled canapés beneath the chandeliers at the French Consulate, discussing the 13 films that will be shown at the Walter Reade Theater over the coming weeks and thoughtfully reflecting on the state of French cinema with a few of the films’ directors.

Instead of being a salute to the country’s cinematic superiority, the evening was all cute self-deprecation and endearing humility. “Thank you to all of us to support French’s cinema’s … euh … market?” hesitated Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the president of Unifrance, France’s film export agency. “No, there is no market here. French cinema’s prestige ! To support French cinema’s prestige!”

An unexpected punch line to an unexpectedly short speech, given that Mr. Toscan du Plantier–a household name in French film and a Cannes festival regular–is usually much more flamboyant. What, no panache? The Transom wondered. No superiority over les grosses machines d’Hollywood ? “Oh, the American market is a fantasme ,” Mr. Toscan du Plantier said jovially in French. “We don’t have any illusions. It’s not even a dream, it’s a nostalgia. The dream is impossible.”

In the center of the main room, Daniel Auteuil, the diminutive French actor best known for his roles in Manon of the Spring and Jean de Florette , was busy accommodating the fantasme of his own New York fans. He posed for a picture, narrowly avoiding the hat brim of an enthusiastic admirer. He pocketed business cards and said with a nod, “I call you, I call you.” He even tried a joke or two in approximate English, which The Transom feels, in the spirit of diplomacy, that it ought not to repeat.

But this kind of gawking was unusual for him, Mr. Auteuil emphasized. “Oh no, people never stop me in the streets here,” he said in French. “Only French people sometimes. And once in a video club in Tucson.” In New York to promote three films–Rendez-Vous’ Sade as well as an upcoming film, The Hunchback, and the current The Widow of Saint-Pierre– Mr. Auteuil added with a chuckle, “These days, though, I’ve positively invaded New York!” A voice over the microphone interrupted him. “Daniel Auteuil!” the voice boomed. “Daniel Auteuil. Daniel? Daniel?” The blushing actor elbowed his way across the room and climbed onstage. “Hello, good evening,” he said. All eyes turned toward him in anticipation. He blushed some more. “Do I need to add something?” he whispered in French.

– Elisabeth Franck

Poise in the ‘Hood: Miss U.S.A. in N.Y.C.

In response to the final interview question posed by William Shatner, host of the Miss U.S.A. 2001 competition held on Friday, March 2, Kandace Krueger–the 24-year-old Texan who ended up taking home the crown–told Captain Kirk that “everything happens for a reason,” and that she was confident that with determination, perseverance and discipline, she could achieve anything. The statement was a funny echo of George W. Bush’s utterance on Dec. 13, when he was confirmed as President-elect. In his acceptance speech, Ms. Krueger’s fellow Lone Star Stater also asserted his nebulous belief that, gosh darn it, “everything happens for a reason.”

Five nights later, Ms. Krueger made her first official New York appearance at Spa on 13th Street. The soirée marked the unveiling of Anchors Aweigh , the painting created for the Muscular Dystrophy Association by Marco. “I don’t feel any different,” Ms. Krueger told The Transom when asked about her new title. “It feels great, although I don’t think it’s completely sunk in yet. I’ve been so busy, just running around like crazy .”

Ms. Krueger had just kicked off her media tour, which naturally requires a new wardrobe. So she’d spent that afternoon at Bloomie’s and Bendel’s. “I think there’s a limit,” the 5-foot-11 blonde said, speculating about her new spending allowance. She added that she hadn’t yet discovered what it was. “I don’t think I will,” she said casually. “They just give me what I need. Yee-eaa-ahhh !”

Other event-goers hadn’t quite figured out the reason behind everything, but they knew why they were there. “I was supposed to go to yoga, but then opted for the open bar and Run DMC,” said a young man who identified himself as an advertising account manager, referring to the free vodka and rap performance that was scheduled to top off the evening. He then pointed to a nearby bin and asked The Transom, “Mind if I vomit in that trash can?”

Later, Ms. Krueger helped clarify the difference between the oft-confused Miss America and Miss U.S.A. pageants. “The main difference between the two circuits is that the Miss America pageant does have a talent competition and we do not,” she explained thoughtfully. While Miss U.S.A. may not have talent, she has plenty of poise. To Ms. Krueger, that means “you can carry yourself with confidence and can carry yourself like you own the world”–something else she has in common with the new President.

But Ms. Krueger was unaware of all these similarities. When The Transom pointed out that Ms. Krueger’s winning phrase had also appeared in another recent public address, she exclaimed, “I didn’t know that!” and then took it to the next logical step. “Well, hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to meet him, and we can talk about that,” she said with perfect enunciation.

–Beth Broome

Jerry & Judy Love George

Late in the evening of March 12, adman and restaurateur Jerry Della Femina and his wife, Judy Licht, were riding the elevator at 555 Park Avenue. The couple had just left the dinner party hosted by economic and political consultant Anita Volz Wien and her investment-strategist husband, Byron Wien, at their apartment–one of 20 different dinners that had taken place in private homes around the city to benefit the Women’s Campaign Fund.

The Wiens’ meal had been prepared by Montrachet’s chef, Harold Moore, and while the Della Feminas waited for the elevator to descend to street level, they discussed the night’s menu. Mr. Della Femina had selected the salmon as his main course; Ms. Licht had opted for the duck and loved it, although maybe not as much as she loves her husband’s way with canard . She began to sing the praises of her husband’s cooking. “You wanna know how he gets the fat out of the duck?” she said.

The Transom hazarded a guess. The George Foreman grill?

Ms. Licht’s eyes bulged. “You don’t know what you’re saying !” she shrieked. “The George Foreman grill! That’s the center of our universe! We bought a ton of them one year and gave them out to everybody for Christmas.”

Mr. Della Femina tried to speak, but Ms. Licht bigfooted him. “Someone gave him one; he thought it was a joke, but decided to give it a try just once,” she went on.

“I cooked a hamburger on that thing,” Mr. Della Femina finally managed, as the elevator reached the lobby where the concierge was handing out the guests’ coats. “It was the best thing I’d ever had!” he exclaimed.

“We never use the oven any more,” Ms. Licht raved.

“There are cobwebs on the oven!” Mr. Della Femina said, one-upping his wife, as they traded in the dry silence of the lobby for the joyous noise of Park Avenue.

–B.B. Sopranos in Manhattan, Without Reservations