Lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant on Sept. 4 saw former Talk editor Tina Brown dining in the Grill Room with Condé Nast C.E.O. Steve Florio, USA Interactive chairman and C.E.O. Barry Diller with Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer, Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman with Lazard Frères rainmaker Vernon Jordan, and agent Mort Janklow with editor and writer Michael Korda.
But no matter what plotting or machinations they were discussing at their coveted tables, it paled in comparison to the Italianate power struggle taking place at a window table in the restaurant’s adjoining Pool Room.
The guest of honor was Armando Manni, the Italian director of the 1998 film Elvis & Marilyn , which according to him was, “after Life Is Beautiful … the most awarded Italian movie out of Italy.”
Mr. Manni, with his thinning, slicked-back hair, sleepy eyes, tailored jacket and collarless shirt, had come to the Four Seasons to push his latest project, which had nothing to do with the movies. Mr. Manni is now the auteur of olive oil. But not just any olive oil: Manni Extra Virgin Olive Oil Toscano, a kind of chrism for wealthy obsessive-compulsive gourmands.
Pressed from olives grown strictly and organically on Monte Amiata in Tuscany, the oil-the quality of which is regulated by several Italian institutions, including the University of Florence’s department of pharmaceutical science-comes in dark 3.4-ounce bottles that block 99.9 percent of UVA light.
Before it’s sealed with a recyclable PVC-free cork, the bottle is filled with an inert gas that, like its Ray Ban–like container, is designed to protect the oil from any kind of chemical reactions that might reduce its taste or antioxidant properties. The tiny bottles encourage quick consumption for the same reasons. As Mr. Manni put it: “Who leaves one bottle of [Chateau] Petrus open for one month?”
“I start this when my first son”-Lorenzo, who’s now 5-“was born,” Mr. Manni told The Transom. “I decide to produce the oil for him, because you can’t know what you are eating about oil.”
Purity comes at a price, however. New Yorkers who order Mr. Manni’s oil via his Web site must purchase 10 3.4-ounce bottles-there are two types, the bolder Per me (for me) and the lighter Per mio figlio (for my son)-at a cost of $245, including shipping, which Mr. Manni guarantees.
But Mr. Manni has also made his oil available to a handful of restaurants in the United States, which, he said, meet his high standards. In New York, there are two: Jean Georges and the Four Seasons. Which was why Mr. Manni was in the house on this September afternoon.
According to Mr. Manni, he’d been asked to cook lunch for members of the Four Seasons staff, including co-owners Julian Niccolini and Alex Von Bidder, purchasing manager Daniel Sanon and a few invited guests, including former Mayor Ed Koch’s former chef, Mitchel London.
Mr. Niccolini, who hails from Tuscany, was especially enthusiastic about Mr. Manni’s oil. “The intensity, the taste, flavor, the freshness-it’s like 100 percent fresh, which is very hard to find in an olive oil.”
But just because Mr. Niccolini had invited Mr. Manni to steam up the Four Seasons’ venerated kitchen didn’t mean that he was going to give the director a free ride. In fact, Italian tradition pretty much dictated that Mr. Niccolini would have to bust his guest’s coglioni a little, just to make sure Mr. Manni understood his place.
And Mr. Niccolini did not waste much time. First up on the menu were plates of meaty, fresh tomatoes. Mr. Niccolini began helping the guests drizzle the oil on them. “Here is the Father, and here is the Son,” he said, referring to the two different oils. “And for Christmas, the Holy Spirit is coming.”
Mr. Niccolini also claimed that the tomatoes came from his home garden, but his partner corrected him.
“The last garden Julian saw was the Garden of Eden,” Mr. Von Bidder said. “They chased him out of there real fast.”
As Mr. Manni inhaled his tomatoes, The Transom asked if he was as discerning with all of the food he consumed.
“Oh, yeah. Food. Love. Job,” he said. “You must be careful.”
When he was finished with his appetizer, Mr. Manni pushed away from the table. “I am going to cook the two most easy pastas in the world,” he said. “Pasta just with Parmigiana and oil. Nothing else. And pasta with pecorino and oil and pepper. You will be astonished by the taste. I hope.”
When Mr. Manni disappeared into the kitchen, Mr. Niccolini, who had been tending to other guests in the Pool Room, appeared tableside. “Is everything going well?” he asked, looking natty in a tailored summer-weight window-pane suit. Then he glanced at Mr. Manni’s wine glass.
“Make sure nobody touches his glass, because he’s Italian, you know. You never know who he’s been kissing.” Mr. Niccolini’s eyes widened and he let out a laugh worthy of Torquemada.
“You would know,” Mr. Von Bidder said.
When the first pasta was ready, Mr. Manni arrived with the waiters and the plates, looking a little sheepish. “I hope it is not too dry,” he said.
Mr. Niccolini’s voice sounded a little stern. “Did you try this pasta before you put it on the plate?”
“No, I didn’t,” Mr. Manni said quietly. “I don’t know if we need more oil.”
“Uh-oh. Uh-oh,” Mr. Niccolini said, the sound of doom ringing merrily in his voice. “This pasta is from Abruzzi, you know. From the wrong part of Italy. A bunch of sheepherders up there.”
Mr. Manni sat down and tasted his creation. It was hard to hear what came out of his mouth next, but it sounded like, “Not so fabulous.” Then he said: “You can put a little olive oil on the top, if you like.”
“It’s too dry,” Mr. Niccolini said, without tasting Mr. Manni’s efforts.
“Yeah, it’s too dry,” Mr. Manni concurred.
The two Italian men conversed in their native language. Then Mr. Niccolini said in English: “This pasta was not made by the chef of the Four Seasons, O.K.? I just want to make sure you know that.”
“See how fast friends are disowned?” Mr. Von Bidder said.
“The dish was very hot and dried all the water,” Mr. Manni replied.
As Mr. Manni’s guests liberally splashed more of the $7.21-an-ounce oil on their pasta, Mr. Niccolini asked no one in particular: “So what do you think about this guy? This pasta is getting to be more expensive than shaving white truffles on top.”
Mr. Manni redeemed himself with the second pasta and, unbeknownst to him, the bottle of 1990 Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that he’d brought to serve with lunch. While the director was preparing that the second pasta dish, Mr. Niccolini had the Valentini opened. The wine poured thickly, like blood, and tasted like liquid wisdom.
“This is a really, really serious wine,” Mr. Niccolini said. By the time Mr. Manni returned, there was barely a glass left for him.
Next came the main course, filet-mignon-like bison, topped with foie gras and served with a “cornucopia” fashioned from melted Parmigiana cheese and filled with a purée of potatoes and olive oil.
As the guests were trying the potato-and-oil concoction, Mr. Niccolini barked: “How’s the polenta?”
Mr. Manni winced at having his culinary efforts likened to corn-meal mush. “Polenta! My God,” he said.
“This is delicious,” Mr. London said. “You know, if I didn’t like it, I would tell you.” Then he asked if Mr. Manni had made the brown sauce for the bison.
“No. The kitchen made,” Mr. Manni said. “But I think they made the bison in a delicious way.”
Mr. Niccolini’s voice boomed once more from another table. “This is buffalo,” he said, pronouncing it boof -alo. “This is not bison. O.K.?” A laugh rose up from the table.
Mr. Manni eyed his tormentor. “How do you say-I always make confusion between ‘fuck you’ and ‘thank you’ with Julian.”
Henry the K-Hole
One might think that an incisive, provocative re-examination of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s governmental career, such as is presented in Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki’s 2002 documentary, The Trials of Henry Kissinger , might have found a television berth when it was shopped around to American cable and broadcast outlets this year.
After all, the 80-minute piece, which broaches the subject of whether Mr. Kissinger should be tried as a war criminal while taking a critical look at his actions in Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor and Chile, seemed timely enough, what with the creation of an International Criminal Court last April and growing enthusiasm for universal jurisdiction.
Instead, the documentary, which was inspired by the work of Kissinger-obsessed Vanity Fair contributor Christopher Hitchens-who expanded a two-part Harper’s Magazine story on the subject into a book -found no takers.
Cable networks like HBO and the Discovery Channel were contacted, as was PBS, according to Mr. Gibney, who produced and wrote the film. But none of these prospective outlets “wanted to sign on-for different reasons, but I suspect they were scared,” Mr. Gibney said, adding that Mr. Kissinger is “well-connected in the media.”
” Frontline seemed a logical place, but they weren’t interested,” Mr. Gibney continued. “They never gave us a definitive no, just no answer, which was frustrating.”
Mr. Hitchens was more blunt. “PBS were traditionally cowardly,” he said. “They’re always the most wimpy, which I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t maintain they have a reputation for doing gutsy documentaries.”
In response, Frontline executive editor Louis Wiley said: “Frontline did spend time seriously considering the film. Our executive producer has a clear memory of talking to the director about it and finally passing, but it may be that we failed to communicate that to the producer.”
Although less virulent than Mr. Hitchens’ similarly titled book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger , which was published by Verso Books in May 2001, the documentary makes a pretty strong case for trying Mr. Kissinger for war crimes. Using declassified government documents, it chronicles his role in dragging out the war in Vietnam, as well as in the bombing of Cambodia, the invasion of East Timor and the assassination of General René Schneider, the commander of the armed forces in Chile, which paved the way for a coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende and the installation of Augusto Pinochet in his stead.
The film features interviews with Kissinger critics, observers and fans. Mr. Hitchens is featured prominently, as is another Kissinger critic, New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh, but also in the mix are former Kissinger aides, General Brent Scowcroft, the New York Times ‘ Elizabeth Becker, columnist William Safire and, memorably, General Alexander Haig, who in one scene calls Mr. Hitchens “a sewer-pipe-sucker.”
When shown last June at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York, the documentary played to a sold-out house, with scalpers selling tickets upfront.
Yet according to Mr. Gibney, at first the project found interest in Europe only. “The whole thing got funded in England and through pre-sales in Europe,” he said. “The only way to show it here is through a theatrical distributor.”
After the Human Rights festival, Mr. Gibney found a distributor, First Run Features, and the film is now set to open on Sept. 25 at Film Forum in New York. After that, it will play nationwide, in at least 50 theaters, and there is hope that broadcasters might change their minds if the theater run is successful.
“We’re hoping that as a result they’ll reconsider,” Mr. Gibney said.
As for Mr. Kissinger, a recent Times piece by Ms. Becker, which linked U.S. demands to exempt its citizens from the International Criminal Court to the desire to protect top leaders like Mr. Kissinger, promises to keep him in the limelight over that very issue.
“I’m really excited at this moment,” Mr. Hitchens said. “I think finally it’s going to break the surface as a real political issue now. Is the U.S. harboring the world’s most wanted criminal? Come on, bring it on!”
– Elisabeth Franck
A few minutes into the second half of the Monday, Sept. 9, benefit edition of The 24 Hour Plays , the dulcet tones of Brooklyn-born actress Rosie Perez rang out from the balcony of the Minetta Lane Theater.
“Turn off the fuckin’ cell phones!”
Ms. Perez’s loud disregard for convention summed up the spirit of the event-10-minute works that were written, directed, rehearsed and performed within a span of 24 hours. The show, which benefited Working Playground Inc., a theatrical charity, was sponsored by Details and Bloomingdale’s, and included performances by actors Ms. Perez, Brooke Shields, Jennifer Esposito, Gaby Hoffmann, Rachel Dratch, Jesse L. Martin, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, Billy Crudup, Fisher Stevens, Drena De Niro and Liev Schreiber, who persists in imperiling his position as a straight fetish object by toting his Jack Russell Terrier, Chicken, everywhere.
Last year’s 24 Hour Plays , which took place on Sept. 24, were one of New York’s first nervous steps back into the celebrity party scene after Sept. 11. One year later, the plays avoided mention of the terrorist attacks, though they did deal with suicide, the afterlife and funerals.
After the show, the stars gathered at the Soho Grand Hotel, where Ms. Esposito had an altercation with a man who asked her for a light. When she offered him her lit cigarette rather than a match, the man accused her of treating him like a peasant and rattled off his family name. When The Transom caught up with Ms. Esposito, she was trying to find the man to have him thrown out.
The star of the upcoming Welcome to Collinwood recovered in time to answer questions about recent reports linking her to J. Lo cast-off Cris Judd.
“Yeah, we were seen, but there’s nothing going on!” Ms. Esposito said with a flourish, before promising to tell a friend “the real story” later.
“No, I’m kidding,” Ms. Esposito continued. “We’re just friends. We were introduced by mutual friends. Actually, we’d met before that, too. And we’re just friends. We had a lunch, actually. And we’re just friends.”
So, Ms. Esposito, are you and Mr. Judd just friends?
“We’re just friends. That’s it-just friends.”
Mr. Schreiber slunk past Ms. Esposito, pausing to plant a kiss on her sloping shoulder, bared by a pink diaphanous top. Chicken was nowhere in sight.
“Liev and I are dating, actually, according to the press!” said Ms. Esposito after he moved on. “In fact, I’m dating all of the guys I was in the play with,” she said with a wicked laugh, before locking eyes on her tormentor and turning to follow him.
In a less playful mood was Gaby Hoffmann, the 20-year-old actress who appeared in Sleepless in Seattle and You Can Count on Me . Ms. Hoffman said she hasn’t worked in the three years she’s been pursuing her socio-political-environmental degree at Bard College, and didn’t know whether she’d ever return to Hollywood.
“Frankly, Hollywood makes me sick,” said Ms. Hoffman, later adding, “Let me restate that: I have issues with Hollywood. It’s a nice lifestyle, but you have to make concessions. Like your morals. “
– Rebecca Traister
The burning question for followers of HBO’s The Sopranos is which character will get clipped this year.
The speculative fire was fueled early last week when a source told The Transom that she was sitting in a coffee shop, 71 Irving Place, when Sopranos star Aida Turturro-who plays Tony Soprano’s pazza sister Janice-entered, looking as though she’d just come from a workout. The source said that she’d spotted Ms. Turturro in the café several times in the past.
This time, however, the source said Ms. Turturro was recognized by two women who appeared to have a professional connection to her. After one of the women approached and greeted her, the source said Ms. Turturro eventually joined the women at their table. As the group exchanged phone numbers, said the source, Ms. Turturro could be heard telling them, “Please give me a call if you know of any work. I’m looking for work.”
Ms. Turturro, who’s had parts in Illuminata , Bringing Out the Dead and Joe Gould’s Secret , could well have been asking about jobs that might fill the long hiatus before The Sopranos ‘ fifth and final season starts shooting again. Co-star Edie Falco is appearing on Broadway in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune , while Lorraine Bracco will reportedly be disrobing onstage as Mrs. Robinson in the Broadway production of The Graduate.
But the source said that Ms. Turturro’s eagerness for a job made her wonder whether Janice Soprano would be going the way of Sal (Big Pussy) Bompensiero, who met his sad end at the conclusion of season two. Actor Vincent Pastore has made only one brief postmortem appearance as Big Pussy on the wildly successful HBO drama, while his post- Sopranos movie work has included parts in last year’s Corky Romano and this month’s Serving Sara .
Series creator David Chase has promised at least one familiar dead body to surface by the end of the upcoming season, which begins on Sept. 15. Fans have scoured Annie Leibovitz’s recent promotional cast photo for clues as to who was destined to die. Many noticed that Paulie (Walnuts) Gaultieri was the only cast member dressed in angelic white, and that, posing in a mirror, he was the only Soprano not facing the camera. An HBO representative would only say, “You’ll just have to tune in to find out what happens.”
A representative for Ms. Turturro said, “I think Aida is looking for work because the show is on hiatus.”
It has been reported that Ms. Turturro might use her “hiatus” from The Sopranos to take a role in her cousin John Turturro’s gangster musical, Romance and Cigarettes , which is being directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Sopranos star James Gandolfini is also reportedly set to star in the film.
A Boxster for Your Love
Porsche aficionados will prick up their ears during the first episode of The Sopranos ‘ fourth season. During a family dinner on the show, Ralphie (Joe Pantoliano) informs a friend of Anthony Jr.’s that his father’s Porsche Boxster is “a Porsche with panties” and the kind of car that people in the Hamptons drive.
In addition to simultaneously insulting Hamptonites and women in one fell swoop, the dialogue does no favors for the Boxster, which has traditionally suffered from a reputation as the-hell, when in Rome – pussy Porsche.
“Hey, it’s more of a guy’s car than an SLK Mercedes or even a Z3 BMW,” said one Porsche sales consultant in Manhattan, who did not wish to give his name. ” Those are girls’ cars.”
The sales consultant explained that if the Boxster suffers from any bad rep, it has to do with its price tag. “It’s the entry-level car, so it’s not that it’s girly, it’s that it’s the poor-man’s Porsche,” he said, adding that of the 80 cars he sold last year, only two were to women-and “one was a Turbo.”
Added the salesman: “But it’s all stereotypes, you know? You want stereotypes? Well, a guy with a pinkie ring who works on a construction sight isn’t likely to drive a Porsche. That’s all.”
Representatives from a Hamptons Porsche dealership did not return calls. Nor did Porsche North America representatives.