OK, so a while ago (January 6th, to be exact) I was asked by Hillel Cooperman of Tastingmenu.com to participate in his inspired creation, The 2005 Independent Food Festival and Awards. The idea was simple: food bloggers get to give an award to something they feel passionately about in the food world, that they feel should be recognized. Here is their graphic:
So with a proposition like that and a graphic like that, how could I say no? I was drunk with power—I get to give an award! I felt like an Oscar voter only more capable (honestly, Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction? Come on). So it was settled. Now only one problem—who should I give an award to?
There’s something you need to understand about me. I’m a total fraud. I have no idea what I’m doing. The very idea that I was asked to give an award is an affront to the entire food community. I have no real training with food, I have very little eating experience. I wrote a post once praising the Olive Garden. I am so inadequate it hurts. Why me, then, why?
But enough self-doubt. I was chosen to give an award and I would give one.
At around this time, there was a blizzard. It was a big blizzard. You may remember it? There was all that snow and all the other vestiges of a good old fashioned blizzard. Well around that time I needed a new backpack. My old backpack was positively coated in cat hair. There was no pouch for my computer—I’d developed the habit of putting my computer in a flimsy leather computer case and sticking that in my backpack along with heavy books and other heavy machinery. It wasn’t a great system.
Then, through some online maneuverings that aren’t that important, I discovered Crumpler bags which are bags built especially for Apple Powerbooks. I found the bag I wanted and I ordered it online. Shipping would cost $16.
Days passed. There was no notice that it had shipped. So I decided to look up the store’s number online so I could ask, “Yo! Hey! Where’s my bag?”
It was during this search that I made a startling realization. Crumpler was located in NEW YORK. In the East Village. (Actually, it’s on the Lower East Side, but I already submitted my post title to Hillel so let’s pretend it’s the East Villlage.)
I called the store immediately and I said, “Hey! Yo! I ordered this bag online and I had no idea you were in New York. I paid $16 for shipping. Did it ship yet?”
The guy looked me up. “Nope, it didn’t.”
“Phew!” I said. “Now then—can I come get it in person?”
“Sure,” he said.
And so I took the train down to Prince street and started walking east. It was wildly cold out. My face hurt the way your nose hurts when it gets hit with a tennis ball. By the time I found the store I was seriously wondering if I hadn’t frozen a mile back and it was only my ghost entering the store, ringing the bell.
I told the guy who I was. I took out my credit card. He said, “Listen–buying it in the store is actually more expensive than buying it online. The same bag you were going to buy online is $20 more here. So here’s what we’ll do—we won’t credit you the $16 back, we’ll just give you the bag and keep the original charge on the card.”
I was so cold I would have believed anything. I took the bag and walked out.
Now (and I realize this is a long-winded story but I’m an award giver and I HAVE RIGHTS) I was hungry and I had a coffee date in the west village. I had to walk from the East Village (OK, FINE, THE LOWER EAST SIDE) to the West Village and eat something along the way. What would I eat? What could sooth my soul at this desperately frigid moment?
There, on Sullivan street, I made a right turn and walked up towards Houston. On the right was a trendy restaurant, then Once Upon a Tart and then—hiding in the corner–Pepe Rosso, home of some of New York’s best and most reasonably priced Italian food.
There are only four tables in Pepe Rosso. At the time I entered, two were occupied. I threw my new backpack down on an empty one and shot my eyes up to the huge menu on the wall over the counter. I needed something warm and savory and comforting and filling and all those things you want when you’re frozen and you just bought a backpack. For whatever reason I chose Penne A La Vodka with Pancetta. I sat down and stared at a wall, like an angry character in an Alaska novel. I could barely muster the energy to read the New Yorker magazine I brought with me.
Time passed. And then the following was presented to me:
The picture is small (I took this with my old camera) but the moment is big. The award is for the “Most Soul-Satisfying Bowl of Pasta” and this surely was it. It was warm—the steam rose to my face and hinted of tomatos and garlic and onions and bacon. I let it rise and then I dug in and each bite went right to the places in my soul that were diminished–that needed replenishing. This pasta replenished them. By the time I finished the bowl (mopping it clean with the bread) I was restored. I felt ready to face the world again.
As silly as this award seems, let’s not forget that context matters. We rarely hear about the day Frank Bruni’s having when he goes and reviews the new upstart Moroccan restaurant on your block. Maybe he was beat up that morning by gypsys and he has a bone to pick. Maybe his sister-in-law just won the lottery and is going to buy Frank a boat. You never know.
Here, I was cold. I needed warmth. I needed comfort. I needed my spirits raised. Pepe Rosso did the trick and for that I deem them worthy of the highest honor I have ever been allowed to give: a 2005 Taste Everything Food Award. Congrats, Pepe, on a job well done. [And thanks, Hillel, for organizing this!]