Friday, April 15, 2011

A marathon lunch and a perfect storm

Today was one of those crazy days of double-bookings, a marathon lunch and a perfect storm. I was getting ready for work early this morning and getting into a properly staid attire for a business lunch with a couple of private bankers when I suddenly remembered I'd already said yes to a wine lunch with the president of Blackbird Vineyards, an excellent boutique winery from Napa Valley. For some reason, this event had not made it to my Blackberry and it was only a stroke of luck that prompted me to suddenly check my email trails for the date of the Blackbird lunch.

And when I checked my emails, there it was -- a double-booking for lunch with two events at exactly the same time and within the same square kilometer. Of course I had to go to the one I'd said yes to first -- and that was the Napa winery lunch -- so I did an about-face and changed into something really relaxing for a long lunch, and sent a representative to the banking lunch instead.


The Blackbird Vineyards lunch was a five-course meal for eight hosted by Jojo Madrid and Fred Uytengsu, and cooked by Tippi Tambunting at Masseto. As always, the food was excellent. It began with some appetizers and a truly wonderful tomato-based fusilli pasta with sausage and arugula, and this was followed by a roll of quail wrapped in jamon serrano and braised shortribs with potato puree. The meal ended with my favorite chocolate hazelnut tart. Everything was simply delicious; but it's a testament to Tippi's skills that I loved every bit of her quail entree, especially since I usually never eat quail.

The moment I walked into Masseto, however, I spotted Fred and he said to me: "At the last wine lunch, you were rushing off to Tokyo. Hope you can stay this time?"

The last time I'd had lunch with these guys, I'd stayed long enough for the appetizer and a couple of glasses of wine; and then I had my entree packed into a doggy bag which I ate in the car on the way to the airport instead, since I was catching the 230 pm flight to Japan. It was typical me, wanting to have it all -- I wanted to fly to Tokyo that day but I also wanted to join lunch. As usual, I'd tempted fate mercilessly by leaving Masseto past 1 pm for my 230 pm flight. And on the way, I'd calmly ate my main course of braised kurobuta (black pig) while lamenting the fact that I'd forgotten to ask Tippi to pack me some dessert as well.

This time, I think I more than made up for my hasty exit at the previous lunch by staying so long that I finally left Masseto at 530 pm when the restaurant was getting ready for a full house Friday night. And actually, we probably would've stayed longer and found a corner to continue talking somewhere, if only we didn't all have dinners to attend that evening. I even had to go home, get into a saree, and head over to the residence of the ambassador of Sri Lanka by 7 pm for a Sri Lankan New Year's dinner -- a feat I actually accomplished!

But back to lunch. The other day, someone invited me to lunch on the spur of the moment and afterwards he said to me: "It's a wonder you were free for lunch today." I replied: "I usually like to work through lunch at the office because I'm always out for a cocktail or dinner; and if I had to eat out for both lunch and dinner everyday, I'd never get any work done." Lunches are usually reserved for work events and meetings, or for people I don't know very well. Otherwise, I'm probably having take-out at work. I'd rather meet up with friends for dinner when work is done for the day.

"And maybe lunches are also for people you like a lot?" he asked. That's kind of true because today was a lunch hosted by friends and it had the perfect combination of really good friends, great conversation, wonderful food and excellent and very drinkable wines. Everything was very young, but these went well with the food. I particularly liked the Blackbird Arriviste Rose 2009 that we started lunch with, and the Blackbird Illustration Red Wine 2008 that we ended with, which was inspired by Chateau Petrus. The rose was light and nice, and perfect for Philippine climate. Meanwhile, the red had been decanted for about an hour, and it opened up very nicely just as we had this with our main course.

Which was why, when I next looked at my watch after lunch, it was pushing 530 PM. My work schedule was shot for the day, but I didn't mind at all. I decided to just consider this long and very liquid lunch an early weekend start. Time had flown so fast and the lunch that had extended to the entire afternoon had been so enjoyable. And case in point, I'd had a lunch and a dinner today, and practically no work was done after 12 noon.


Then came the perfect storm -- which was just so perfectly timed that neither I nor the person on the other end saw it coming. I'd had a wonderful lunch and a very nice chat with a good friend, when something out of left field not at all related to lunch or wines triggered a rather ferocious storm which was then conducted mainly via BBM with someone else not present at today's lunch. I was so upset, and let me tell you that it's no mean feat to change into a saree in under ten minutes in a furious mood, with a Blackberry in one hand and lots of alcohol in your system.

Fortunately, I got my saree drapings right within the alloted time and the storm somehow blew over by the time my car rolled into the ambassador's driveway. My friend on the receiving end was pretty smart to run for cover at the first wave, although he probably drowned in the process when the largest tsunami of a message hit.


And when I arrived at my dinner, which was to celebrate Sri Lankan New Year, I was met by a flurry of compliments on my saree draping skills by the Sri Lankan women present. Almost all of them came up to compliment me on my saree, recently purchased from a store in the middle of nowhere only last week in Sri Lanka. "How did you learn to wear a saree? It seems to us that you've been wearing a saree for years." They said. Coming from women who had indeed been wearing sarees for years, this was certainly a compliment that completely made my day.

In Sri Lanka, I'd been shown the basics by the store sales clerks and then I'd basically winged it from what I remembered observing on Sri Lankan women in Colombo. The saree is worn by almost everyone in Sri Lanka, and I'd had the opportunity to observe how women wore silk sarees at several formal wedding receptions taking place in my hotel in Colombo. I was so fascinated with the way the women wore their sarees, and the movement and the colors that came with it, that I could've watched them for hours.

Another lady said: "Did you have help putting that on? I usually can't wear a saree without getting help from another person."

I then remembered how, earlier, I'd hurriedly folded and draped six meters of silk on myself while furiously typing out a BBM with one free hand, and all the while intoxicated with enough alcohol to light an oil lamp. That probably could've made the Guiness Book for dexterity under duress and it would certainly have made an interesting conversation starter at the dinner table. But it was the Sri Lankan New Year which meant auspicious endings and beginnings, so instead I calmly shook my head and sweetly said, "No help. Just beginner's luck perhaps."

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