Usually this phrase is followed by a sad ending, but not this time. The Zagat Dinner Club (Natasha , Leah, Patricia, Pam, Michelle, Randee, Danielle, Jessica and Christina) will be gathering on Friday, September 28th at Aldea Restaurant to start our journey through the alphabet once again. Who would have thought that after 26 months, we’d fall in love and decide to take this tradition for another lap?! Thank you to the ex-boyfriends that brought us together ;)
This round, we’re adding rules… or more of them. We will agree to share photos, write a review and send a thank you note to each of the restaurants that we visit. You’ll see it all documented right here.
Our hope is that through our experience we’ll inspire other women to start their own “clubs” and version of this game we call: The Zagat Dinner Club. Xx
I arrived at Zero Otto 20 minutes late and found Christina on the phone outside the front door. I said hi and ran in while she continued her call.
After entering, I found, to my surprise, the restaurant was very large. Though, I zeroed in (punn intended) and quickly found the girls. Our Zagat dinner group seemed tiny compared to the steak house like dining room and high ceilings. We were regretfully missing Christina (ourside on the phone), Danielle (aiding her Grandfather through major surgery), Michelle (all too dependably due to work), and Natasha (preparing for Jess’s wedding). Otherwise the gang was all there, already haven dived into the first course, what seemed like a very basic salad and a meat & cheese anti pasta. This can totally be my imagination writing, you would have to ask Pam, Patty, Jess & Leah if that was in fact what they ordered, but my initial impression, based on the basic Italian menu and large plates, was that is what they ordered. My stomach was empty, so I was sad to miss the first course…but oddly I didn’t feel as if I missed anything with the dish initself.
I responded to the extremely alert, Little Italy like little Italian waiter and ordered my first drink, a White Zinfendel like regretfully dark Rose and greeted Christina as she finally joined us. After relaying today’s specials to her (including a ricotta & gruyere ravioli-risky, but potentially good-although not good enough), we each ordered. With great support by table mates, I ordered a butternut squash rigatoni, Christina & Leah had Sea Bass, Pam Pasta with Clam Sauce, & Jess & Patty something else (I forget what). We all shared a margarita pizza. My dish was my favorite, it was good. The pizza was pretty good too. BUT I was really hungry. It wasn’t my favorite.
Otto, if you know it - does this same type of Italian food, but everything has an extra bit of pizazz. Zero Otto had zero pizazz. We didn’t go for dessert, granted it was a Tuesday and Jess’s wedding was coming up over the weekend, so after a final Pinot Noir, I was ready to go home and I am sure my fellow Zagatians were feeling the same urgency for bed. Letter Z’s Zero Otto didn’t exactly beg us to stay, nor make us feel guilty when we left. I do have to say the waiter did good though….maybe one day I’ll rendezvous with him in LIttle Italy ;)
Last night at Xai Xai - South African Winebar. Although they never answered the phone, they accommodated us once we arrived. The Wall Street Journal article from last month and our website surely helped. Don’t try and make a reservation through OpenTable, as they never received ours. The food, drink and service is fabulous but you have to just go to experience it all.
At 7:30p we will be meeting at Xai Xai on 51st and 9th for our monthly dinner event. But this evening is different. X proposed many challenges. First, there aren’t many restaurants in NYC that begin with the letter X. After tweeting to @ZagatNYC, @menupages and @OpenTable. Both Menupages and OpenTable suggested Xai Xai. Zagat did not respond.
I’ve called Xai Xai about 15 times over the past two weeks and never received an answer. I made a reservation on OpenTable for 6 because that’s the largest party they’d accept through the website… although there are nine of us. My fingers are crossed. I hope the restaurant actually exist.
~ Christina Weber
WE MADE THE PAPER!
My wife had a legitimate question: What was I doing one night last week having dinner with seven young women whom I’d never met before? The simple answer was because they’d invited me.
They read my column, at least one of them does, and she thought their monthly dinner club, where they select restaurants by traveling through the Zagat guide alphabetically—one restaurant per letter—would make interesting column fodder. They’ve been meeting since May 2010 and are nearing the end of the alphabet. Hence, that evening they were convening at a new restaurant in the West Village that started with the letter “W”—Whitehall.
I explained all this to my wife, who still didn’t appreciate the novelty, or see the news value. There were probably women meeting for dinner all over town that evening, she suggested, and every evening since we were a British colony.
Perhaps so, I replied, but they weren’t this organized. Didn’t these ladies at least deserve some credit for endurance, for managing to meet every month, no matter the myriad distractions their careers and personal lives, and this teeming metropolis, threw in their face. I mean, they’d been gathering for 25 months straight! Indeed, this night marked their second anniversary!
Plus, we had no dinner plans ourselves that night.
I’ll admit that when I arrived at the restaurant and introduced myself to the women, who range in age from 27 to 33 and were standing at the bar awaiting a table, I felt momentarily awkward. One would be—sitting down with seven strangers, let alone all of the opposite sex, and half your age.
Which, for some reason, reminds me of a story. One evening a number of years ago I was strolling down Third Avenue in the vicinity of Ninth or 10th street when I passed a restaurant with sidewalk tables. One table in particular caught my eye, because it was large and with many people seated around it—and because of the gender imbalance. The ratio was similar to the table at the Whitehall where I was being seated.
I took a closer look and recognized one of the women as a casual acquaintance of mine who worked at Vogue magazine. She was glowing abnormally, as were all the other women at the table. I realized that’s what had probably caught my eye—not that the guy was so vastly outnumbered, but that each woman wore the identical hypnotized smile, an expression that I can only describe as aphrodisiacal. I finally got around to looking at the guy and realized why: It was Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.
I’m not trying to suggest that I had the same effect on the members of the Zagat Dinner Club, as they call themselves. Only that, for some reason, the unusual circumstances roused that ancient memory from my subconscious.
The restaurant was extremely noisy, and I’m hard of hearing under such circumstances, and not very good with IDs anyway, especially when I’m introduced to seven people simultaneously. So I’d like to apologize in advance if I misattribute anything they said. I’d only planned on staying for a drink, but the women were extremely welcoming and seemed as natural and unaffected as if I wasn’t there. And the food was very good.
I couldn’t help comparing them to my older daughter, who is only a few years younger. These women seemed more driven and entrepreneurial, though perhaps that was a function of being slightly older. Their priorities and interests seemed more practical, financial, and somewhat old-fashioned. Three of them—Jessica Klara, an executive assistant at a private-equity firm; Leah Renee Abrahams, who works in fashion sales; and Randee Bassen, employed at a corporate travel company—are engaged, their engagements a source of excitement for the whole group.
They were all heading to Cancun for Ms. Klara’s bachelorette party. And when they started playing associations with the letter “W”—Whitehall, Wall Street Journal—she shouted out “Wedding!”
“It gives each of us a special space in each other’s lives,” one of the women told me, of their monthly meetings. “Whatever happens, we have one night carved out to try a new restaurant. We look out for each other. New York City starts to become a much smaller place when a group of girls start to realize they have friends in common, colleagues in common.”
Much of the conversation seemed to center on gossip and relationships. And I must say, I’ve never seen so many women spending time on their phones during a meal without seeming rude. Part of it was that the conversation never lagged, no matter how momentarily distracted any particular woman was. But it was more that whatever they were doing on their phones seemed an extension of the evening’s exhilaration, another way of harnessing the city’s energy.
And there was networking going on. Christina Weber, an entrepreneur who was chatting on the phone with a developer with whom she’d gone on a couple of dates, passed the phone to Pamela Haber, a commercial real-estate broker. Some sort of deal seemed to be in the offing.
They also shared food, though not wine, a typical evening, they estimated, costing each woman $60, preferably cash. I was seated at the head of the table—the ladies thought it was only proper—with Danielle O’Hara, an executive assistant originally from upstate who works for the same private-equity firm as Ms. Klara, on my right, and Ms. Weber, on my left. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could add to their conversation about Christian Louboutin shoes.
“I got my first pair,” Ms. O’Hara reported. “They’re beautiful. You don’t want to wear them. You just feel sexy. It’s an investment.”
Ms. Weber, who started a website called Feminine Weapon, and studies kabala, couldn’t have agreed more. One of them—my notes fail me here, but it makes sense it was Ms. Weber—quoted Mr. Louboutin to the effect that, “The stiletto is a feminine weapon that men don’t have.”
“How sexy do you feel in heels?” Ms. O’Hara demanded. “They’re just hard to walk on.”
But the conversation isn’t always frivolous. Indeed, what seems to underpin it is mutual respect for each other’s talents and ambition. “We’ve all helped each other through difficult times,” one of the women told me, citing in particular Ms. Bassen’s mother’s death last year. “We sat shiva with her. We all sent flowers and arrangements.”
They didn’t cancel that month’s dinner, however. “We moved dinner,” she said. “We put it a week later and still kept the schedule.”