Hooter Nanny

When the James Beard Foundation hosts an event, it's upper crust all the way. Gourmets treat the dinners very seriously, displaying etiquette that would please Miss Manners, and the talk is deep, thoughtful stuff. Sure.

Last week's Friends of James Beard event at the Royal Palms showcased the skills of several top chefs: Michael Hoobler (Valencia Lane), Derek Morgan (T. Cook's), Alessandro Stratta (formerly Mary Elaine's, now Las Vegas' Renoir), Pierino Jermonti (T. Cook's) and Stephen Kalt (an East Coast restaurant consultant). It also showed how restless a crowd can get when besotted with free-flowing wines and a speaker who doesn't know when to give up.

Perhaps the gentleman seated at my dinner table had imbibed too much of the 1988 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs at the cocktail reception. Maybe his mind was muddled by the double pours of 1999 Schmitt Schenk Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett Riesling and 2000 Bodega Jacques & Francois Lurton Pinot Gris that were served to accompany Stratta's appetizer of Maine lobster ravioli with zucchini and oven-dried tomatoes.

Whatever the reason, once the second-course appetizer was placed before him, he looked at it blearily and announced loudly, "This is just like Hooter's!"

I'm sure Kalt, flown in specially from New York for the $125-a-plate event, would be pleased to hear his roasted trout Basquaise with Manila clams and apple-smoked bacon compares favorably with sports-bar grub.

In all, through the five courses, each diner was served nine glasses of wine (not including pre-meal champagne), with as many refills as requested. By the time chef Hoobler sent out his featured entree, olive-roasted poussin with serrano ham, hearts of palm and wild mushrooms, the room had dissolved into a raucous bunch. The group, while uninterested from the get-go in the interminable ramblings of guest speaker and wine consultant Joshua Wesson, no longer even pretended to listen, leaving him shouting above the din absurdities like, "How many people like sex?"

Our drunken gentleman finally had enough of the endless speeches, growling, "One more course like this and we'll all be dead."

Morgan's delightful Colorado loin of lamb was worth the test of endurance, plated with three cabbages, Gorgonzola polenta and Brunello reduction. By the time Jermonti's dessert was served -- goat cheese mousse with pear Piermonti -- the room had quieted down, subdued by the orgy of foods and their own pickled brains.

Congratulations to the chefs for pulling off a topnotch culinary experience.

But one question: Where were the chicks in tight tops and hot pants?


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