I just finished making a film I'll be entering in Sundance," the waitress said to my friend Peter Travers as she handed him a menu. "Give me your card and I'll send you a copy." Peter and I were having lunch at L'Impero in Manhattan, the first of three meals I'd arranged in order to teach Peter how to order wine in a restaurant and how to pair it with food. Peter nodded graciously; as the film critic of Rolling Stone for the past 15 years, he is accustomed to being accosted by would-be Scorseses with Super-8 films. Such aspiring directors, said Peter, are outnumbered only by ambitious actors "who hand me an eight-by-ten glossy and say 'Next time you see Spielberg, could you give this to him?'"
"I've been looking forward to this," Peter said to me as we opened our menus. After tasting and spitting during our two months of private wine lessons, Peter just wanted to drink wine. Accompanied by food. ("I'm sure I would like this wine a lot more if I had something to eat" had been a frequently uttered Peter phrase.) Peter was also anxious to talk to a real-life sommelier. "As soon as I got over the idea that every wine has to go by a grape name, I got excited about wine lists. They don't seem as overpoweringly terrifying now," he said.
I'd chosen L'Impero because it is Italian, the most popular cuisine in this country and one I know Peter is fond of. Of course, L'Impero isn't just any Italian restaurant, but one of the best in New York; its chef, Scott Conant, is an F&W Best New Chef this year, and its co-owner and wine director, Chris Cannon, has created one of the city's most interesting (mostly Italian) lists, which last year F&W named one of America's finest.