I’ve been in this business for four years, but every time I wind up someplace like the VIP Tasting Event at the US Open, I feel like I snuck in. Part of it, this time, is probably because our video team bailed out and I was flying solo. Part of it is because I really know very little about tennis. Part of it is because I can’t figure why anyone would be so eager to serve me fancy food on some odd Monday.
USTA employees led media through the stadium to the dining room in small groups as construction crews put finishing touches on last-minute renovations. “It never seems like they’ll finish, but it always gets done,” our guide said, laughing as maintenance men furiously screwed in light bulbs and scrubbed floors.
As I stepped into the room and saw the place settings I knew immediately this would not be the chaotic feeding frenzy I had grown accustomed to from two years of annual tasting events at Citi Field. Smart lighting, small plates, delicate dishware. Hell, someone even brought me a fizzy pink beverage.
The Collins glass listed the past U.S. Open winners down the sides. That’s good. Study up, slugger, they might quiz you.
As I took a sip and scanned the room, I noticed all the slacks and blazers. Blazes! I was underdressed. I could tuck my shirt into my jeans to blend with the more casual among the media, but that would expose my odd choice of belt; in my haste to leave the house, I had grabbed the first thing I found suited to hold my pants up: the royal-blue elastic Rawlings belt I use for baseball on Saturdays.
There wasn’t even time for shame before someone rounded up the lot of us to parade us past the food. Professionals with telephoto lenses sized up the lighting and angled for the best perspective on the pulled-pork sliders while I tried not to drool on the steak sandwich I hunched over. iPhone photos suffice when you do business on the Internet, you just look like something of an amateur is all.
A chef came out and described the creations. Delicious buzzwords all about: grass-fed, Niman ranch, ginger goo, brioche. He explained where each item would be available, at in-stadium restaurants with names like Champions, Aces, Mojito. I tried to keep track as I awaited the call to the post. Good lord, why didn’t I bring a notebook?
Soon we were seated and the main event began. It started slowly, a waiter arriving with a lobster BLT. As I took a bite and considered what twisted genius first thought to bacon up the lobster, a second waiter arrived with a crabcake.
And thus began a furious onslaught of culinary awesomeness. Holy hell, these tennis folks can eat. It was getting in the ring with George Foreman. No dancing, no nonsense. Ever watch Foreman box? Just relentless.
Those crabcakes? Straight lump crabmeat, hardly anything else. Delicious. But don’t eat too much of it, because there’s a garlicky, buttery tender baked clam waiting on your table behind it. Oh, almost done chewing that? Here’s the custom-grind beef burger, so juicy it soaked through the bun once you cut it in half (because you can’t handle all of this, can you?). And make sure there’s room for the soft, flavorful buffalo mozzarella, delicately seasoned with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. Now comes the waitress with the BLT with avocado on toasted sourdough, and holy crap, I think I like tomatoes now.
And of course, it wouldn’t be tennis if there weren’t lobster served in all sorts of other ways. Would it? Damned if I know. At this point I’m not even sure they play tennis here. But lobster quesadillas came too, and lobster sushi. I can swear I saw straight-up lobster making its way around somewhere, too, just didn’t get to me.
After some twenty minutes of gluttonous fury, the coma began to set in. Some of the chefs – famous chefs from Top Chef, people I’m supposed to know about – made their way around the room to answer questions. The only one I could muster up was this:
“Do you have any more pulled pork sandwiches?”
One said he’d look, but I didn’t pursue it. I found a respite between plates and slinked out of the place, sated, defeated.
Good show, tennis. Good show. Allow this post to serve as spirited but polite applause.
If you make your way out to the U.S. Open in the coming weeks, make your way to one of the restaurants. Once you’re in, you’re on your own. Everything was good. My recollections of the event, even only a few hours later, are too dizzied to distinguish any dish in particular.