Julia's Child, published by Plume/Penguin, is a book about organic food, and growing food, and feeding food to small wiggly people who don't always appreciate it.  This blog celebrates those same things, but also green living. And coffee.  And sometimes wine with little bubbles in it.


Search the Blog

« The Best Tasting Brussels Sprout Ever | Main | Sufferin' Succotash Revisited »

A Restaurant as Old as a Memory

We visit our old stomping grounds in NYC a few times a year. Last month we made a quick trip into the city, and my husband and I had an evening alone. We walked the increasingly unfamiliar streets. Shops and restaurants have a short half life, and the meat packing district we strolled was almost unrecognizable, with its hipper-than-thou shops replacing, well, meat packers. 

"It's still here!"

So it was surprising to me to see the Mesa Grill sitting staunchly in its place on 5th Avenue in the Flat Iron. We went inside to have a drink. It was a Wednesday night, and happy faces in summery business attire crowded the tables. One time, that was me.

In the spring of 1994 I received a sudden promotion on the trading floor where I'd worked. The boss had quit, and the company was struggling with a scandal. And a 21 year-old college grad was handed the reins to a multi-billion dollar portfolio of options trades.

"Listen, Missy."

Overwhelmed, I worked many hours but still managed to feel outgunned all the time. One afternoon I was chatting with T.J., one of the interdealer brokers with whom I traded. Into his end of our direct phone line he said, "Listen, Missy. It's getting late and I'm tired of hearing you bitch into the phone. I'll pick you up in half an hour, and you can complain over dinner instead."

I didn't know T.J. very well, but his job (literally) was to change that. Making himself useful to my partners and I in the markets--and at the end of long days--was a broker's way of earning business for his firm. 

Too tired to argue, I went outside to find him waiting. I was young and completely oblivious to the NYC restaurant scene. But T.J. knew what to do. Over the next several years I would follow him into new '90s dining adventures, and taste the cooking of Bobby Flay, Danny Meyer and (T.J.'s favorite) Larry Forgione.

But that first night, I probably didn't even read the sign MESA GRILL over the door. I don't remember what I ordered, but it surely wasn't very adventurous. T.J. talked me out of my misery somehow, but not far enough that I would order dessert. "Okay," he said to the waitress. "The chocolate and raspberry thing, please. And two spoons."

And...wow was it good! We fought over the last few bites, and finally I laughed. At the time, I thought life was so difficult. But that was only youthful folly talking.

I'm older and (a bit) smarter now, at least wise enough to no longer count opportunity as a burden. What a lucky time it was to be young and so gainfully employed in the magical place that was NYC on the upswing. T.J. helped me find the fun in it. For more than seven years he was my friend--he and his wife Patty. And my husband was added to our dinner parties. There were many other business dinners, but those were the fun ones.

That was until 9/11, when he was stolen away from his family and his many work friends. I was only a couple of hundred yards away ("on the other end of our Habitrail" as he used to say) when the plane hit his building. The lives of so many of my colleagues--and all of lower Manhattan--were rendered unrecognizable that day.

But somehow our banquet is still there, against the northern wall of Mesa Grill. Last month my husband and I sat on barstools sipping champagne (a favorite beverage of T.J.'s) just a few yards from where he and I first sat sparring for raspberries. There is still the clatter of savory dishes set upon gleaming wooden tables, the sound of the cork pulling loose from a bottle, and the laughter of the young and well employed. Maybe levity comes to them naturally, but on that evening in 1994, I needed a friend to teach me how to lighten up.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (8)

What a sweet post Sarah. You brought tears to my eyes way too early in the morning. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLori Popkewitz Alper

Thanks for reading, Lori!

September 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterSarah Pinneo

Sarah, Thank You for posting this "perfectly accurate" memory of TJ. He was my brother-in-law, and dear friend. And it's true, whenever you were out with T, he made you feel most comfortable, and thoroughly entertained! I miss him daily, and I thank you for this sweet memory of him.
Owen Kelly

September 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Kelly

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for a story that brought TJ back to me for a few minutes. T always spoke of you as the smarted girl he knew and he loved watching you become more confident but never jaded over the years. Take Care!

September 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Duffy

Thanks, Sarah,
Your description was typical T. J.. He was, without a doubt, one of the most thoughtful, lovable people I've ever known. Not that he and I didn't have our occasional differences; but then, what are fathers-in-law for? Thanks for the memory!

Thank you Owen, Jim and Larry. I was lucky to meet such a wonderful, solid person in the wilds of Wall Street.

September 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterSarah Pinneo

Dear Sarah, Patty sent me this link and I am thankful she did because your story rang so real for me. In 2000-2001, I was the recent college grad at whom he was directing the "Listen Missy". Along with the "don't get sassy with me" and the "right rabbit" remark that he said and I'm sure at some point he told me from which that came but to me it's just a "TJism". I read your story and thought of my own adventures with him, the Prince of Central Park! We ate out, we laughed, we traveled the underground of NY as if rain or sunshine might melt us. He was my colleague, my mentor and acted like my big brother. I am so fortunate to have had him in my life and I am happy to know there is someone out there named Sarah who knew the TJ I knew, too. People who knew him know why we miss him so much.

September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica O'Leary

What a memory. Thanks for sharing.

November 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLoralee

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>