Thirty years ago, when the French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten first came to New York City, he opened a restaurant called Lafayette and his general manager was Tony Fortuna, today the owner of one of my favorite restaurants in the City, T-Bar Steak and Lounge. Michael and I went to Lafayette with two friends shortly after it opened. It was a big-deal meal for us and we there to celebrate our birthdays.
We had an extraordinary meal with perfect service … until dessert. We waited and waited. And then dessert came. And it kept coming. Sweet after sweet after sweet until the table was covered with confections. Every dessert the restaurant made was in front of us and there was Tony Fortuna saying, “This is how we celebrate birthdays at Lafayette!”
When he left, we asked each other who had told him it was our birthday? The answer: no one! He overheard us mention it when he was at the table and so he set the kitchen in motion.
To me, this was the ultimate in generosity. We were young kids shaking out our piggy banks for this meal and Tony Fortuna made it one of the most memorable meals we’d ever had. And Tony has been in my life ever since.
Today, Tony owns T-Bar, a restaurant we love for its food, of course, but also for the way every one is made to feel special. Tony’s touch is still golden.
Michael and I recently had a party at T-Bar to celebrate Michael’s mom’s life — she loved the place as we did. That afternoon, after so much good food, out came trays of desserts! Trays filled with strawberry shortcakes and banana parfaits. A parade of them. A sweet and generous surprise.
Just as we remembered our first Tony-surprise decades ago, our friends and family remember his latest.