Batali was an impressively dedicated drinker -- he mentioned in passing that, on trips to Italy made with his Babbo co-owner, Joe Bastianich, the two of them had been known to put away a case of wine during an evening meal -- and while I don't think that any of us drank anything like that, we were, by now, very thirsty (the lardo, the salt, the human heat of so much jollity) and, cheered on, found ourselves knocking back more and more. I don't know. I don't really remember. There were also the grappa and the nocino, and one of my last images is of Batali at three in the morning -- a stoutly round man with his back dangerously arched, his eyes closed, a long red ponytail swinging rhythmically behind him, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, his red Converse high-tops pounding the floor -- playing air guitar to Neil Young's "Southern Man."
Batali was forty-one, and I remember thinking it had been a long time since I'd seen a grown man play air guitar. He then found the soundtrack for Buena Vista Social Club, tried to salsa with one of the women guests (who promptly fell over a sofa), moved on to her boyfriend, who was unresponsive, put on a Tom Waits CD instead, and sang along as he washed the dishes and swept the floor. He reminded me of an arrangement we'd made for the next day -- when I'd invited Batali to dinner, he'd reciprocated by asking me to join him at a New York Giants football game, tickets courtesy of the commissioner of the NFL, who had just eaten at Babbo - and then disappeared with three of my friends, assuring them that, with his back-of-the-hand knowledge of downtown establishments open until five, he'd find a place to continue the evening. They ended up at Marylou's in the Village -- in Batali's description, "A wise guy joint where you can get anything at any time of night, and none of it good."
It was daylight when Batali got home. I learned this from his building superintendent the next morning, as the two of us tried to get Batali to wake up - the commissioner's driver was waiting outside. When Batali finally appeared, forty-five minutes later, he was momentarily perplexed, standing in the doorway of his apartment in his underwear and wondering why I was there, too. (Batali has a remarkable girth, and it was startling to see him clad so.) Then, in minutes, he transformed himself into what I would come to know as the Batali look: the shorts, the clogs, the wraparound sunglasses, the red hair pulled back into its ponytail. One moment, a rotund Clark Kent in his underpants; the next, "Molto Mario" -- the clever, many-layered name of his cooking television program, which, in one of its senses, literally means Very Mario (that is, an intensified Mario, an exaggerated Mario) -- and a figure whose renown I didn't appreciate until, as guests of the commissioner, we were allowed onto the field before the game.