Conrad at the Frog

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To indulge in a lil' foodie free association, the bit of information that keeps bobbling brightest to me in the seas of prose about the Conrad Black trial is the now-famous dinner Black hosted for his wife at New York's La Grenouille. The surprise 2000 birthday dinner for 80 is cited in almost every article, along with the Blacks' two-week trip to Bora Bora, as primo examples of Black's extravagance and "kleptocratic" mindset. Prosecutors claim that the party, for which Black paid $20,000 and Hollinger the remaning $42,870, "was a social occasion with little, if any, business purpose." Donald Trump, one of the guests, is expected to testify on Black's behalf to the event's write-off-a-bility by claiming he was there to talk business (buying the Sun-Times' former spot on the Chicago River to build his momument to late midlife masculinity).

La Grenouille is usually considered the grandest survivor of the serious old-guard French restaurants in New York, with direct through-lines to pre-nouvelle cuisine French cooking. Like many of those restaurants, founder Charles Masson first worked at the famous Le Pavillon, which grew out of the 1939 World's Fair French pavillion and spawned the U.S. careers of chefs such as Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin. La Grenouille, founded in 1962 and housed in a historic midtown building, is known for its huge flower budget as well as its frog legs Provencale (natch) and pike quenelles Lyonnaise.

What did Black--and his guests Oscar de la Renta, Peter Jennings, Charlie Rose, Barbara Walters, and Ron Perelman--actually eat that night? To quote the SEC report: "Beluga caviar, lobster ceviche, and 69 bottles of fine wine" (the wine bill made up almost $14,000 of the evening's tab). Such is the international hysteria surrounding this case that the BBC even sent a reporter there to describe the restaurant's atmosphere. It's unclear if all this publicity will actually be good for the restaurant, which has wobbled in its rankings since the four-star Mimi Sheraton years. It could gain more attention than it wants as the place where Black fiddled while Hollinger burned, or perhaps any publicity, as ever, will be good in the end.

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