It was a very good omen, I thought, when the Cordish Company announced it had snagged a local outpost of the popular Bice (pronounced bee-chay), a stylish Italian restaurant on New York City’s East Side, for the Power & Light District. The Bice Restaurant Group will open three concepts – a bistro, a café and a lounge -- in the two-story restaurant. Later, a friend asked me if Bice was the Italian word for “bitch.” That might be a little too cutting-edge for Kansas City, I’m afraid; I believe that in Rome, the slang word might be cogna (that’s what it is in Buffalo, anyway), which might be a good name for a restaurant, but that’s another story.
Bice is actually a variation on the name Beatrice, meaning “voyager through life.” The Bice restaurant chain is named for family matriarch Beatrice “Bice” Ruggeri, who opened the first Ruggeri restaurant, Ristorante Da Gino e Bice, in Milan in 1926; today there are more than 40 dining venues under the umbrella of the New York-based Bice Group.
I’ve eaten at the 54th Street location in New York City only once, but I had the strangest celebrity encounter with another Bice: Beatrice S. Rutman of Bayard Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota.
It was a cold March night in 1995 and I was wandering around the theater district with my friend Mary Martha Ginger, who’s one of the fussiest diners I know (I’ve seen her reduce chefs to tears when she’s been disappointed with a meal). We arrived at Bice a little earlier than our reservation and had to wait a few minutes for a table, so we started chatting with the two older ladies also waiting for a table. They were both wearing black turtlenecks and had matching champagne-colored hairdos. Two sisters: Irene and Beatrice.
“But everyone calls me ‘Beatty,’” said the sister wearing the more elaborate necklace. Irene wore a double strand of white pearls.
As it turned out, we were seated at adjoining tables and carried on the casual conversation we had started at the front of the restaurant: Where were you staying? Had you seen any plays? Were you enjoying your trip?
It wasn’t until midway through our meal that “Beatty” revealed she was the former Beatrice Zimmerman, widow of Abe Zimmerman and mother of Robert Allen Zimmerman – otherwise known as Bob Dylan.
We didn’t talk about Dylan, though. Beatty was far more excited about discussing her talented grandsons Jakob and Seth, and both sisters were more interested in talking about their own lives: their grandfather’s chain of movie theaters, the clothing store in Hibbing, Minnesota, owned by their parents Florence and Ben (“The customers were mostly miners and their families, so it wasn’t fancy,” Beatty said) and how Beatrice had been widowed twice, first by Abe, who died of a heart attack in 1968, and Joe Rutman, who died in 1985.
Before we left, Mrs. Rutman ripped off a deposit slip from her checkbook that had her St. Paul address on it.
“Write to me,” she said.
I vaguely remember sending off a card later.
At least, I hope I did. Beatrice Rutman died five years later, at age 84.
I don’t remember a thing I ate that night at Bice. The other Bice was far more interesting. – Charles Ferruzza