- - Friday, February 19, 2016

Swirl, smell, sip. Repeat.

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a foodie and wine aficionado. He was a full man who did not merely break bread with others; he enjoyed sharing meals with others.

A brilliant jurist, too.

The stories and remembrances since his Jan. 13 death are legion.

Here’s one of the best that captures Justice Scalia as “a man of many appetites.”

It’s by Victorino Matus, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard: “In 2008, I was invited to judge a wine-and-oyster pairing competition at the Old Ebbitt Grill. It was a great deal: Rank 20 glasses of whites in order of your liking alongside all the Olympia oysters you can eat. Food writers and oenophiles I expected to see there. But Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia?

“This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Scalia was a man of many appetites. He was also built like a tank. Two chairs down from me, I could see the justice thoughtfully swishing around his glasses, gesturing to the waiter to bring over another iced tray of Olympias. In the end, I downed 43 oysters. Scalia had more. It was a sight to behold.

“Afterwards, the judges were invited upstairs to a reception. At the bar, I caught up with Scalia who confessed he preferred beer with oysters (and ordered a beer at the bar). He also said the white varietals all too often reminded him of apples. At some point, he and I and three other judges sat at a table. Scalia then proceeded to order dinner from the menu even though we were still recovering from the competition. But he shot the rest of us a stare that got us to all order dinner. How could we not?

“Needless to say, it was a great dinner. We all had questions, and Scalia didn’t shrink from answering. He didn’t worry about being quoted. He loved to engage in debate with the liberals at the table and the liberals loved it, too. I called him justice but another man kept calling him Nino. Scalia didn’t seem to mind.

“He did seem to mind that I was from Jersey — I figured since he was originally from there, we had at least that much in common. But his family moved to Queens when he was a child whereas my family moved from New York to the Jersey Shore. He jokingly waved me off, as if to say, “Go back to Jersey” (at least I think he was joking). This happened a second time when I mentioned to him we both went to Georgetown. Scalia attended the College of Arts and Sciences. So when I told him I went to the School of Foreign Service, he again dismissed me with a wave of his hand. He was funny the entire night. He made jokes about his going hunting. He ordered dessert. (And yes, he glowered at all of us until we all ordered dessert.)

“I invited him to come to our office and speak to the editorial staff over lunch. And just like at the dinner, he took every single question head on, complaining primarily about the federal docket not just being backlogged by cases, but overwhelmed by them. Many of these cases don’t belong in federal court, he insisted. They can and should be handled at the lower level.

“Why did he go into law in the first place? When he was at Georgetown, he would spend time with his Uncle Vinnie, who was an attorney. (“Every Italian has an uncle named Vinnie,” he was fond of saying.) Scalia liked what he saw and the rest is history.”


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