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CULTURE IN LOS ANGELES – TWICE IN A WEEK!

Most of us are familiar with Woody Allen’s quote (when comparing Manhattan to LA) that “the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.” Based on a couple of recent amazing experiences, I wholeheartedly disagree … 
 
Residents and visitors alike to the City of Angels are finding more options than ever before.  Our “grande dame” of venues is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home to the LA Opera and site of a recent fundraising event (for pancreatic cancer research) celebrating and remembering the great Luciano Pavarotti. The star attractions were none other than Renee Fleming and Andrea Bocelli, plus a special appearance by our opera company’s resident director (and sometime performer) Placido Domingo — not to mention the full opera orchestra.   I was fortunate to have seen Pavarotti late in his career and he was still mesmerizing, so the decision to attend and relive his career was exciting. Plus I had long wanted to see Ms. Fleming. Mr. Bocelli was not so much on my to-do list; somehow he seemed to me to be a bit too “commercial.” 
 
At the concert’s end, Mr. Domingo, Ms. Fleming, Mr. Bocelli 
To say the evening did not disappoint is a gross understatement, for it was simply magical.  The voices, the music (operatic highlights as well as “Maria” from Westside Story, and even Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”) were all amazing. Mr. Domingo even joined in at the end to sing. For me, the most incredible was Ms. Fleming singing “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi.   She said it is the most beloved aria she sings, no matter where she is in the world. (If you’re not familiar, you can click here.)
 
If you’re in downtown Los Angeles, I highly recommend the restaurant The Factory Kitchen in the Arts District where we dined after the concert.   The place was packed late on a Friday evening, and the food is inventive.  This is the brain-child of two industry pros and it shows that they know how to run a successful operation.  The aforementioned area has become quite “hot” with lots of quality restaurants, art galleries plus an amazing amount of building going on in this area east of downtown.
Top to bottom:  Ortalana salad; pasta with oxtail ragu,
home-made gelato; below is the open kitchen
Just down the street from the Dorothy Chandler, also on Grand Avenue, is the brand new Broad Museum showcasing and housing art from the personal collection of well-known philanthropists Eli & Edythe Broad.  The Broads have largely been spearheading the Grand Avenue redevelopment for about a decade. Museum tickets may be reserved on the website (there is no cost to attend) and many time slots — especially on weekends — are filled. But I snagged a weekday/midday time and went to explore. 
L-R on Grand Avenue:  The Broad, Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
This venue has already been written about world-wide, so let me add my humble opinion to the mix.  I love that the tickets are free.  I love that you can take photographs ANYWHERE (no flash).  I love that you can see into the vault where the art is stored that is not currently on display or on loan to other museums. I love that the museum is “manageable” for viewing the art; i.e., most of the works are on one floor and there is great flow.  
 
The outside plaza is planted with 100-year-old olive trees.

 

 

Looking upward toward the roof while riding the cylindrical elevator —
which experience is 
 sort of like being in a full-body scanner 

 

Twenty Jackies by Andy Warhol

 

Ed Ruscha’s insightful observation

 

Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog

 

My friend Nancy is literally “Under the Table” as this Robert Therrien work is entitled
A photo taken though the glass, looking at the second floor vault. 
 Art not on display is stored here on massive racks.
What is so astonishing to me is that the Broads started collecting many of the artists when they were first emerging and no doubt have helped them become the well-known names they now are. Obviously they have had the advantage of endless resources, but it still takes a trained eye.  Or maybe it is just their taste — most of which I favor.  I mean, who wouldn’t want that giant Jeff Koons’ dog in their living room? That’s the other thought:  one must have an enormous home to accommodate these works … or maybe just one’s own museum. The Broad’s have both — click here to see the recent Architectural Digest coverage of their Los Angeles residence.
So stop all this nonsense about LA being a cultural wasteland and come see for yourself.  We’re just getting started!

 

 

International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining

Eating in Spain: “Basqueing” in the Glow of San Sebastian

After the wonderful stay in Madrid written about the in previous post, we acquired our rental car and drove north some four hours to San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque region. I now know the reason this area is so unique and so concentrated with remarkable restaurants. 
The answer was provided by a fellow patron at Arzak, ranked #8 on the World’s Best List and featured in a wonderful documentary entitled Three Stars (well worth watching).  The aforementioned gentleman was making copious notes of each course. He told me he had been coming to the restaurant for years, but this time he was writing a review for a regional paper.  He is also a vintner from the Bordeaux region of France — about two or so hours north of San Sebastian.  This area has everything going for it to be a culinary dream-come-true:  Great purveyors of fresh produce, basically on the sea for fresh fish and remarkable cattle ranchers.  Then there’s the wine and olive oils. Put all those elements together and this is a foodie’s paradise.
We hadn’t even provided our name as we entered, but the hostess knew who we were. Likewise at the end, our car was delivered without so much as asking for or producing a ticket (none was given).  And the final touch was receiving the printed menu given to each and every guest with the listing of all their unique courses and wine.  This is a good thing because I could never remember so many complicated presentations.  The photos are a trip down memory lane. Suffice it to say, hand’s down the thing I will never forget was a presentation of sea bass. First an I-pad type of device was placed in front of me playing a video of crashing waves, and then the see-through glass plate was placed on top so one is reminded of the food’s origins.  Really?  Who thinks of these things?  Another memory was watching a napkin being refolded in the patron’s absence deftly using only spoons — no touching allowed.  Wow.
Underneath the sea bass and visible through the glass was a video playing of crashing waves.
A delicious (and reasonable) bordeaux; top is a crab “rock”; bottom is apple and beetroot
Top:  lamb with lotus; bottom:  amazing beef cheeks
Top:  “Searching for Hazelnuts”
Bottom: “Lunar Chocolate Square Moon”
Top:  “Factory Arzak” — all edible chocolate tools and hardware; with Chef/Owner Juan Mari Arzak, now 80 years old — his daughter Elena is really in charge day-to-day.
The Hotel Maria Cristina is a beautiful, beaux-arts type of structure — indeed it was once inhabited by Spanish royalty.  It is a few short blocks to the historic area of this seaside town, with narrow streets filled with lively bars offering pinxtos, the actual name of tapas.  Try as we might, we still couldn’t figure out the system of ordering/paying.  Everything looked fresh and appetizing, to be accompanied by a beer or glass of wine while watching ubiquitous soccer games. 
View from our wrap-around balcony
A great and impressive site is the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, a short one-hour drive from San Sebastian.  To my mind, the art is appreciated as much for it’s scale as anything else — massive installations are typical.  But it was the building that was breathtaking and absolutely worth the journey. The Jeff Koons flowering dog in the front of the facility defies description as well … 

 

 

Continuing our gastronomic extravaganza in the region, we dined at Martin Berastagui, again for a lunch lasting more than two hours.  The chef/owner/proprietor obviously is committed to his craft, as he “lives above the store.”  And some kind of store it is, to be sure.  We were greeted before even making it up the steps by a lovely woman who took our photo in front of the bronze name plate.  Once inside the spacious and elegantly appointed room, the service was serious but not stuffy with everything “as you wish.” The hubby perused the extensive wine list and selected an excellent French red for $50 Euros, a good price considering the surroundings and offerings.  

 

View from the table above — the restaurant’s “back yard”

 

 

 

Clockwise from top left: Sea urchin foam; kumquat with anchovy; sea crunch tempura; smoked eel/foie-gras/onion/apple
 Top is the enormous wine book; The words above talk about the culture of this restaurant; how everything in nature is incorporated and the dishes would be destroyed if the portions were larger … some not exactly bite-size!
Salad … or work of art?

 

Top:  Wild Rabbit; Bottom:  Lamb
Top: Baked Chocolate — garnished with green beans (about the only way the hubby has ever consumed them); Bottom: Apple tarte — hand’s down best ever.
Sweets at the end and the most gorgeous hydrangeas on display.
One more to go in this amazing Spanish trifecta of renown restaurants …. to be continued in the next post.
International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

SUMMER 2015 — WHERE WILL YOU BE?

This time of year finds many of us thinking we need to get some plans together for the coming summer and beyond. Maybe it is “spring cleaning,” that certain period where you are incentivized to act.  The days are longer, brighter, warmer and full of looking forward.  
 
With the euro dropping practically daily against the dollar, Europe seems an obvious choice of where to go. Previous calculations for our trip next month have dropped dramatically.  And I have only focused on the hotels, but obviously the benefits extend to meals as well!  Who knows, maybe the hubby will be less inclined to focus on the shopping expenditures (there goes the “mystery savings”) … For fun facts and great travel recommendations, my go to is the WSJ’s Life & Culture sections.  Herewith I share some of their experts’ recommendations …

Warsaw, Poland 
Wojciech Amar, owner/head chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Amaro              

TO MARKET My favorite market is Hala Mirowska. I buy all my fruits, vegetables, seeds, wheat and nuts from there. I can also order unusual ingredients like herbs, wildflowers and berries.
Plac Mirowski 1
WINE OF THE GODS // Winosfera is a very nice place to go for a great glass of wine. You can also buy some wine to take home with you.  Chłodna 31, Winosfera 
SOUTH OF THE BORDER // At Salto, in Hotel Rialto, you can find the winner of the first Polish edition of “Top Chef” cooking. Martin Gimenez Castro creates fantastic seafood and has some great culinary skills.  Wilcza 73
Guilty Treat // We make our smalec [spreadable lard] infused with juniper, prunes, apple and marjoram, then pacotize [Pacojet] it to achieve the white snow and airy consistency that will blow you away. We serve it with burnt hay bread. Atelier Amaro, Agrykola 1
Tomek RygalikDesigner and architect who runs Studio Rygalik
SIT DOWN // Comforty is one of the best furniture showrooms in Warsaw. It’s a loft space filled with some of the best contemporary design made in Poland.  B4 Design Corner, Burakowska 4; 
LONG HISTORY // The Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews is one of the most important cultural centers in the city. It is a stunning piece of architecture by Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki.
Anielewicza 6
SLEEPAWAY // Between Us is an ideal hideaway in the center of Warsaw, catering to admirers of fine design and discreet luxury. I find it a captivating blend of classic 19th-century architecture with contemporary interiors. Bracka 20
FOOD AND WINE // A great place to watch the world go by is Charlotte Chleb i Wino. The concept of the place includes an everyday ritual: The tabletop is lifted and the chairs are replaced with tall stools to change the atmosphere of the space in the evening. Great tartines on the delicious bread-we like the chèvre chaud. Plac Zbawiciela
Katarzyna (Kasia) AdamikFilmmaker 
LOST IN FILM // My favorite cinema is Kino Muranów, where there are two theaters and they have a great film selection. Generała Władysława Andersa 5
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD// Butchery and Wine is a great meat place, with a great wine selection (Zurawia 22 ). And Papu is a Polish fusion restaurant. With a warm interior, it makes you feel a little bit like Christmas every time.
Aleje Niepodległości 132/136
ART AND SOUL // I like the Museum of Modern Art. It is in an old furniture store from the 1960s and I love the building. Panska 3
ACTING OUT // Teatr Nowy is one of the best places to go to see a play (
Madalińskiego 10/16;). The National Opera is worth going to-great productions, great performers (Plac Teatralny 1; ).
Barbara Kirshenblatt-GimblettCurator at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews
BLAST OF THE PAST // The Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery is the closest you can get to the historic Jewish community of Warsaw. I am responsible for this exhibition of 1,000 years of the history of Polish Jews and I walk into that cemetery and there is my 19th-century gallery, there is my interwar year gallery. For me, it is a living place.  Okopowa 49/51; +48 22 838 26 22
SECRET PARK // Jazdów, behind embassy row on Ujazdowska, is a hidden oasis, a dense idyllic village of Finnish houses…. Wandering the paths of this silent little forest is just bliss.

 

 

 

Athens, Greece

 

Argiro Barbarigou, Chef and owner of Papadakis and Homey

Treat Spot // Sweet Alchemy Parliaros. There is no better baker or pastry chef in Greece than my friend Stelios Parliaros. When I wanted to learn how to up my game with pastry, I studied with him. He makes perfect truffles, which you can taste and buy at this chic bakery and shop.
 Irodotou 24
International Accessories // Luisa. There are two locations in Athens, but my favorite boutique is in Kolonaki, where my restaurant is. It’s my go-to shop for designer handbags and shoes. I usually go once a season and stock up on a few perfect items.  Skoufa 15
Great Ingredients // Moiropoulous Dimitrios. This tiny shop is filled with treasures: dried figs, the best feta cheese in Greece, thyme honey from the Peloponnese. Hundreds of products. Emmanouil Benaki, 31, 30-210-3818846
Top Coiff // Love Is in the Hair. Christos Michailidis is the best hairdresser in the city. He cuts the hair of many of the country’s biggest celebrities. Kifissia 146
Prince Nikolaos of Greece, Son of King Constantine II
Morning Ramble // Parnitha. When I’m feeling adventurous, I wake up before sunrise and head to Parnitha, a forested mountain range north of Athens, for the stunning scenery. On the way back down, the air is filled with the smell of freshly baked bread from little bakeries that offer very tasty
koulouria pastries, which I love to have with my morning coffee.
Monumental Gallery // Acropolis Museum. It is truly impressive and one of my favorites-a sleek, modern building housing of some of the earliest examples of architecture and sculpture, which were made with one of my preferred materials: marble. Dionysiou Areopagitou 15
Historic Stroll // Plaka and Monastiraki. During warmer months I love to walk around these neighborhoods in Central Athens, with their many little shops and restaurants. The walk ends up at the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos in the ancient Agora. It is the oldest part of the city; it has an intimate feel to it.
Charismatic Cafe // Athinai Bistrot. Very close to the Acropolis Museum is this affordable restaurant, which serves excellent Greek dishes with a twist. The produce is all sourced from within the country. Makrigianni 3, 30-21-0922-9210
Movie Scene // Cine Paris. In the summer months, there’s a marvelous open-air cinema in Plaka called Cine Paris. It is unique because it’s in a rooftop garden and has a view of the Parthenon.Kydathineon 22
Plus Don’t Miss…
Odeon of Herod Atticus This open-air theater, on the south side of the Acropolis, hosts a number of performances during the annual Athens Festival.
Nixon A new hot spot in Kerameikos that’s a cocktail bar, restaurant, cinema and concert venue all in one.
Queen Calliope Greek-American photographer and stylist Calliope Karvounis just opened a boutique that sells boho-chic clothing and accessories.
Nice ‘N’ Easy This spot serves delicious salads and other dishes made with ingredients sourced from small organic farms.
Lalaounis For beautiful modern versions of ancient Greek jewelry, visit this upscale shop.

A for Athens From the terrace of this new boutique hotel, you have stunning views of the city-including the Acropolis, Plaka and Monastiraki Square.

 

Lisbon, Portugal                                                        
José Avillez, Michelin-starred chef/owner of five Lisbon restaurants, including Belcanto and Café Lisboa

 

 

Old-World Transit // Tram 28. Take this vintage yellow tram through old Lisbon. It offers hop-on, hop-off service. But be vigilant; pickpockets are known to work the line.
Authentic Finds // A Vida Portuguesa. This beautiful shop was created by journalist Catarina Portas, who had been investigating old Portuguese brands, some of which faced extinction. Don’t miss the soaps, the handmade notebooks or the Portuguese Sanjo sneakers. I come here a lot to buy gifts; I also buy a lot of things for my restaurants. Rua Anchieta 11
Romantic Digs // Memmo Alfama Hotel. A hidden treasure, and absolutely perfect for couples. The terrace has one of the best Lisbon views. I’m sure you will enjoy taking a glass of wine there. Travessa das Merceeiras 27
Glorious Vistas // Belvedere São Pedro de Alcântara. This little park is located at the top of the Elevador da Glória funicular. You have a beautiful view of the east side of Lisbon, including Graça, São Vicente de Fora and the Castle of São Jorge. Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara
Canned Delights // Conserveira de Lisboa. A traditional tinned-fish shop with amazing wrapping and the joy of a family business. I love the Ventresca tuna fish in olive oil, smoked mackerel fillets and Portuguese sardines in olive oil. Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 34
Alexandra ChampalimaudLisbon-born interior designer of high-end hotels, homes and restaurants
Antiques Atelier // Ricardo do Espirito Santo Silva Foundation Workshop. This workshop is one of the few remaining places where you can learn the rare art of furniture carving. Discover how to hand-tool a reproduction of an 18th-century piece-or purchase one.   Largo das Portas do Sol, 2
Day Trip // Sintra. Drive to the town of Sintra and stop by the 12th-century Palacio da Vila in the center, with its extraordinary painted ceilings. Lunch on the terrace at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, or stop by the cafe Piriquita for a queijada (a typical pastry) and a bica(espresso). Then move on to Casa Branca, where I buy fine linen and cotton embroidered sheets.
Royal Wonder // Palacio Fronteira. A private tour of this late-17th-century house and garden, en route to Sintra, cannot be missed. I have enjoyed many enchanting moments there. Rua São Domingos de Benfica 1
Gem for Jewels // Leitão & Irmão. A great destination for modern silver, elegant porcelain and jewelry at astonishingly fair prices. I buy wedding presents and special gifts here and ship them all over the world. Largo do Chiado 16 e 17
Grand Dining // Restaurante Belcanto. Have lunch next to the opera house in the Chiado district. This place is wonderfully Old World. Sit near the window and order the bacalhau with a glass of simple red wine. Largo de São Carlos 10
Plus Don’t Miss…
LX Factory. An old factory complex has been turned into a space for cafes, shops, ateliers and galleries. Don’t miss the stylish Ler Devagar Bookstore, which retains an original press from the printing shop that used to occupy the space.
Campo de Ourique. This under-the-radar neighborhood northwest of the city center brims with a sense of community. Meander tree-lined streets, checking out spots like Casa Pélys, a former photo studio turned into a vintage shop, and Hamburgueria da Parada, a craft-burger kiosk.
Júlio Pomar Museum. This tiny new museum, designed by star architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, showcases the oeuvre of Portuguese painter Julio Pomar.
Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your travels!

 

 
U.S. TravelWining/Dining

SAN FRANCISCO … “OPEN YOUR GOLDEN GATES”

Which is the smarter and more economic choice:   Let the remaining funds in your Southwest account expire, or use the funds but spend  even more money by taking a trip somewhere?  In other words, do I spend more money to save the unused $200? Hmmm, that is an interesting question.

Well, I hate to see anything go to waste, so a short trip was planned to San Francisco over MLK Weekend. The said funds got gobbled up with the new flight reservations. Now it was time to find yet another hotel room while trying not to ratchet this up into a “do we really need to take another trip” expenditure — if travel could ever be considered as such.      

 

Over the Bay Bridge and into the city with perfect weather

In the quest to find accommodations, some interesting things occurred. Since I have points with two hotel loyalty programs (Marriott, which includes The Ritz Carlton, and Starwood),  I will go first to those sites and see if there is a property that works for my criteria.  Having previously stayed at the SF Ritz Carlton, and having points in my account, I decided to mesh the two.  And bingo — I received a confirmation that was, in hindsight, probably too good to be true:  2 nights in a Club Level King for points plus a grand total of $230. Who wouldn’t want to go for that?   

Nearly a month later, and 5 days prior to departure, I was alerted via email to the fact that the points in my account were insufficient to cover this stay. Now why wasn’t that indicated at the time of booking?  After all, when you book a flight with miles or points,  all fees and taxes are due at the time of booking. After telling the hubby we weren’t staying at the Ritz after all (that wasn’t a good thing), followed by numerous phone calls to central reservations, here’s what I learned: This particular program allows members to earn the points needed up to a certain pre-stay deadline, and then you need to pony up.  If you don’t have the necessary points, you may purchase them at that time.  
 
So now the cost of this trip has really started to climb … I won’t bore you with the details but, because of some “courtesy” points awarded after climbing up the management chain until a satisfactory resolution was achieved, we used points for one night and booked a standard room for the next (the additional $$ for the Club Level just didn’t make sense in this scenario). And after a nice chat with the hotel G.M., of course the internet was comped …
 

 

Tuna & grapefruit salad

Upon landing, it was straight to lunch at Chez Panisse in Berkeley for our usual fix, which was as delicious as ever.  Our companions were niece (with hubby) & nephew Bialosky (all East Bay residents), who kindly furnished transportation from Oakland to Berkeley and even into SF.   That was a treat as we got to spend more time together. 

Seafood entree

 

Most delicious mix of ingredients in this pizza

 

“Pink Lady Apple & Sour Cherry Galette with Honey Ice Cream”
(description taken straight from the menu!)



After checking in and then browsing around Union Square, we were off to a terrific dinner at Michael Mina. I instantly thought the restaurant looked familiar; indeed, we had been there in its former incarnation as Aqua.  Not to mention it is next door to another SF fave, Perbacco.  A sampling of “smaller” starter courses were all unique and quite delicious.  The absolute killer was the amuse, a tiny triangle of a grilled cheese sandwich with a taste of amazing of leek soup.  

Chef’s offering described above; YUM.












 

Top: Shabu Shabu; Center:  Veal Ravioli with Cauliflower;
Bottom:  Seafood Risotto



At the end of the meal, we had a lengthy chat with the manager, a young gentleman of Korean descent, who shared with us that his parents were having trouble coming to terms with his career choice in the hospitality industry (“what do you mean you’re not going to be a doctor?!”). Given that many of his college friends are still unemployed, there was a lot to be said for his opportunities. He was obviously well trained, as there was an email awaiting us by the time we got back to the hotel, thanking us for dining at the restaurant and inviting us to let him know if we intended to try another in the Mina group.  Smart young man …

Nice way to start the day ..

 

 

Here’s something else to ponder:  Is it better to plan out all the activities and eateries in advance so as not to miss anything, or simply go with the flow? I was absolutely delighted with the outcome of spontaneity the following day.  A nice (downhill) walk brought us to the Ferry Building — well known for the thrice-weekly Farmer’s Market — but also open daily with some wonderful shops and restaurants.   We had lunch at The Slanted Door and this is a gem. With gorgeous water views on this perfectly clear day, we enjoyed their inventive Vietnamese food — even managing to mostly avoid cilantro, ubiquitous in this cuisine, but at the top of my dislike list.

 

Counterclockwise from top:
Chicken soup; ahi tuna; jicama/cabbage/grapefruit salad; 
Strauss Creamery swirl

 






From there it was all the way across town to Golden Gate Park and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco for the next-to-last day of the amazing David Hockney exhibit.  Fortunately I bought these tix online the night before as the exhibit was nearly sold out for every 15-minute time slot, and it was packed. Read all about this remarkable show, especially the video presentations.  Wow!

 






Back to the hotel to watch most of the game that was electrifying the city .. well, at least until the disappointing outcome for the local folk.  That would be the SF 49’ers failing to make it to the Super Bowl by losing to the Seattle Seahawks.  (I guess those in the know weren’t surprised at the ultimate outcome on Feb 2, where Seattle proved to be quite the superior team this year).  We walked from our hotel to Little Italy for a good but not great dinner at North Beach Restaurant, and were just about the only patrons for the first half hour.  At that point the place filled up with one after another long face.  Alas, their dreams of a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance were dashed. As hardcore L.A. (Dodgers) fans, we decided to keep our glee to ourselves (gloating is so tacky). The walk on Stockton Street was most interesting, where the culture literally changes in the space of a 4-way stop at Vallejo Street, from Chinatown to Little Italy .. from steamed buns to raviolis!
 
Another gorgeous day, another walk, another lunch … and it was back across the bay via Bart to Oakland to Burbank.   A short hop and a most fun couple of days.
U.S. TravelWining/Dining

2014 BEGINS WITH NEW YORK CITY CELEBRATION

I can’t think of a better way to start off this year’s postings than with the story of my 60thbirthday celebration … the self-annointed “national holiday” of January 8thwas duly commemorated this year with a quick trip to New York City followed by the most fun birthday party …


The linchpin for this particular trip (other than my big day) was an exhibit at the Met.  Since the hubby and I had already enjoyed a week in Mexico as a joint celebration (see my previous post), having a second birthday trip seemed a bit indulgent. BUT, since this exhibit is only running until March, and early-January travel works in spite of the record cold, the trip was on!
 

I found a reasonable “hacker” fare via Kayak, which sounds bad but is actually the bundling of fares from two different carriers (outbound on Delta and return on Jet Blue).  I didn’t want to burn AA miles — the travel Gods will tell you to save the miles for the REALLY big trips — but rather opted to spend a few extra $$ on more legroom plus priority boarding and free baggage privileges.   In spite of a rather inauspicious start — a major delay out of LAX having nothing to do with weather — all turned out well once we finally got to our destination.

You know how some people waste time by channel surfing or playing electronic solitaire (guilty!) or other mindless activities?  Well, some might consider my endless looking for a better hotel than the one(s) I’ve booked as a waste of time.  Especially in a place like NYC where so little time is spent in the room, why needlessly fret over the accommodations? I want clean (goes without saying) and a great bed, roominess, service, location and a “reasonable” rate … too much to ask?  The winner this trip: The Park Lane on Central Park South.  We had a terrific park view, big clean room, plus a delish continental breakfast for only $1 more!!  And being around the corner from Bergdorf’s was certainly a plus in my mind. 

View from the room

 

 
Earrings by JAR

The exhibit I mentioned at the Met featured the remarkable work of the NY-born/Paris-based jeweler Joel A. Rosenthal — aka JAR.  His sought-after and coveted pieces have rarely been shown to the public.  Read all about him and the exhibit here.  Suffice to say, it was well worth the journey to see his works of art … although some of the pieces are so large that I can only imagine wearing them might weigh one down.  I should only have the chance.

 







As for the dining choices while in this culinary mecca, a great deal of time was also spent on that … the hubby went a bit nuts after I co-opted his Open Table account as well as mine for booking/changing/cancelling a number of choices depending upon my mood at the time. Feeling emboldened to pull out all the stops, I consulted both Michelin-starred restaurants plus Forbes Magazine’s 2013 List of All-Star eateries. If nothing else, I will be able to look back on this time feeling certain no stone was left unturned (an understatement to say the least).  The surprise in this endeavor was how many top restaurants were booked a month in advance, in freezing early January, mid-week.  Apparently business is good in NYC.




At least a healthy lunch ..

First stop (the day before the BIG day) was the aforementioned Bergdorf’s which is a shopping experience like none other. The amount of shoes in every size (and on sale) was amazing. The hubby finds a hubby chair and sits, pretending to read, but really giving unsolicited advice to women on their potential purchases.  And sometimes they even listen.  Next was lunch at Fred’s located in Barneys New York on Madison Avenue.  People watching is truly an art form here and the food is actually very good.  The Met exhibit was next, followed by browsing a bit more, but it was SO cold (approximately 8 degrees) that walking around was very challenging.  


White Bean soup
(amuse bouche)

For dinner we enjoyed Ai Fiori on 5th at 37th Street (in the Langham Hotel complex).  It was quiet, elegant and delicious.   The evening was capped off by meeting a friend for after-dinner drinks …


Roasted halibut on apple puree 
Agnolotti with veal parcels; butternut squash sauce

 

Starting the day before




















Laurent Perrier “Cuvee Rose”

And now on to the BIG day.  I’ll backtrack a bit to say I have forever been a devoted reader of the New York Social Diary.  I have loved reading about parties and fashion and society since W Magazine debuted (early ’70’s) and tracked Jackie O’s every move.  This site keeps me informed and entertained, and I know from reading that Michael’s is the place certain NY’ers go for lunch every Wednesday, so the choice was simple for me. Brilliant restaurateur Michael McCarty greets every table — whether you’re a regular or not.  That was a very welcoming part of the experience. Plus meeting NYSD founder David Columbia, together with his dining companion, well-known Vanity Fair contributor Jesse Kornbluth, was just wonderful.  I even enjoyed a few minutes of internet fame the next day .. 

Mache, beets, marcona almonds

 

Wonderful roasted chicken






After browsing every shop on Madison Avenue, it was on to the dinner at Daniel.  I have previously written about my love of Chef Daniel Boulud, and have enjoyed dining in NY and Beijing at his establishments. What made this particularly memorable (besides the food) were two things:  a wonderful friend and client surprised me with a gift delivered to the table of Daniel’s book — inscribed to me! — plus encountering the chef himself on our way out. Timing is everything.  A blessedly uneventful flight home the next morning was a wonderful end to this trip.

Tuna with salsify and sweet potato

 

One of the fabulous desserts … 

 

 



Part 2 (if you can imagine there’s more) will follow — I must share about the aforementioned funnest party!


International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

THE REST OF SEOUL AND ON TO SHANGHAI


Part 2 of our visit to South Korea continues with the final day in Seoul, which included a visit to the fairly new Leeum,

Samsung Museum of Art.  There are three very different buildings, each designed by a different and renowned architect.   I loved the vast collection of priceless celadon pieces and the modern art; this is a wonderful place to stop and browse …

Next stop was the massive Lotte Department Store.  The basement-level food hall rivals Harrod’s and the top two floors are “duty free.”  As this was Sunday and the beginning of a holiday week that includes May 1 (celebrated internationally as Labor Day), it was wall-to-wall people, mostly Chinese, who have an insatiable appetite for shopping, especially where designer labels are concerned.  I’m just wondering how so many people afford the goods … which, duty free or not, are still expensive by just about anyone’s standards.

 

Korean Hot Pot (cooks right in the serving dish)

Of course eating traditional Korean barbeque was something we looked forward to, and the hotel sent us to a restaurant called Bamboo House.  A lot of the cooking is done at the table and was very delicious with tons of small “condiments,” but it can be on the pricey side … we learned the Japanese are not the only Asian country where prime beef is just fabulous but one better not expect anything close to a Flintstone-size portion.  

Shredded vegetable “pancake”

 

With our guide Adele

And now it was time to leave this wonderful country.  It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Israel, for both countries were established in 1948 and deserve great credit for the vast number of accomplishments made in a relatively short period of time.  We said good-bye to our guide with some final hugs and pictures, and look forward to a return visit.

 

The Bund

BACK TO CHINA … for the final leg of our trip, this time to China’s financial capital of Shanghai.  And back to shoddy internet, pushy people and too many smokers!  Now that I have that out of my system, we were pleased to meet our guide Jeony (easy to remember – like my sister Janie) and driver Mr. Xu (“Zhou”).  We are staying on the older east side of Shanghai, right off the famous Bund (boardwalk), as opposed to the newer west side of Pudong across the river — which area was marshland only 15 years ago.   As even short flights (under 2 hours from Seoul) can be exhausting when factoring in all the airport time, I was glad we did not have plans for the afternoon or evening.  

We asked our concierge to recommend an Italian restaurant and had no idea what was in store.  After a brief exploration around the hotel, we returned as the hotel said they would escort us to the restaurant (that’s a first), which they kindly did up to and including handing us off to restaurant’s manager.  This turned out to be an exceptionally memorable meal.   8-1/2 Otto e Mezzo has been open in Shanghai barely one year, but the sister restaurant in Hong Kong is legendary with three Michelin stars (no rating as yet of Shanghai restaurants).  

 

Freshly made pasta

 

 

Veal Milanese

A native of Florence, our new bff Leonardo is a career restaurant person who took great care of us.  He reiterated what we had learned elsewhere: the frustration experienced by top eateries in China  in terms of sourcing quality product and the associated “tax” (graft) paid to get it right.  I’ll let the pix do the talking but wow.  And they couldn’t have been nicer.

Strawberry Napoleon

Jeony and Mr. Xu picked us up for touring Shanghai; off to the Old Town area and the Yuyuan Gardens.  The contrast between new and old here is stark, with 700-year-old buildings that now house ColdStone Creamery along with traditional tea houses, etc.  Unlike the Summer Palace in Beijing which was built for royalty, the Yuyuan Gardens were meant to be an oasis in the center of the city for the affluent but now belongs to the government.  

That looks very sanitary … selling drinks with the dangling cigarette!
With Jeony, our guide

 

Two American husbands deep in a baseball discussion

 

Feed me!

Everywhere else was packed with tourists during this holiday week of May 1, but the gardens were much more serene.  Surprisingly (well, not really) we managed to end up in yet another pearl store.  Even I’m weary of bargaining at this point!   We then enjoyed a very traditional lunch (we were the only non-Chinese at this restaurant per our request to go local and authentic); Jeony helped us order and made sure everything arrived while dining elsewhere as is the customary guide/patron scenario.  

Ordering our lunch …

 

Back to the hotel where I am happy to report I utilized the “gift certificate” offered for a spa treatment (save $200 RMB or roughly $30!).   I have some reluctance going to high-end hotel spas – there’s not necessarily the quality of treatment relative to the cost.  This proved to be a wonderful exception.   Downright affordable compared to many hotel spas and truly glorious; just a great experience.  I was chatting up a gentlemen in the waiting area who was in Shanghai for the third time THIS YEAR; he was a Philly-based businessman who has factories in different parts of China.  I asked him about doing business here and he said once you leave Beijing and Shanghai, it’s basically a Third World country.   I could fairly argue that the same could be said of China’s two top cities as well  …  Ironically, as I am writing this, I am watching Charlie Rose interview Google CEO Eric Schmidt (Bloomberg, CNN and the BBC are the typical channels available) where he is discussing Google in China and the government’s ability here simply to shut down access as they see fit.  Try that in a free and open society … anarchy!


Next blog will be final thoughts and pix from our Asian adventure!