Palm Print Crush

Palm Print Wingback
“Inspired by the historic Martinique Palm Print of The Beverly Hills Hotel (and perhaps even Blanche’s Boudoir on The Golden Girls) I freshened up our small screened sitting porch at The Richmond.”

Coffee Shop at The Beverly Hills HotelI have always been a huge fan of the iconic 1940s palm print. The version most lauded is the one developed for The Beverly Hills HotelThe iconic Martinique Wallpaper Pattern was specified by the property’s  interior designer Don Loper in 1942 for use down the long corridors and in the iconic hotel coffee shop (pictured left). In the 1980s the print made an appearance on TV’s The Golden Girls – used as wallcovering and bedding in Blanche’s bedroom (see image below – anytime Hollywood Regency and 80′s Miami intersect – one has to take note.) And in the early 90s it swathed the walls of the A-list Greenwich Village hot spot Indochine to a super-chic effect.

Indochine Warhol BasquiatThe small screened in porch off of our living room has become a favorite summer gathering spot at The Richmond. Many a cocktail and tête–à–tête have occurred on the striped wrought iron sofa. This spring I noticed that the furnishings were beginning to look a bit ragged – so I decided to give the porch a little TLC. First up was finding a print to reupholster the Vintage 1950s Wingback (my chair). This is when the iconic stylings of the Beverly Hills hotel came to mind. I looked at the licensed Martinique Fabric used at the property – available through Designer Wallcoverings and Fabrics (they also sell the wallpaper). Sadly, they don’t make an outdoor version. So after a bit more hunting I found a virtual twin – “Swaying Palms” from Tommy Bahama (I know).Swaying Palm MontageI wanted the space to feel old school, preppy, and comfortable (channeling two of my favorite muses – Albert Hadley and Brooke Astor).  For that reason I decided to make it tightly coordinated and use only two fabrics – the Swaying Palm Print and Black and White Awning Stripe Sunbrella. The custom cushion for the existing round rattan chair, and coordinating throw pillows, were all made in the Palm Print. And to convey a retro cabana feel, everything, including the wingback, was piped in Canvas White Sunbrella.

I ordered a few great accents pieces from Wisteria – a favorite on-line resource. The Indian Rings Ceramic Stool in white (pictured above) as a side table for the wingback, and a pair of Nautical Rope Lanterns for the Vintage Bamboo Coffee Table (which was found at a local thirft store).

To add just a bit of contrast, but stay on plan, I added Wide Awning Stripe Accent Pillows from Pottery Barn to the rattan chair and sofa. The stripe is just a bit broader than that used for the Sofa – but they are still made from Black and White Sunbrella.

The end result is just as I hoped it would be. Cluby and cozy. A favorite spot for everyone. Especially our brand new puppy Loretta.

Eggplant Parm MANIA!

Eggplant Parm Parmesean The Little Owl Fresh Mozzarella Fontina Cheese“After lots of trial and error, research and advice – my Eggplant Parm might even make an Italian grandmother proud (or at least impress my Italian friends from Staten Island).”

imageI’m not Italian (I’m a WASP from Colorado). To me gravy is what you put on potatoes (not pasta). And when it comes right down to it I don’t really even like eggplant that much (like okra it seems there are more bad preparations than good). So it is hard to explain my recent obsession with Eggplant Parmesan. I seriously crave it and need a regular fix. It all began about a year ago when my Italian American friend Rosemary Bitetti came over with her daughter Amanda Puck to educate me about her technique. Like many modern day prophets she sat in her chair, drank vodka, wagged her finger a lot, and told me and Amanda exactly what to do. The end product was “perfecto” and after a couple more batches on my own I think I have it down.

A few key takeaways – slice your eggplant thin – about a quarter inch works best. A 50/50 mixture of Fontina and Mozzarella cheese gives the final product a more complex flavor and a 50/50 mixture of Italian and Panko breadcrumbs delivers the most crisp AND flavorful coating. Fry the breaded eggplant pieces quickly over a high heat so they don’t absorb too much oil. When I am done frying I put all the slices on baking sheets in a hot oven to dry them out just a bit more. And finally, Eggplant Parm is all about the GRAVY. Adapting a recipe from the Little Owl in NYC – I now have a go to Marinara which is super versatile. I like to top mine with thin slices of Buffalo Mozzarella a la a great Margarita Pizza. The recipe for the eggplant and the sauce follow below. Give them a spin and report back. And if you know any old Italian ladies have them give it a taste – just don’t tell them the recipe comes from a gay yuppie in Chicago. Continue reading

Udon in Paris? Oui!

Udon, kunitorya, paris ” Kunitorya Paris – a delicious departure from fromage and foie gras in the city of light.”

Table view, kunitorya, paris, udon, villedoWhile I adore French food and wine, on our recent Paris buying trip I found that our typical binge on the super rich left me in a conundrum. After five days filled with dairy and complex sauces, all washed down with a lot of red wine, I found my palate at a stopping point. What to do? Despite my stomach’s limitations I couldn’t possibly waste a meal in Paris! So I decided to think like a Parisian. Certainly the food savvy civilians are not living on French cuisine alone. This thought sparked a memory of walking by a restaurant on our way home the evening before.The bright corner spot, near the Palais Royal, had no sign and a huge line out the door. All I could make out inside was communal tables filled with diners enjoying heaping bowls of Udon. The internet search was on . . . .

Online I soon discovered that the area I was walking through on the border of the 1st and 2nd Arrondissements is the “Little Tokyo” of Paris. And I also learned that there is great debate about which spot serves the city’s best Udon. The restaurant we saw was Kunitoraya, which has recently relocated to this larger spot at 1 rue Villedo. The place has a huge online fan base touting their noodles as tops. The other major contender is Sanukiya: which I will have to reserve for a future trip (and post). And don’t confuse Kunitoraya 1 with it’s fancier sister – called Kunitoraya 2 – down the street at number 5. 

The restaurant is open seven days week (well worth noting because finding quality places which are open on Sunday can be vexing). We arrived shortly before 7 and the line was already significant – but it moved quickly and we were seated about 45 minutes later. Standing outside gave us the opportunity to observe the tiny kitchen to glean clues about the food and menu. Once  inside the wooden tables are mostly communal – so you are packed in tight. But this proved to be part of the fun – the bright exposed brick room was filled almost exclusively with French and Japanese people. The servers are all Japanese and they speak limited English. However, upon request, they do have an English menu – which was a huge help (without it I would have ordered my Udon bu Boeuf Froide – or cold).

udon , tempura, japanese omlette, kunitorya, paris, villedoThe menu is divided into three sections: Udon in Soup (hot), Upon in Soup (cold) and Over Rice. Basically you choose the topping and pair it with one of these serving styles. The two most popular seem to be the Niku Udon (Boeuf) which pairs tender slices of lean beef with a flavorful beef broth packed with Kunitoraya’s handmade noodles and the Komachi Udon (Crevette et Algues) which places delicately fried shrimp and vegetable tempura atop a bowl filled with seafood stock. We both went the beef route – but had a serious fear of missing out on the tempura. While waiting in line we watched the chefs masterfully filleting and deveining each shrimp prior to hand battering and flash frying them piece by piece. Luckily you can order the Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura as an appetizer- which we did – along with the traditional Japanese Omelette.

The meal began with glasses of ice cold Kirin – a welcome departure from red wine. Hot and cold Sake is also available. The omlette was good (enlivened by shredded radish) but the tempura was stellar. Maybe the best I have ever had. The pieces were light and perfectly crisp – the shrimp unmistakably fresh. Our Udon was also exceptional. The broth tasted richly of beef – and the meat was super tender. The noodles were toothsome and cooked just right. Our portions were huge and yet we felt compelled to finish every drop. Service was brisk and friendly. The waiters speak almost no English but were happy to help navigate us through the evening with lots of mutual smiling and pointing. We left the restaurant satisfyingly full and content that we had enjoyed an authentic Parisian experience. And all of this was to be had for less than $100 for 2 people – a relative bargain in this part of the city.

All in all Kunitoraya was just the change we were looking for. A wonderful palate cleanse which left me with zero angst about wasting a meal or food moment in the city of light. And if you are in Paris for just a few days this would be a great lunch option as it is located just a short blocks from the Louvre and shops along Saint Honore.

Kunitoraya 1
1 rue Villedo, 1st.
75001 Paris, France

no reservations; english menu upon request

Leopards, Cheetahs & Birds

Zara Home Leopard Cheetah Rug“I first discovered Zara Home in Italy last summer – but now their US website is my latest obsession for well priced “wow” home decor pieces.”

imageLast summer when we were on vacation in Rome Jimmy and I spotted a huge Zara Home store in the Prati shopping district. The mega international retailer does not have homes stores stateside, so I was intrigued and wanted to see what the store was all about. I was expecting a lot of monochromatic uber-modern basics – much like what I see in their fashion collections.  But instead I found tons of color and pattern – much of it reminiscent of the glory days of Ralph Lauren Home. In fact I think I instagrammed their leopard pillowcases within a few minutes of setting foot in the store (they reminded me of an old RL pattern from the 1990s which I adore).  And while they may look like Ralph they certainly are not priced like him; yet the quality is there. Nothing looked or felt like it was from Ikea.  The design and construction was strong across many categories – from dishes to flatware, from small accent furniture to rugs.  I was overwhelmed and impressed – but at that point our suitcases were jammed – so I left with only a Palm Print Tablecloth (pictured below).

imageI had honestly somewhat forgotten about Zara Home until I was prowling the net last November for an animal print rug to finish out a spot in our living room. And then Eureka – I saw the insane leopard stenciled cow hide rug pictured in the opening photo above. It was fantastic. I loved that the colors were muted and the print sophisticated (there is such a fine line between cha cha and chic when it come to a leopard print). And the best part was that the rug was almost 30% less expensive than a similar designer version I had been eyeing. Even after my experience in Rome I was skeptical about quality – but upon arrival the product exceeded all expectations. It looks like a million bucks in my living room and got LOTS of attention at our annual holiday gathering.

Zara Home Bird Leg Side Table Interiors Gold Mirrior FootNow I was hooked. In December I began eyeing the whimsical bird’s leg side table.  This time I found the price somewhat frightening. Not for the typical reasons -it seemed too low. For under $200 I was worried it would look completely plasticky and cheap. But again upon arrival the product completely delivered. The mirrored top, the brass trim, and metallic resin work on the table were all extremely well done. I loved it. At the time of posting the piece is currently sold out. But do not fret – I see it is featured prominently in a promo shot for their spring collection so I bet it will be back online soon.  This illustrates a key point about the site – buy it when you see it. I have missed the boat on several items because I waited too long to pull the trigger.  And with the current free shipping and free return shipping offer – what is there to lose?

So while we are waiting for the table and rug to come back into stock – here are six items I am obsessing about from their spring collections.

Zara Home Plaid Throw Blue Dishes Leopard Napkin Ring Floral Table Cloth Gold Basket Picture Frames(clockwise from top – Tiles Dinnerware,  Plant Print Napkins, Round Gold Basket, Metal Bamboo Picture Frame,  Leopard Napkin Ring, & Plaid Throw )

So happy hunting. I purposely left the prices off so you too can be pleasantly surprised. Certainly not everything on Zara Home is my cup of tea, but there are lots of great items at prices that make sampling super angst free. Please keep me posted on your finds.

Asparagus Ricotta-Gruyëre Tarts

Asparagus Ricotta Gruyëre Tarts Lance Lawson“Although these bite-size crustless tarts are easy to make – they are certain to create a big impression with your guests.”

tarts in panThe bite-size tarts are delicious addition to any large or small gathering.  And because they are crustless they come together quickly. I make them by the dozens and keep a ready supply on hand in the freezer for parties or unexpected guests. I developed this recipe because I was looking an hors d’oeuvre which I could easily make in bulk (scooping batter into mini-muffin tins is way preferable to hand assembling dozens of individual pieces). And I was looking for a cocktail snack which would also freeze and reheat well (they stay moist and stand up beautifully). Mini-quiches have become somewhat passe thanks to the frozen foods section at Trader Joe’s – so these tiny tarts offer a gourmet alternative. To further boost the flavor I use fresh ricotta (which I strain overnight in the fridge) and a hearty fresh grated gruyere vs the pre-shredded swiss variety. And you can also use this recipe for larger tarts – which would be a chic addition to a light lunch menu. To make a dozen follow the recipe below, substituting standard size muffin pans and increasing the baking time to 35 minutes. For the recipe: Continue reading

Christmas at The Richmond

Christmas Table 2012“My Christmas Table Set with Treasured Family Heirlooms”

To me Christmas is all about tradition. Traditions I grew up with. New traditions created with family and friends. And it all begins with the decor. For as long as I can remember, this has been my favorite part of the holiday. As a child, the excitement of bringing the boxes of decorations out of their basement hibernation was almost magical. As an adult I honor this memory. Decorating our house is something we plan in advance and enjoy, not something I anxiously check off a to do list.  I look forward to the annual rituals of Christmas all year long; many honor family members who are not with us and all celebrate the spirit of the season. Here are some of my favorites

Holiday 2012 MontageChristmas Rituals at the Richmond (clockwise from top):

(1) The Buffet at our Annual Holiday Open House held the Saturday before Christmas each year. Highlights included Crab Dip Au Gratin (see recipe in previous post), Shrimp Cocktail with Mississippi Comeback Dressing and my mom’s legendary Pimento Cheese. (2) Outdoor lights have always been a huge part of my holiday. As a boy I decorated the exterior of our house using old-fashioned bulbs and lots of greenery. This tradition continues with a 48″ Pine Wreath wrapped in old school Giant Bulb and Globe Lights from Target. (3) MP’s homemade Eggnog, served from Jimmy’s grandmother’s Optic Glass Punch Set, while opening presents. (4) Our Christmas dinner table set with Vintage Italian Christmas Dishes (circa 1970s) from my cousin Nancy – a favorite memory from my childhood. A Ceramic Christmas Tree made by Jim’s Grandmother Matilda serves at the centerpiece. The Pine Cone Salt and Pepper set is from West Elm. (5) Christmas Present Stacks – a fun tradition started by Jimmy. His modern metallic Chevron Wrap for me is on the left, my 1950s vintage inspired styling for him is on the right. (6) Detail of the Christmas Tablecloth hand-stitched by my Grandmother Wanda. A gift to my mother in the 1980s.

Big props to Amanda Puck, my surrogate sister, and beloved Christmas guest, for contributing many of her amazing photographs to this post.