A Dinner for a Duke

image“what to do when a aspiring reality star comes for supper”

imageEntertaining Royalty presents its challenges – be it the Queen of England, the King of Pop, or a friend who has a new reality show. Recently I was tasked with the final scenario, which thankfully made the pressure a bit less intense. The guest of honor – Christos Garkinos, fresh off the launch of his new Bravo show, The Dukes of Melrose. Christos was in town with his crew from Decades in Los Angeles to host a three day pop up at our store space519. Having just returned from a buying trip to Paris I decided the menu would be decidedly French. The challenge – to replicate some of the amazing dishes I had during my visit.

A fun crew convened, my three favorite local PR mavens, Kimberly Burt, Abby Dunn and Amanda Puck, uber chic stylist Annie Barlow, chef/socialite/ceo Toni Canada, artist David Csicsko (just back from a project at the White House) and his partner Chicago Tribune Editor (and fashion expert) David Syrek. Jimmy’s soundtrack of french pop provided the backdrop, Moscow Mules were pressed, and then came the main event – dinner.

Christos MontageCourse by course I presented dishes inspired by my Paris haunts. First up “Hot Dog en Baguette” Bites. Amanda and I love to go a small food stand right off the Place de la Concorde and eat their specialty – Hot Dog in Baguette. It’s kind of simple and at the same time kind of genius. They take a baguette which is partially hollowed out, insert a kosher frank, pile shredded Gruyere on top, and then put the whole thing under a broiler for a minute or so. The finished product is crispy on the outside and pillowy soft inside. Finished with a thin strip of mustard (Dijon – of course) it is culinary perfection. For the the dinner we made them just as detailed above (using my favorite dawgs from Paulina Market) and then cut them into a bite size piece. With a dab of mustard creme fresh they became a fabulous amuse bouche.

Another trick I love in french cooking is using haricorts verts (aka green beans) as a base for a salad in lieu of lettuce or greens. Au Moulin Vent (see my previous post Two Dining Gems in Paris) does a wonderful version of this concept with fresh crab meat. Drawing upon this, for the salad course I presented “Haricots Verts with Crab, Capers & Dijon Vinaigrette.” I lightly blanched the green beans and then tossed them in sea salt and a mustard vinaigrette. I topped them with fresh lump crab meat, toasted almond slivers, salt cured capers and diced boiled egg. Finished with a bit more vinaigrette they tasted incredible and looked smashing on my Hermes Balcons du Guadalquivir plates.

imageFor the “Filet of Beef Bourguignonne with Potatoes Robuchon” I borrowed from two experiences. I love the 50/50 potatoes served by chef Joel Robuchon at his self named L’Atelier. Named for their excessive 1 to 1 ratio of butter and potatoes they are divine. Now onto the beef. Last month I had a wonderful Filet of Beef Bourguignonne at Au Bon Accueil – a charmer tucked on a small street by the Eiffel Tower. Don’t confuse this with traditional Beef Bourguignon (the famed Burgandy Beef Stew). This Beef Bourguignonne is made with 1″ tenderloin filets which are pan sauteed in butter and served in a red wine reduction with bacon, baby onions and mushrooms. I did have to consult Julia Child for help with this one – and as always her recipe was spot on (as is this great adaptation from Ina Garten).

For dessert Mille Feuille with Vanilla Custard & Framboise. was not directly inspired by my trip, but by a desert served here in Chicago at the French Diner Au Cheval. My puff pastry discs were cut from Dufour Pastry (available in the frozen foods section at Whole Foods), layered with homemade vanilla custard, and finished with a delicate raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries. Served in Vintage Champagne Glasses (a favorite Christmas gift from a dear friend) they provided the perfect end note for a wonderful evening.

For additional photos, and more fun details about the evening, check out the dinner as featured on refinery29.

Dukes of  Melrose 
Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific)
Bravo (www.bravotv.com)


Black and Blue Dip

black and blue dipI have been working on this recipe for the last year or so and I finally feel like it is ready for prime time. I served it this past week at a party and it was a huge hit.

Everyone in my crowd goes crazy for my mother’s Pimento Cheese Spread. So I initially created this companion recipe to work along side her pimento for a buffet supper. Recently I have had success serving this dip during the cocktail hour of a dinner party. The crunch of the almonds, along with the earthy flavor of of the olive/blue cheese combo, works especially well with champagne and the stand-by vodka sodas everyone seems to drink.

I serve this dip with a hearty crackers like the wheat water crackers shown.  It also works well with radishes, carrots or celery. I prefer Maytag Blue Cheese (readily available at most Whole Foods and good specialty grocery stores) because I feel it has the perfect balance of bite and creaminess.  This dip works best when left a room temp for about 15 minutes before serving – allowing the butter to soften a bit.  It also tastes (and looks) great with a heavy shake of Crystal hot sauce as a topper.

Black and Blue Dip

3/4 cup almond slivers
8 ounce wedge medium bodied blue cheese – like Maytag
6 TBS unsalted butter – softened
3/4 Cup good mayonnaise
2 small cans (2.25 oz) sliced black olives
1 TSP Worcestershire  sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place almonds on a baking sheet and broil in an oven or toaster-oven for about 3 minutes – constantly watching and sporadically shaking them until they are uniformly golden in color.  Remove from pan and place on a large cutting board.  Roughly chop the nuts until they form a large crumb like mixture.

Rinse the black olives and blot dry with a paper towels.  Roughly chop the olives into slightly smaller pieces – do not mince.

Grate the blue cheese into a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce and stir until well combined.  Fold in almonds and olives until just combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately with vegetables and/or hearty crackers. The dip be prepared in advance, packed into a crock or container, and refrigerated. However let the dips soften a bit at room temp before serving.

Celebrating The Year of the Snake

Chinese New Year“A Uber Stylish Chinese New Year’s Dinner inaugurates Canada House”

My good friend Toni Canada and I christened her new pied-a-terre (hereafter dubbed Canada House) and ushered in the new year (the Chinese one that is) with a fabulous dinner party in her stylish new Gold Coast home. The setting – her over-sized dining room which was transported to the far east with a table filled with potted orchids (tagged as gifts for departing guests), vintage silver chop sticks and antique blue and white porcelain (collected by Toni and her sister), rolled lunar calendars with favor boxes at each place (I learned I was born in the year of the dog), and dramatic white paper lanterns hung in each of the three gigantic windows (a dramatic contrast against the illuminated city scape beyond).


The ten guests began their evening in the living room with 5-Spice Pear Cocktails created by dinner guest/mixologist Amanda Puck (a signature drink she created for the Evening). Dinner started with a velvety smooth hot and sour soup made from scratch by Toni (see recipe at the end of this post) and homemade pot stickers which we pan seared. We divided and conquered on the 4 entrees, each created from scratch, and all served family style. There was Rainbow Chow Fun (wok fried noodles with lobster, chicken and filet), a classic General Tso’s Chicken (lightened up a bit with crispy white meat), Fiery Garlic Shrimp (spicy Schewaun flavors were a common across all dishes) and Dry Woked Green Beans with Mushrooms. And for dessert a deliciously light 20 Layer Crepe Cake ordered from Lady M’s in New York (served with fortune cookies of course).

The evening was a huge hit. Our main takeaways: authentic woks make the cooking process loads easier (I loved the Joyce Chen Carbon Wok I bought for us at Sur Le Table), the organized and pre-prepped mise an place made cooking à la minute possible (there was grated ginger and garlic for days), the steamed white rice we picked up from a Chinese take-out place next door was a super smart call (it easily reheated in the microwave and saved us that step while we were simultaneously woking the 4 entrees), surprisingly all of our ingredients could be found at Whole Foods (however using authentic Asian brands made the difference flavor wise) and I personally couldn’t have made my portion of the menu without the wisdom of blogger Diana Kuan (her book The Chinese Takeout Cookbook is now stocked at our store). And finally we both gained a heightened appreciation for ordering Chinese in. In fact we considered finishing the night by going next door to the aforementioned Chinese restaurant to buy the kitchen staff a closing round. But instead I somehow ended up toasting our success around the corner with a last call martini at Gibson’s.

Canada House Hot and Sour Soup
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I ♥ Torrisi Italian Specialities

image“old school charm meets culinary innovation at a standout spot in NOLITA”

Torrisi WindowI first discovered Torrisi Italian Specialities while walking down Mulberry Street during a New York buying trip two summers ago.  It was a midday and I was intrigued by the long line forming out the door of this tiny spot. The lace curtains draping the storefront windows, with their gilded lettering, strongly resembled the Little Italy created by Frances Ford Coppola in The Godfather II.  Evocative of a different era, Torrisi certainly could be a next door neighbor to “Genco Pura Olive Oil Company.”  When I mentioned the place to my foodie friend Jen, she explained it was a tiny 18 seater, serving classic Italian American lunch fare (like Chicken Parm and Turkey Heroes) during the day, and then at night it morphed into an elevated, but still decidedly Italian American, prix fix dining spot. And of course they didn’t take reservations. And it was white hot.

imageGladly today they do take reservations (but only 30 days in advance) and the lunch fare has spun off into a second spot next door (the appropriately named Parm). I have since had the pleasure of dining at Torrisi twice; once last fall and then again last week.  Both times I was charmed by the experience and thoroughly impressed by the quality of the food delivered by owners and chefs, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi and their team.  The menu changes daily, but the format remains the same. For $75 per person you are served four assorted “antipasti,” one pasta, an entree choice of either meat or fish, a dessert and a delightful takeaway box of small cookies and candies.  For both the pasta and main course you are offered a choice of two options, but the rest of the menu is fixed.

Torrisi Italian SpecialitiesMy Foodie Valentine to Torrisi Italian Specialities

The wine list is well edited and surprisingly reasonable. The service smart and brisk. And the food is beyond delicious. Last week’s highlights included Warm House-made Mozzarella with DaVero Olive Oil (served with delicious toasted bread slices), A Boar’s Head Grilled Panini (yes I was nervous, but the meat was so tender and toothsome) and Surf and Turf Carpaccio (a paper thin slice of raw beef with lump seafood and sausage). Both my pasta – Sheep’s Milk Gnocchi with Chestnut Ragu (the light as air pasta paired perfectly with the earthy sweet chestnuts) and Jim’s – Seashells di Mare (shell shaped pasta with a delightful medley of fresh seafood) – were exceptional.  The Lemon Cake was beautiful, the just right balance of sour and sweet. And the small white box of cookies tied with baker’s twine was the perfect grace note for the experience (it included their signature red, green and white layered cookies – as featured in Bon Appétit).

I can’t think of a place where I’ve felt so tucked in and taken care of. And spotting Cameron Diaz across the small dining room during our last dinner certainly added a few extra watts to an already bright winter evening. All in all two exceptional evenings spent in very capable culinary hands.

Torrisi Italian Specialities
250 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-0955

reservations are accepted up to one month in advance

Design Dispatch from NYIGF


“Key trends on display at the New York International Gift Fair”

NYIGFLast week we spent five days in New York exploring stores, checking out what was new in the apothecary world at Elements Showcase, and walking the eye-poppingly expansive NYIGF at the Javitz Center and Pier 94. This has become a twice annual pilgrimage for us, sourcing and stocking for space519.  Before attending my first gift show I pictured aisles and aisles filled with greeting cards, mylar balloons, beanie babies and tender moments figurines. There is plenty of that for sure.  But the show also focuses on personal accessories, home furnishings, apothecary lines, furniture, books and some just generally cool stuff. The brands represented range from the uber tragic to the uber chic, and everyone has their Sunday best out on display for the 30K attendees. And we saw some key trends to watch

There was A LOT of Individualization/Monogramming. Whether in the form of giant Italian Metal Marquee Letters which spell your name (pictured top of the post) or hot stamping gilded initials on your bag or wallet, it seems the monogram trend is making a big come-back. We were so captivated by all this cool stuff that we decided to launch a “The Monogram Shop at space519″ this spring.

NYIGF TopsSomething which we also saw a lot of in Paris during last Fall’s Fashion Week, was Trompe L’oeil (in french, literally “deceives the eye”). The layered rugs pictured right offer a perfect example.  They are not woven or hide, but are in fact photographs of rugs and hides reproduced on PVC. What a fun addition to an office or a playroom? This trend is especially visible in fabric and wall paper this season (for an especially amazing example check out Bibliothéque from Hermès).

My personal favorite was the Urbane Prepster. Gone are the overly toiled and alligatored Muffy and Biff and in their place are a whole new generation of folks who love everything equestrian, plaid and wood paneled.  But this time around the plaid is a little brighter, the wood a whole lot lighter, and the horse themed regalia is in chrome (note horse head bookends above).

The Everything Foodie wave has certainly made it’s way from restaurants and reality TV shows into the world of gifts and home furnishings.  Think luxe wood cuttings boards (shown), fashionable butcher’s aprons and lots of cookbooks about Meat. You used to give dad a tie for father’s day, now he wants a Green Egg Smoker and a hand forged Japanese Knife.

Rocks and Geodes abounded. Don’t worry, these weren’t the silly pet rocks of the 70s, instead they were huge interesting mineral specimens (like the Mineralized Moss version shown) which look oh so sexy a top a pile of art books.  We saw Geode Finials, Pyrite Bookends and lots of cool decorative rocks which had been cracked open like dinosaur eggs.

Statement Floor Coverings, like the tiled natural cowhide rug shown, also impressed. I love the subdued style here – but the hides also come in bright neons and with metallic spatter paint. It seems that the bold striped flat woven rugs first brought to the Park Ave set by Madline Weinrib have distilled down in versions from lines like Dwell Studios and Dash and Albert.

a perfectly kept houseAnd right now I am loving the prominence of a new genre of books, which I am coining The Scrapbook Memior.  These books tell a life story through text and pictures. They often include pages laid out like scrapbooks; featuring mementos, swatches, keepsakes – and notes in the author’s own hand.  Pictured above is “Grace,” a gorgeous example from Vogue’s powerhouse editor Grace Coddington. Last season saw Carine Roitfeld: Irreverent.”  The first time I had seen this done well was with 2010’s “A Perfectly Kept House is a Sign of a Mispent Life” by Mary Randolph Carter (wife of Graydon) and The Selby is in your Place” by Todd Selby.  These titles all remain strong sellers at our store, a signal that this genre is here to stay.

It was a productive trip, one also filed with many amazing meals (see my Torissi post). And look for all of the items pictured at space519 this spring.

900 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

A Cozy Chic Birthday Supper

Kimberly Birthday Dinner“a stylish December birthday dinner sans kris kringle”

I helped my friend Randy Burt with the decor for a 35th birthday celebration he hosted for his wife Kimberly – also a dear friend of mine.  I too have a December birthday, so I know the angst of seeing Santa invade your big day.  Accordingly, my motif was cozy winter with lots of feminine flourish for the very girly guest of honor..

The dinner was a seated affair in the basement wine cellar of the cozy and always delicious Rustic House in Lincoln Park (kudos to their talented chef Jason Paskewitz). And to keep things super intimate we decided on one long narrow table keep everyone a part of the same celebration.

Kimberly’s favorite flowers are hydrangeas, so to stay in the spirit of the season I paired them with sprigs of winter greenery and white queen anne lace . To build on the outdoor forest feel I lined the clear round vases with pliable 1/16″ sheets of birch bark. One long piece of thick cedar roping bisected the table, weaving through the center pieces.

Kimberly with CakeAlong the long cellar wall I draped twenty yards of fresh cedar roping (accented with juniper) along with metallic pennant banners and jute letter flags which spelled “K I M B E R L Y”) both constructed from children’s birthday supplies found at The Land of Nod. To keep it extra cozy, I turned the lights way down and let three dozen candles (votives and tapers) light the room. It almost felt as if we were dining by firelight.  And then the cake arrived – glowing like a torch in the dim room.

All in all, a warm, chic celebration in the city.  What more could a birthday girl wish for?