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Monday, November 22, 2010

Things Not Available In The U.S.:
Moet & Chandon's Golden Jeroboam

We like to think of the U.S. as the land of plenty, but sometimes it's plenty of nothing.

At least that's the case as far as Moet & Chandon is concerned.

The French champagne house recently released their Golden Jeroboam, guaranteed to impress not merely because it stands a stunning 19 1/2 inches tall and packs three liters of Moet's finest sparkling wine, but also because the bottle is clad in gold leaf.*

(Some journalists have referred to this as "real" gold leaf. Honestly, is there any other kind?)

Moet has produced just 1743 bottles to celebrate the year of its founding.

And did we mention that if you are lucky enough to snag one of these beauties, it will set you back about $1,050?

It appears that Moet isn't making this particular treasure available in the U.S. or U.K. One place you can get it online is from the Parisian merchant-of-the-moment Collette.

Bonne chance et bonne année!

*You say jeroboam, we say double magnum. We always thought that a jeroboam contained 4 1/2 liters, or six regular bottles, of champagne, not three liters, or four bottles, as Moet avers. Do they know something we don't?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Carnations Aren't Just For Proms Anymore

Last year, we lived through bold bangles, harem pants, Barack Obama, social media, smartphones, Glee, and sibling names starting with the same letter (think Khloe, Kourtney and Kim Kardashian).

Van Gogh Carnations

Not always scorned, carnations
were painted by Van Gogh (above),
da Vinci, and other masters
This year's trends: food trucks, the Tea Party, chocolate covered bacon, Irish baby names (Connor, Killian, Braden), and – ready for this?carnations.

For years synonymous with cheap, prom night boutonnieres, the carnation was so reviled that upmarket florists hewed to the mantra, "No mums, no carns!" or risk upsetting their chic clientele.

That's about to change. The lowly carnation is making a comeback, writes Lettie Teague in the Wall St. Journal. She reports that Oscar de la Renta, Martha Stewart and Sarah Jessica Parker are among celebrities who have been seen sporting the flower recently.

Society stylist and event designer Bronson Van Wyck has taken a shine to them, too. During the just concluded Fashion Week, he assembled 30,000 carnations into fat topiary balls hung from the ceiling on fishing lines.

Teague says that today's carnations "look nothing like the flowers found at the corner store. They're much larger and showier, more vibrantly colored."

They come in a wide range of hues—yellow, red, pink, white and even green (natural, not dyed) and are grown primarily in Colombia. The main source for carnations used to be luxe Cap d'Antibes, attesting to the flowers once exclusive lineage.

Read the complete article here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Books We Like to Give and Get: The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer

It's a shame that the American lyricist Johnny Mercer is less well known today than Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin, and many of the songwriters who were his Tin Pan Alley contemporaries.

Johnny Mercer, the composer
and Capitol recording star

If he is remembered at all, it's usually for a group of hit songs he composed, later in his career, with
Henry Mancini for films like Breakfast at Tiffany's ("Moon River"), Days of Wine and Roses, and Charade.

It was a different story during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s when Mercer was as popular as Gershwin, Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, Cole Porter and the other greats who shaped American popular music in the first half of the 20th Century.

He wrote dozens of standards – "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)", "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Blues in the Night," "This Time the Dream's on Me," "I'm Old Fashioned," "Tangerine," "That Old Black Magic," "Too Marvelous for Words," "Fools Rush In."

As if those weren't enough to assure his place in the Pantheon of great songwriters, Mercer gave us the sultry jazz standards "Skylark," "Satin Doll," and "Midnight Sun" in which he rhymed ruby chalice with alabaster palace and aurora borealis

He could also produce clever rhymes that were catchy, disdainfully amusing, and topical at the same time. In his show business anthem "Hooray for Hollywood," from 1937's Hollywood Hotel, Mercer observed:

Hooray for Hollywood!
Where you're terrific if you're even good.

Forty years later the pianist and cabaret singer Blossom Dearie swung these lilting lyrics:

I dig Modigliani,
Jolson doing "Swanee,"

Several maharanees are my intimates, too.

I played with Mantovani,
And that's a lot of strings to get through.

But anyone can see
My new celebrity is you!

Mercer's novelty numbers, some with his own music, have endured, as well, even if we've forgotten who wrote them. "Jeepers Creepers (Where'd You Get Those Peepers?)", "I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)" "Goody, Goody," and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (E-lim-mi-nate the negative)" are as familiar to us today as they were to previous generations.

Johnny Mercer made other significant contributions to American popular music.

In 1942 he founded and for many years was the driving force behind Capitol Records, home to Paul Whiteman, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Stan Kenton and, later, The Kingston Trio, Dean Martin, and The Beatles. As a singer, he was one of the label's first and biggest recording stars. In the 1940s, sales of Mercer discs were on par with those of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

Mercer the performer and music industry giant are forgotten, and today we celebrate him for the marvelous words he wrote.

They've all been collected and annotated in The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, by Robert Kimball, editor of earlier volumes on the works of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser, and Lorenz Hart.

This large-format book contains every lyric Mercer wrote, more than 1500 in all. It includes his first song, "Out of Breath (and Scared to Death of You)" along with the complete scores for L'il Abner, St. Louis Woman, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Mercer's unsuccessful musicals are here, too: Saratoga, Top Banana, the infamous Bert Lahr flop Foxy.

We love leafing through this book, revisiting beloved standards and discovering unknown gems. Anyone who is a fan of the Great American Songbook will find hours of enjoyment within its pages, too.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Annals of Luxury: It's Official! The Rich Are Just Like You And Me.

Or are they?

Last week The New York Times reported that the wealthy are "tightening their belts."

Until recently, affluent consumers had continued to spend, offering one of the few rays of hope for retailers suffering through these recessionary times.

Next stop, Rodeo Drive!

Now their confidence appears to have ebbed. At least that is the interpretation given the latest retail sales reports by some economic analysts, said The Times.

By affluent consumers, we mean top 5 percent in income earners — those households earning $210,000 or more. They account for about one-third of consumer outlays, including spending on goods and services, interest payments on consumer debt and cash gifts, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Moody’s Analytics.

Any cutback in purchasing by this elite group produces a disproportionate reduction in overall retail sales. Ouch!

The Times cites the usual reasons for the downturn in spending – swings in dividend payments, investment losses, low interest rates on bank savings accounts, uncertainty about the future, and (here's a new one) fear of looking prosperous.

It turns out that some executives and business owners who have laid off employees don't want to buy new luxury cars because they're afraid of how that will look to their remaining workers.

If things get worse, will they leave their Porsches and Lexuses at home and take the bus to the office?

Click here to read the full New York Times article.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Enlightened Traveler: London's Charlotte St.

Even if you're a frequent visitor to London, you might not know Charlotte St.

Tucked away a few blocks north of Oxford St. and west of bustling Tottenham Court Rd., it's a quiet byway noteworthy for its many restaurants. These aren't London's finest eateries, though many of them are very good.

That makes Charlotte St. your preferred destination when you don't know where you want have dinner. You can work up an appetite as you stroll the area, inspecting your many options.

No phony Sicilian decor at Mennula,
just simple, up-to-the-minute elegance

One that currently is attracting attention is the recently opened Mennula at No. 10. Sicilian-born chef-owner Santino Busciglio has worked at some of the city's better Italian restaurants, Rosmarino, Zafferano and Alloro.

We haven't been there yet, but we have been impressed by the reviews.

Time Out notes that Busciglio's "style of cooking is much more contemporary and refined than Sicilian home cooking, a fact underlined by this Fitzrovia site also being self-consciously smarter than London's other Sicilian restaurants."

The Independent writes: "There's nothing particularly flashy about Mennula; the lion's share of the work has gone into getting the food right, rather than "the concept"... If you're after simple Sicilian food, lovingly prepared by a talented chef, this is the place to come."

We cannot wait to try it.

The British Museum, Bloomsbury, Oxford St. shopping, Wigmore Hall, and West End theaters are 5-15 mins. on foot from Charlotte St. Goodge St. is the nearest tube stop.

The arty, chic Charlotte Street Hotel is a show business favorite and a luxe place to stay if your budget allows. Even if you are not in residence, you can enjoy a drink in the hotel's stylish Oscar Bar before dinner at Mennula or another Fitzrovia restaurant.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

And Another Thing: Everybody's a Legend Nowadays

The advertising campaign for Blackglama mink, with it's often imitated headline "What becomes a legend most?," is one of the most famous of all time.

It had a simple premise: iconic, legendary celebrities (Judy Garland, Bette Davis, and yes, Ray Charles) were shown wearing nothing more than an elegant, expensive black mink coat in striking photographs by the great Richard Avedon.

So successful was the campaign that it has continued off and on from its inception in 1968 to the present century. If it's not broken, don't try to fix it.

For the most part, the subjects of the Blackglama ads were, indeed, legendary, as in meaning someone or something that is extremely famous.

Nowadays, PR people commonly invoke the L Word to describe anyone and anything even the slightest bit acclaimed. Take PR Newswire, the main channel for distributing news releases – we said news releases, not news – to the world's media.

If you look at their website, you quickly come to the cheerless conclusion that pretty much anyone with a publicist is considered to be a legend of some sort. This includes everyone from athletes who are in the twilight of mediocre careers to software developers about whom surely no legends ever have been or will be written.

Legendary should be used only to refer to (1) someone or something that has been celebrated or described in a legend (Paul Bunyan or King Arthur's Court, for example) or (2) someone who is extremely famous.

Here's a sampling of L Word references in more than 500 press releases on PR Newswire over the last 60 days. Which ones fit our description?
  • legendary journalist Dan Rather
  • legendary Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris
  • legendary music photographer Rob Shanahan
  • legendary songwriter Carole King
  • legendary West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd
  • legendary music mogul Kevin Liles
  • legendary concert promoter Leonard Rowe
  • legendary software developer Kent Beck
  • the world's most legendary queen, Cleopatra
  • legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman
  • the legendary Waikiki Beach
Cleopatra: legend; Kevin Liles: just a record producer

By our count, the only bona fide legend here is Cleopatra. While Dan Rather, Robert Byrd, and Carole King are well known in certain circles (and even may be nice guys, to boot), it would be a stretch to call them extremely famous. Waikiki Beach is a nice place to sip a pina colada, but please show us the legends that have been written about it.

As for Kent Beck, Leonard Rowe, and Kevin Liles, all we can say is, "Huh?"

PR professionals take note: the L Word should be used sparingly, if at all.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Not the Same Old, Same Old: Just in Time for Summer, Fun, Fashionable Sterling Silver Ballpark Cuff Links

Summer is heating up with major sporting events on every continent.

We've spent a good part of the week watching the World Cup and Wimbledon. (We're still marveling over that unbelievable Isner-Mahut marathon fifth set!)

Ebbets Field Then and Now
Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, home of the
Dodgers, then – and now!
With another week of top-notch tennis and two of soccer ahead, we'll be up most nights into the wee hours cheering on our favorite players and teams.

But long after the dust has settled at the All England Tennis Club and the last of South Africa's vuvuzelas are silenced, we'll still have four months of baseball to look forward to.

This bring us to our newest gift suggestion for clients and friends who (1) are mad about sports and (2) get properly dressed for work at least a few days a week.

What we're talking about here are handsome sterling silver cuff links inset with wood salvaged from the stadium seats of such historic ballparks as Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, The Polo Grounds, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, and seven others.

Ballpark Cuff Links, from top, Wrigley Field, Chicago;
Yankee Stadium, New York; Busch Stadium, St. Louis

Do not laugh! Apart from serving a utilitarian purpose for the dapper man or chic woman who knows that French cuffs are once again in vogue*, our ballpark cuff links are also collectible.

At the very least, wearing them is going to lead to some interesting conversations and maybe even new business or romantic relationships.

Each pair is unique: the painted surfaces of these unusual cuff links may be uneven or multicolored due to multiple layers of paint.

The cuff links are hallmarked with the name of the ballpark on the back and come with a certificate of authenticity. They are nicely gift boxed, too.

The price ranges from $150 - $270 per pair, depending on the scarcity of wood. To borrow from Will Rogers, they're not making wooden seats anymore. And some of these stadiums were torn down a long time ago. The ones still standing have had low-maintenance-but-still-tacky plastic seats for a decade or more.

Our ballpark cuff make memorable gifts for the man or woman has everything, but most assuredly not these! We think you should give them to all of your important clients, every cast member of your TV show or movie, and all of the groomsmen in your summer wedding.

Don't forget your friends who are coming over to watch the All-Star Game on July 13. Imagine how surprised and delighted they'll be.

We sell these in multiples of five or more, any assortment of teams you would like. Please phone us at (310) 581-6710 to place your order.

If you want just one pair, or would like to see the complete list of teams, click here.

*Not that they really ever went out of style. They're timeless, like Fred Astaire or a hot fudge sundae.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Annals of Luxury: The Gold Rush of 2009-10

Unlike most products we purchase, the price of a hot new bag or piece of jewelry has very little to do with the cost of production, the cost of raw materials, or even supply and demand.

The price of a luxury item is determined by its perceived value or, in simple terms, what the buyer is willing to pay for it. That is why a Vuitton or Hermes bag can fetch 13 times more than manufacturing costs.

Gold bars
Not always worth its weight!

If the folks who produce and distribute your groceries could achieve those margins, you'd need to mortgage your house just to eat.

The price of commodities like sugar and oil is usually directly related to issues of supply, demand, and production. The costs of gas does down when there is too much oil being produced or when consumers buy less of it.

Not so with gold. In recent months, the supply of gold has remained constant and demand for the precious stuff has fallen by 25%, according to a recent story in the Wall St. Journal.

Still, the price of gold continues to rise to record highs, gaining an average of 16% for each of the past ten years.

Sounds like a good investment, doesn't it – particularly in these uncertain economic times?

Wait! The price of gold is determined not by market forces but by large investors who have no use for it. They buy more if they think the price will go higher, thus pushing the prices up.

This isn't a sure thing: there is a history of gold's price falling.

According to Sherali Anand, the author of the Journal's report, "During times of prosperity and growth in the world, gold prices fell. Between January 1980 and January 1990, gold lost 28% of its value. Over the subsequent 10 years through January 2000, gold fell an additional 27%

"Now, after its sharp increase over the past decade, even gold bulls are skeptical about its potential as a high-return investment."

In other words, nothing goes up forever. That certainly includes gold, the price of which, as we have learned, is subject to the whims of fickle investors, global political events, and who knows what else.

Not comforting if you are looking for a safe place to put your money nowadays.

Mr. Anand concludes, "Don't keep more than 5% of your portfolio in gold."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summertime, Summertime, Sum-, Sum-, Summertime!

We're already in fun-in-the-sun mode, even though summer doesn't start officially for another month.

Take a look at these gifts, selected to make a day at the beach or in the backyard that much more sensational.

These are great choices for your cast or crew for start or end of production or for valued clients and important business associates for any occasion.

When you see what you like, call us at (310) 581-6710 and we'll get it for you. Don't see what you're looking for? Call us, we'll show you more gift suggestions.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

At the1955 Cannes Film Festival "Marty" Won The Palme d'Or and Grace Kelly Met Her Prince

The Cannes Film Festival opens tonight amid a circus of directors, producers, studio executives, talent agents, sales reps, paparazzi, mimes and street performers, film critics (who isn't?), provincial tourists by the tens of thousands – and, of course, genuine movie stars and would-be stars from every country and every strata of the film business.

At the 1955 festival the mood was less frenzied, though still festive. Then, as now, film royalty from Sophia Loren to Grace Kelly to Brigitte Bardot descended on the Riviera to show off their wares.

It was a great year to be in Cannes:

Jeanne Moreau attended for the first time.

The first Palmes d'Or were handed out. Before that the top prize was called the Grand Prix.

The inaugural Palme d'Or went to Delbert Mann's Marty.

American films were strongly represented at the festival. Direct from Hollywood: Elia Kazan's East of Eden, John Sturges's Bad Day at Black Rock, Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones, Edward Dmytryk's The End of the Affair, George Seaton's The Country Girl, and Marty.

The U.K.'s Daily Mail reported that Sophia Loren was the most photographed star at Cannes in 1955. If so, she faced stiff competition from the likes of Bardot, Kelly, and Gina Lollabrigida.

Dino Risi, Vittorio de Sica, and Carol Reed also brought films to Cannes in 1955.

Grace Kelly, whose The Country Girl screened in competition, was introduced to Prince Rainier at the Carlton Hotel. A year later they were married.

Melina Mercouri traveled to Cannes for the Michael Cacoyannis film Stella and met her future husband, the director Jules Dassin. Dassin was named best director for his in-competition Rififi.

Other notables at Cannes in 1955: Gene Kelly with Betsy Blair, Silvana Mangano, Esther Williams, Olivia de Haviland, the French actors Eddie Constantine, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nadia Gray, and directors Otto Preminger, Jean Renoir, Nicholas Ray.

The beloved novelist Marcel Pagnol served as president of the jury. Also on the jury: director Anatole Litvak, short filmmaker Juan Antonio Bardem (the uncle of actor Javier Bardem), and French playwright Marcel Achard, who would write the 1962 comedy l'Idiot on which the second Pink Panther film A Shot in the Dark was based.

Fifty-five years and another lifetime ago!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Paul Caponigro at the Peter Fetterman Gallery

We live in a digital era and benefit mightily from a near limitless capacity to download, store, manipulate, and enjoy images and music from every corner of our planet at any time of day or night.

For this we are thankful.

If you are of a certain age – or are preternaturally wise – then you also understand that our universe consists of much more than an infinite arrangement of discontinuous values and binary numeric forms.

Rose Bowl, Paul Caponigro, 2002

The best way to remind yourself of this is to spend some time with the wondrous nature studies and landscapes of photographer Paul Caponigro, now on display in a small gem of an exhibit at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica.

Caponigro is a temporal, as well as stylistic contemporary of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

Like those two masters, Caponigro provides a window into our inner lives. He shows us both the intense physical beauty and transcendent incorporeality that co-exist in nature's simplest forms.

Winter Woods, Paul Caponigro, 1972

Thus, the glorious contours of a rose in full bloom nestled in a wooden bowl represent sensuality and spirituality at the same time. An apple becomes both an object of mystery and a thrilling metaphor for distant, dark worlds to be explored far beyond our own.

Caponigro takes photographs the old-fashioned, that is to say non-digital, way. He prints his work as his artistic forbears did – in a darkroom, not with a computer and ink jet printer.

The silver gelatin prints themselves are stunning, luminous, masterly, exquisite, contradictory; they calm you, lull you and exhilarate you at the same time.

Still going strong at 77, Caponigro is also an accomplished musician. As you lose yourself in the profound imagery on view at the Fetterman Gallery, recordings of piano sonatas played by the photographer filter softly through the gallery.

For a moment, all seems right with the world.

"In the Presence of Paul Caponigro" is on view through June 6 at Peter Fetterman Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 453-6463 for exhibition hours.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Trend Roundup: What's Going On In China, Istanbul, Tokyo – And With The Economy

In our current edition, we cover the economy, the luxury market in China, and why trendsetting Europeans are buying flats in Istanbul.

We also learn about historic, caterer-to-the French-elite Dalloyau's expansion plans and what Tokyo is doing to remake itself into the world's greenest metropolis.
  • Americans reduce debt, setting the stage for economic growth, Wall St. Journal
  • The French still dominate the luxury market, even in China. But or how long?, China Economic Review
  • Tough times still ahead as mall stores are getting smaller, Wall St. Journal
  • Dalloyau, France's ultimate luxury caterer is expanding, but not to the U.S., Financial Times
  • Tokyo's Goal: Be Greenest of World Capitals, Los Angeles Times
  • Historic Istanbul is attracting Western trendsetters looking for bargains, culture, and upscale city living, Telegraph

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Annals of Luxury: Hey, Louis, Gucci, Georgio! Did You Know You're Toast?

Cadillac, Gucci, Armani, Vuitton, and Versace were not among the top 75 luxury brands preferred by wealthy consumers, according to "The New Face of Affluence," an in-depth study just released by Dwell Strategy and Research of San Francisco.

Dwell identified a segment of nearly 9 million Americans who have household incomes of $100,000 or higher. They represent less than half of 1% of U.S. households, spend $303 billion annually on their favorite brands and have a whole new take on what it means to be wealth, reports the trade publication Ad Age.

We don't know about Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg, but many young New Affluents aren't donning Armani to shop at Whole Foods.

The 1,000 survey respondents said that many traditional luxury brands are no longer relevant to them.

With a median age of 45, this generation of elites is shunning "conspicuous consumption" in favor of brands that represent quality, aesthetics and authenticity. These attributes, along with uniqueness, integrity, design and performance, represent today's "prestige" for these high-end consumers.

So what brands do New Affluents find meaningful, authentic and relevant? Apple, Sony, BMW and Ralph Lauren, unsurprisingly. But Crate & Barrel, Ikea, Whole Foods and Levi's, too. Porsche, Lexus, Chanel and Viking. And Target, North Face, Volkswagen and The Gap.

Yes, Target and The Gap.

The study also shows that formerly trendy Herman Miller, Knoll and Eames. have regained luxury status for the New Affluents.

The respondents said that they don't buy anything "to impress others."

If you believe that, then you must be one of those folks who don't fudge their expense accounts. That's a much smaller group than the half of one percent of Americans targeted in the survey.

People don't tell researchers things they are ashamed of – like the real reason they plant that shiny new BMW in the driveway where the neighbors can see it or why they wear their big fat Rolex to shop at Costco.

Until those behaviors cease, luxury is here to stay. It just looks a little different to the current generation of affluent consumers.

Read the full text of the Ad Age report here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Enlightened Traveler: Lasagna To Die For In New York

If the missus and I lived on New York's Upper Westside, we'd eat at Salumeria Rosi often. Make that very, very often.

It's our idea of the perfect neighborhood restaurant:
  • Casual and upscale at the same time
  • Reasonably priced
  • Terrific by-the-glass wine selection
  • Wide range of small plates, so we can order a little or a lot
  • Cozy, contemporary atmosphere
  • Friendly service
And did we mention that that the food is fantastico?

Salumi is the Italy's answer to charcuterie.* (Or maybe it's the other way around?) Salumeria Rosi's exquisite cured meats, sausages and other dishes are pretty close to what you'll find in the Old Country.

The Italian-trained Cesare Casella oversees the kitchen. While we've never dined at his two earlier New York restaurants, Maremma (now closed) and Beppe, both had undistinguished reputations. He seems to be hitting his stride with this latest incarnation.

Porchetta (oven roasted, spiced pork tenderloin), culatello (wine soaked proscuitto, rubbed with spices and massaged by hand), coppa (aged, salted pork collar) are just a few of about a dozen and a half housemade coldcuts on offer.

It's not all about meat, however. There are plenty of fresh salads, vegetable dishes, satisfying soups and delicate pastas, too.

Of these we especially recommend the Torta di Porri (an individual savory tart of leeks, pancetta and parmesan) and the very tasty Cavolini con Prosciutto (roasted brussels sprouts, prosciutto, garlic and red wine vinegar).

Not to be missed is their sensational lasagna. It starts with housemade pasta that is layered with pork and beef ragu and velvety béchamel sauce. Each portion is assembled, then cooked to order. What shows up at your table is lighter, more delicate, and more delicious than anything you've had before.

Except for the soups, portions are on the lighter side and range from about $4 to $8 per plate. While you can always stuff yourself if you choose, two can eat well on an assortment of six or seven dishes. (And as we say, if you're not very hungry, you can choose fewer dishes. Sweet!)

The restaurant offers an interesting selection of wines by the glass from small Italian producers of Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Dolectto, Neprica and other varietals and styles. All pair nicely with the food. At $10 to $16 per smallish serving, they seem to be not as good a value.

Soppressata (top); white anchovies on a bed of raddichio.
(Photos by Marc Whalen)

If you go, be sure to ask your server for food specials and wine selections not on the menu. They usually have several but don't make a point of volunteering them.

It should be abundantly clear by now that this isn't a checkered-table-cloth-and-chianti-bottles-hanging-from-the-ceiling kind of joint. The clever, dark, contemporary interior is the work of motion picture production designer Dante Ferretti, responsible for the later Fellini films and many Scorcese works. (Think Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence, Casino, and the current Shutter Island).

According to chef Casella, a visit to the salumeria is considered an integral part of daily life for many Italians. Now that Salumeria Rosi is here, New Yorkers may feel the same.

After your meal, if it's a nice night, stroll to Lincoln Center to take in the water show at the new fountain and refurbished plaza. Or saunter a few blocks up Broadway to the bustling Fairway Market where you can browse the generously stocked aisles and pick up a few goodies for tomorrow night's dinner.

Salumeria Rosi is located at 283 Amsterdam Ave. (between 73rd and 74th Streets), (212) 877-4800

*The word salumi is not a misspelling or variant of salami. Salami is a specific type of salumi. But you knew this already!

    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    The Annals of Luxury: AMC, Loews, Regal, and Cinemark Are the New Status Brands

    Movies may be the next category to make the leap to luxury status. And cinema chains are doing all they can to make that happen.

    Movie theaters are doing better than ever, even in these recessionary times.

    What recession? Cinema owners
    are dancing all the way to the bank!
    It's not that more people are going to see films – attendance has hovered in the 1.4-1.5 billion admissions range since 1998 – it's that they're paying more for them.

    A movie ticket went for as much as $16.50 at some New York theaters, enabling the domestic boxoffice to reach $10.6 billion last year, up from $9.6 billion in 2008.

    Filmgoers are going to see even higher prices, if cinema owners have their way.

    Taking advantage of the unprecedented popularity of the 3D hits Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, exhibitors are imposing more price hikes to coincide with the opening this week of How to Train Your Dragon, another 3D animated divertissement.

    The Wall St. Journal reported that an AMC theater outside of Boston raised its prices more than 20% to $17.50 from $14.50 a week earlier. A Seattle multiplex is now charging $11 for conventional films – up from $10 – and $15 for a 3D film, up from $13.50.

    The price of a 3D Imax showing of Dragon jumped dramatically to $19.50 from an already not-exactly-a-bargain $16.50 at New York's AMC Loews Kips Bay.

    None of this takes into account the cost of city center parking, babysitters, or popcorn – which, with 1,200 calorie and 60 grams of saturated fat for a large tub, isn't good for you.*

    But wait! Exhibitors have come up with an even more effective means of separating you from your money.

    Movie theaters offering gourmet food and at-your-seat service are springing up in Pasadena, Calif, the aspirational Buckhead section of Atlanta, Kansas City, and elsewhere across the nation.

    These so-called "dine-in" cinemas offer full bars and meals prepared in on-site kitchens by trained chefs, a far cry from the high school kids who sling hot dogs at concession counters.

    At the Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena, the "seasonal" menu ranges from blue cheese potato chips and wagyu beef burgers to portabello sliders and house made beignets for dessert.

    (Of course while you, beloved readers, know what a beignet is, how many regular filmgoers can describe one? And surely they mean American crossbred with Angus Wagyu beef, not the authentic, milder Japanese Wagyu. But we digress.)

    Gold Class also features a cocktail of the month. Currently it's a Ginger Collins, consisting of Bombay Sapphire Gin and something called Canton Ginger Liqueur, plus strawberries and sour mix. (We're not making this up, we assure you.)

    Dinner for two plus drinks, tax and tip costs around $75 and does not include tickets, which for How to Train Your Dragon are $22 or $29 each.

    And you didn't believe us when we said that going to the movies is now a luxury item?

    *According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest. Their recent study showed that the coconut oil used by Regal Cinemas, the nation's largest chain, and AMC Cinemas resulted in extremely high levels of saturated fat in popcorn. By contrast the non-hydrogenated canola oil used by Cinemark reduced calories by about 25% and saturated fat by a much healthier 90% per large tub.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Trend Roundup: Our New Feature

    As there are more trends – micro, macro, and otherwise – than we can write about in this humble blog, we introduce our Trend Roundup, an occasional compendium of links to articles on other websites around the globe.

    Today we take you from the runways of Paris and Milan to Las Vegas, London, and beyond. 

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    The Fine Print: An Amazing Gift for Those Who Love Books

    If you're an avid reader, have we got a book for you!

    Whether you use a Kindle or read the old fashioned way, the just-released Oxford Companion to the Book is an exhaustive compendium of all things pertaining to books from ancient to modern times.

    Avid readers especially will delight in exploring more than 5000 short entries and 40 thoughtful essays written by some 400 scholars and experts.

    At a generous 1,408 pages and $275, The Oxford Companion to the Book isn't for the faint of heart.  Its two volumes are gracefully slipcased.

    Richly illustrated with reproductions, diagrams, maps, and examples of various typographical features, this is a monumental reference work that the egghead in all of us will consume and cherish for years to come.

    Buy it now at Amazon

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    I.M. Pei: Last of the Lions

    At 92, the architect I.M. Pei has lived long enough to see his major works – the Louvre pyramids, National Gallery east wing, the John Hancock tower in Boston, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to name but a few – receive plaudits, then brickbats, then regain favor once more.

    The Louvre courtyard with Pei's pyramids

    Pei studied architecture in the late 1930s and early 1949s at MIT and Harvard with two other 20th Century giants,  Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.

    He and 102-year-old Oscar Niemayer possibly are the last two living links to the Bauhaus and its indelible influence on modern design.

    National Center for Atmospheric Research at Boulder, CO

    "For a self-styled 'western architect,' and one closely associated with the corporate end, Pei’s most elegant buildings have arguably been his two post-retirement, non-western projects," writes Edwin Heathcote in this weekend's Financial Times.

    The buildings in question are The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha on the Arabian Gulf and a much admired melding of eastern and western forms at the museum in Suzhou, in Pei’s native China.

    The Doha museum opened in 2008 to widespread praise. "The museum’s colossal geometric form has an ageless quality, evoking a past when Islamic art and architecture were a nexus of world culture," said the New York Times. "At the same time it conveys a hope for reconnecting again."

    Opening of the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

    Earlier this month, Pei was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Gold Medal. On that occasion, The FT's Heathcote interviewed the modernist master, still lively and dapper in his ninth decade.

    The full text is here.

    Louvre photo by photoeverywhere.co.uk

    Monday, February 22, 2010

    The Right Gift At The Right Price

    That's what we're all looking for, isn't it? We've put together a new lookbook of unique, nifty $85-$200 gifts that you won't see everywhere.

    Just in time for the Oscar winners in your life, or for anyone you want to impress.

    When you see what you like, call us at (310) 581-6710 and we'll get it for you. Don't see what you're looking for? Call us, we'll show you more gift suggestions.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010

    The Annals of Luxury: Consumers Are Forsaking Pricey California Wines. Bad For Vinters, Good For You

    California's winemakers could use a stiff drink.

    In July we reported that the prices of premium California wines had dropped, as consumers abandoned expensive cabs and proprietary blends in favor of budget bottles from lesser producers.

    Wineries had hoped that the trend would reverse itself during the holiday season. No such luck. Wine sales continued to spiral downward, leaving wineries and distributors with even larger inventories than anticipated.

    The wine industry views 2009 as the worst year in memory, according to a report by the California Farm Bureau Federation.

    It's a double whammy for producers of fine wines, those in the $50 - $150 range. Consumers are buying fewer premium bottles and expect to pay less for them. Half the bottles at the half the price. That's the predicament roiling the Golden State wine industry today.

    As if this isn't bad enough, the state's wineries are facing increased competition from foreign producers, also suffering from the global economic downturn and changing consumer behavior.

    Overseas vintners have seen a sharp fall in exports to the U.S., the world's second largest wine market. American imports of French wines and spirits tumbled 22.7% last year. Exports of French champagne plummeted an eye-popping 28%, according to the Associated Press.

    It's not going to get better anytime soon. Experts predict that it will be a year or more before conditions start to improve. Others are fearful that consumer preferences may have shifted unalterably. Is a $150 cab really worth it when there are plenty of outstanding choices at one-third to one-half the price?

    In the meantime, winemakers are preparing for the worst.  They are walking away from contracts they signed last year with grape growers, laying off staff, revising marketing and distribution plans, and pruning costs wherever they can.

    Out of chaos comes opportunity for those with cash.

    The best bargains are to be found on the Internet. Two websites offer daily specials of terrific wines at deep discounts.

    Check winestilsoldout.com and cinderellawine.com frequently to see what's on offer.

    (Example: WTSO recently listed the 2005 Roca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico Poggio Ai Frat, rated 91 by Robert Parker, for $24.99 a bottle. It's normally $45.)

    Good deals are also to be found at wine.com and ambrosiawine.com. Sign up for their e-mails to be notified of sales.

    For more on the plight of California vintners, see Corie Brown's article in the March issue of Entrepreneur and also this recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    The Enlightened Traveler: Venice With Julie Christie in the Winter

    As we grew up and still live in Southern California – where it can be 80º on Christmas day – our idea of a winter vacation has very little to do with Hawaii, the Caribbean, or (with the exception of Rio de Janeiro) anyplace tropical.

    What is more romantic than Venice in the winter?

    Au contraire! We enjoy donning our toasty Loro Piano cashmere scarves and sweaters to go shopping and museum hopping in Paris, London, or New York during November or December.

    We also like taking long afternoon walks on the deserted, gray beaches of Cape Cod, then snuggling by the fireplace on a long January's night.

    Thus, it does not at all seem odd to suggest that now is a wonderful time to visit Venice, Italy. Or so we read in the estimable Financial Times.

    Who can resist Venice when described like this?
    Even on the dullest days the lagoon has an opalescent glow, and there are times in late February when the light has an almost African brilliance and a clarity you don’t find at any other time of year, when the snow-covered Dolomite peaks 100 miles to the north appear in the shimmering sky over the lagoon.
    Or like this:
    Venice becomes a different place [in winter]. The sense of this ancient, decaying city as a slightly sinister labyrinth – unforgettably captured in the 1973 film "Don’t Look Now" – comes to the fore.
    Okay! We're checking the flight schedules right now. You can read the FT's article in full right here.

    As for Nicolas Roeg's memorable movie, a '70s favorite, what wouldn't we have done back then to be in Venice with the incandescent Julie Christie?

    Or with Susan Anspach, radiant and unattainable in Paul Mazursky's still enjoyable Blume in Love, a good deal of which takes place in a fog shrouded Venice?

    Or with the ambrosial Daniela Bianchi (at right) in the great second Bond film, From Russia With Love, which starts in Turkey and concludes in Venice (with nary a stop in the Soviet Union) as the evil Rosa Krebb (the original Frau Farbissener, Lotte Lenya) gets the drop on Bond, and holds him at gunpoint, but the gun is knocked away by Romanova (Bianchi)?

    Klebb releases her poisoned toe-spike (ouch!), but Bond pins her to the wall with a dining chair. Romanova grabs the gun and shoots Klebb. Riding in a gondola, Bond throws the compromising film of him and Romanova into the water, and they sail away. Whew!

    There are many more memorable movies set in Venice: Summertime (noteworthy because Katharine Hepburn falls into the Grand Canal) and A Little Romance (starring the adorable, unknown Diane Lane and the much less adorable Laurence Olivier), to name just two.

    And speaking of Laurence Olivier, remember him as Neil Diamond's elderly cantor father in the misguided 1980 remake of The Jazz Singer? Diamond, in the role of Yussel Rabinovitch (we kid you not!), utters this memorable line of dialogue on the phone to Sir Laurence: "I can't go to synagogue tonight, Pop. I have to cut a record." (Oy!)

    All of which brings us to something called The Maori Merchant of Venice.

    We discovered this unlikely gem when researching this post. It's a 2002 New Zealand film adaptation of Shakespeare's play in the Maori language, utilizing mostly Maori actors. The film recreates the costumes and settings of 16th century Venice.

    Incredible as it seems, the picture got impressive reviews. Alas, it's not available here even on Netflix.

    Fortunately, we'll aways have Venice in the winter.

    For more winter trips, read our post on Paris at the holidays.

    Black and white photo of Venice: Beetle

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    The Enlightened Traveler: New York Is Now The Meatball Capital

    There's a store for everything in New York. Add meatballs to the list of Manhattan's specialty outlets.

    The Meatball Shop will open on Wednesday in the Lower East Side, reports today's New York Times.

    Choose from beef and spicy pork as well as chicken, vegetable, salmon and a weekly special. Sauce, cheese, starchy accompaniments and some vegetables round out the menu.

    For dessert? Housemade ice cream squashed between freshly-baked cookies.

    Prices start at about $3. Take the F train to Delancey Street, then take a number!

    The Meatball Shop, 84 Stanton Street (Allen Street just below Houston), (212) 982-8895

    You can make your own delicious meatballs at home.

    Use a combination of meats, fresh (not dried) breadcrumbs, and don't overmix or handle the meat too much.

    For a spicy twist, try Spaghetti and Meatballs All'Amatriciana, the cover recipe from the January 2010 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

    Photo of meatballs: New York Magazine

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    Gray = Timeless

    We've always wanted a gray watch. We thought we were the only ones, until we saw this piece in Details magazine.

    Now, these timepieces aren't cheap. The A. Lange & Sohne is a superb example of the watchmaking artistry. At $108,000, it should be.

    The Piaget will set you back $18,300.

    The least expensive, from the venerable American firm Hamilton, seems like a bargain at only $1,495. Sad to say, it's not as elegant as the others shown here.

    We tried to find affordable gray watches. There just aren't many to be had.

    One option: the Toy Watch Oversize Plasteramic at $225.

    You might also like Movado's classic Museum Watch with gray face and dark gray sharkskin strap. It's $695 and available at amazon.com.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Things Not Available in the U.S.: Muji Houses Are Elegant, Simple, Affordable

    A few years back, Muji – the Japanese chain that offers cleanly designed, inexpensive fashions, furnishings and home wares – started producing pre-fab houses.

    The homes embody the company's holistic philosophy: conservation of natural resources, low prices, simplicity, anonymity, and an orientation toward nature without placing disproportionate emphasis on any one attribute.

    Designed by Japanese architects, the homes are minimalistic, almost zen-like in appearance. Accordingly, they cost only about $200,000.

    Contrast this with the $2.8 - $4.8 million price of the Daniel Libeskind pre-fab home we wrote about last year, and you can see the value the Muji homes represent.

    While the Libeskind promises to erect his home anywhere in the world, Muji sells its home kits just in Japan.

    If you're not planning to relocate to the Far East, you can get a taste of Muji style by visiting one of Muji's new stores in New York or throughout Europe.

    If you want to see one of the Muji houses in person, there's a full-sized installation in Muji's main store in Tokyo.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    One Historic Hollywood Restaurant Thrives. A New York Counterpart Quitely Fades Away

    Los Angeles restaurants, even famous ones, come and go. The Brown Derby, Chasen’s, Mike Lyman’s, the Seven Seas, Fog Cutter, the Cock and Bull, Scandia, Nickodell’s, Perino's, Romanoff's – all were popular in their day and now are long gone.

    We're still crazy about Musso & Frank after all these years
    Not so for Musso & Frank Grill, a favored hangout for several generations of Hollywood power brokers and celebs. The fabled eatery, opened in 1919, is undergoing something of a regeneration, reports the Los Angeles Times.

    While far short of a thorough overhaul, the changes include extended bar hours until 2:00AM on Friday and Saturday and an upgraded wine list.

    In October, Jordan M. Jones, 29, a fourth-generation descendant of one of the early owners, assumed full control of the restaurant.

    "All over nowadays you see new places trying to re-create history," Jones told the Times.

    "They try to make them look old because that's something everybody appreciates and loves, even the younger generation. Vintage is cool. All these places are trying to re-create it, and we don't have to. We have it right here."

    Charlie Chaplin, Rudolf Valentino, Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald and countless others routinely dined at Musso's.

    Indeed, today's regulars, who include Johnny Depp and Keith Richards, don't want to see too many improvements made.

    The restaurant interior – dark wooden booths with red upholstery – has remained largely untouched for nine decades. So has the menu. Let's hope they never do away with the flannel cakes, chiffonade salad, or roast beef hash.

    We expect Musso to thrive another 90 years.

    Sadly, the same cannot be said for New York's romantic Cafe des Artistes, which closed without fanfare in August.

    It was an elegant hideaway for generations of musicians, Broadway performers, cabaret artists, and socialites.

    “If ever a restaurant had fine, aristocratic bone structure it is Café des Artistes,” William Grimes wrote in a review of the restaurant for The New York Times in 2003.

    Cafe des Artistes
    Gone after 92 years!
    “Diners have only to take one step inside, and the tumultuous New York world outside disappears in a flash, replaced by lush floral displays, flattering lighting and Howard Chandler Christy’s pastel murals of naked beauties prancing through romantic landscapes.”

    The restaurant opened in 1917. Christy, one of the artists who lived in the apartment building above, the Hotel des Artistes, began painting the murals in 1934.

    George Lang took over the W. 67th St. establishment in 1975. Now 85, he quietly decided not to reopen after his summer vacation.

    The fate of the historic premises and famed murals is unknown.

    Cafe des Artistes' website is still online, offering menus, history and photos. Musso and Frank Grill's website also provides a history through the decades. Click here to read the full report on Musso and Frank Grill in the Los Angeles Times.