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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler:
Beyond Manhattan And Into the Void

Nowadays, if you want a nice dinner in New York, you might head for Reynard in the hip Wythe Hotel.

You could start with veal carpaccio with sea urchin, brown butter, hazelnuts, and meyer lemon, followed by oyster stew with scallops, clams, potato, sunchoke, and watercress, and conclude with a piece of toasted brown sugar apple cake for dessert.

As for wine, how does a chilled bottle of Jacques Selosse Initiale Grand Cru Côte des Blancs Brut champagne sound? It will set you back $295.

Reynard in the Wythe Hotel, Williamsburg

So, just where is the Wythe? Downtown, Uptown, Mid-town?

Actually, it is out of town, so to speak, in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, home to 45,000 Hasidic Jews (and where Chaim Potok's novel The Chosen takes place).

A generation ago young, affluent professionals abandoned Manhattan for Brooklyn, seeking more and cheaper space to raise their families.

They did not, however, want to give up the blandishments they were used to in the Big City. And so, gentrification quickly followed in areas like Cobble Hill, Park Slope, and later in Williamsburg.

 Manhattan? No. Marlowe & Sons in Brooklyn

Unsassuming corner markets and workaday diners were replaced by organic grocers and purposefully funky but nonetheless pricey restaurants.

In the early part of the last decade, the once derided borough ceased being just a desirable place to live. Suddenly it was a dining destination for city dwellers hoping to find the next big thing.

By that they did not mean the neighborhood Greek restaurants of Astoria or the Russian ones in Brighton Beach that knowledgeable New Yorkers had long enjoyed.

Also Read: The Truth About Brooklyn's Overhyped Restaurant Scene

The food that the yupoisie demanded was the same as what they could get all over Manhattan. Except now they were willing to schlep to Brooklyn to get it.

But I digress.

The Luxurist is not always a contrarian. He does not believe in fighting the tape. He indeed has sampled some of Brooklyn's supposed charms.

He leaves it to you, beloved reader, to decide if venturing forth from Manhattan is worth the trip.

For those so inclined, click here for a recent Financial Times report on the hip dining scene in getting-trendier-by-the-minute Williamsburg.

Bon appetit. And do not forget your Metro Card.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dinner Is Served: Pasta Explained

The Luxurist wants to disabuse everyone of the notion that the Chinese invented pasta.

It was documented in Italy before Marco Polo headed east. That doesn't mean the Italians had it first. The earliest reference to noodles appeared in the Jerusalem Talmud of the fifth century A.D.

Pasta is still made by hand at the family run Martelli factory in Tuscany. (Photo: gessato.com)

More important than where it came from is knowing what makes pasta made in Italy better than pasta that isn't, when to use fresh pasta rather than dried (and vice-verse), and what Italians know about cooking pasta that Americans don't.

Food authority Corby Kummer has been writing informed, highly useful essays principally in The Atlantic for some 30 years now on topics ranging from rice pudding to red sauce to eggs.

The secret to flavorful eggs isn't freshness, it's what the chicken ate, says Kummer.

Not the same old, same old: Egg yolk spaghetti at two-Michelin starred Ristorante Cracco in Milan

The Luxurist recalls an essay Kummer wrote many years ago on how to make risotto. He reported that one of his Italian friends threw the rice and broth into the pot all at once, rather than slowly adding small amounts of hot liquid to the rice over a period of 20-30 minutes.

The darn thing turned out the same either way. Or maybe not. The Luxurist read this article a long, long time ago and cannot be sure, because the essay cannot be found on the web.

But I digress.

What you can read on the Internet is Kummer's memorable 1986 piece on the origins, manufacture,  and correct uses of pasta.

Pasta with Peccorino cheese and black pepper, served in a crisp
Parmigiano shell at Roma Sparita in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome

Still pertinent and valuable today, it's a classic that combines careful research on production methods with lots of practical advice on finding the best Italian brands and preparing them properly.

When Kummer wrote his article 25 years ago, Americans believed al dente pasta wasn't sufficiently cooked and all sauce came from a jar.

Women also wore very wide shoulder pads back then. (And not just on Dynasty.) But, again, I digress.

We know a lot more today about how to cook and consume pasta in the Italian manner.

That the Chinese didn't invent it, well, that is another matter.

Read Kummer's pasta essay here.
To read more articles by Kummer, mostly on food, click here.
To learn more about the Martelli pasta factory, click here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler: A Paris Institution Returns

Ladurée, the historic Parisian patisserie and tea room, suffered a disastrous fire in 2011 that caused the landmark to close for a year. It has just reopened, it's 19th-Century opulence fully restored and good as new, according to press reports.

Some years ago, The Luxurist and his Lovely Luxurista arrived in Paris on Christmas Eve, two weary pilgrims without a dinner reservation.

Summoning up his flawless French, he called several of his preferred restaurants only to learn that they were fully booked.

(Yes, The Luxurist speaks French impeccably. Doesn't everyone?)

Normally in a situation like this, The Luxurist would follow his own advice:  keep talking politely but firmly until the voice on the other side of the aparatus gives in. It turns out that French restaurateurs can be an uncompassionate lot on Christmas Eve, a day when you think even the French would be a bit more accommodating.

But I digress.

And so The Luxurist and his LL decided to head out on foot in search of a meal. They were soon on the Champs Elysées in front of Ladurée.

It was far past afternoon teatime. The Luxurist and his LL stepped inside anyway to find many well dressed and very contented Parisians sitting down to, not petit fours and chocolat chaud, but, in fact, dinner.

Mr. L and Mrs. LL were seated next to a handsome French couple. The husband told them that he was executive chef for Air France first class and that he and his wife came to Ladurée every Christmas Eve.

Thus they began a memorable night of good food and pleasant conversation.

Also read: Why You Should Spend the Holidays in Paris

While Ladurée's premises have been refreshed, not so its unfortunate reputation as a tourist destination during the day.

I use the term "tourist destination"  to be kind.  You, dear reader, can divine the true meaning of the term.

But, again, I digress.

At night, it's a different story.  If you find yourself in Paris with no dinner plans and no concierge at your service,  you might give Ladurée a try.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Little Luxuries: Thanksgiving Leftovers

The Luxurist likes a hearty Thanksgiving meal as much as the next sybarite.

What to do with the leftovers the day after is the challenge. Turkey hash? Turkey and cranberry sandwiches? Well, yes.

Something different and interesting would be welcome, as well.

Marc Murphy, chef and owner of the Landmarc restaurant in New York's Time Warner Center, rises to the occasion with these creative suggestions that first appeared in a recent Wall St. Journal article:

  • Turn gravy, mashed potatoes and turkey into a shepherd's pie. Top it with shaved gruyere for an "extra kick."
  • Combine mashed potatoes with any kind of cheese. Form croquettes and roll them in panko crumbs before frying. Serve with turkey gravy "jazzed up" with dijon mustard.
  • Fill tartlet shells with leftover cranberry sauce topped with Italian merinque.

Chef Murphy cautions that leftovers must be stored correctly. Do not put sealed-up warm food into the refrigerator because of the risk of bacteria build up.

Leave it out until it cools before wrapping and putting it into the fridge. Or place it uncovered in the fridge and cover it after it has cooled.

The Luxurist bids epicureans across the land a joyful holiday.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Best London Restaurants That Won't Break The Bank

Tom Parker Bowles – yup, the son of that Parker Bowles – has earned a reputation as one of Britain's leading food authorities.

He writes a food column for The Mail on Sunday, is the food editor of Esquire's UK edition, and has written several cookbooks.

Bowles also serves as food curator at Heckfield Place, a manor house that is undergoing refurbishment and will open as a conference center in 2013.

The Luxurist wonders, "Exactly what kind of job is that?"

But I digress.

His credentials as a culinary maven notwithstanding, it is clear that young Bowles is not what could be called a "man of the people."

Corned (or salt) beef is one of the best dishes in Britain! (Photo: Ewan Monro)

That is why The Luxurist was stunned to read a recent Departures magazine article in which the stepson of the future King of England offers advice on where to find good corned beef in London.

Not just corned beef, mind you, but also lox, American barbecue, jerk chicken, Punjabi meat curries, and deviled kidneys.

And all this time The Luxurist was led to believe that the action on the British food scene revolved around refined, updated interpretations or inspired, unorthodox reworkings of traditional dishes, using locally produced, artisinal, or foraged ingredients – and only those in season, of course.

In the article Bowles declares that "for me, London’s joy is tramping the back alleys and byways in search of real food and serious eating."

Kerbisher & Malt calls itself a "modern British fish and chip shop." (Photo: Rebecca Reid)

By this he means joints "where you’re lucky to get a paper napkin, let alone a linen one, places where menus are chalked on boards rather than embossed on stiff cards."

He concludes with, "I want flavors, bold and pungent, with no concession made to timid tongues and wary palates." 

The Luxurist can relate. He may not be an average Joe, but he sure can appreciate a moderately priced tasty curry as much as the next guy.

The Luxurist also enjoys dining at upscale reasonably priced restaurants. So does Bowles. He  includes several in his article on London eateries that go easy on the wallet.

To see where you should take dinner when you cannot get into Heston Blumenthal's place, review all of Bowles's recommendation right here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Artful Traveler: Matisse's Inspired Chapel

Though produced by a very old man who was mortally ill,
they seem to come from the springtime of the world.

        – John Russell, on Matisse's paper cut outs 

In 1947, around the time he published Jazz, his famous book of paper cutouts,  Henri Matisse began work on what was to become his other great late-in-life masterpiece, the Chapelle du Sainte Marie du Rosaire in Vence, in the south of France.

Matisse lived in Vence from 1943-1949 and designed the chapel, along with all of its decor, liturgical objects, and priestly vestments, at the request of Sister Jacques-Marie, who had been his nurse when he was ill in 1943 and later became a Dominican nun.

The chapel opened in 1951 to not uniformly approving reviews.

Matisse laid out the space as a simple rectangle. Though he was a master colorist, the artist specified white walls for both the exterior and interior.

Inside, the only color comes from the chapel's signature feature, a series of 15 arched floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows in hues of blue, yellow, and green. They line two walls and fill the simple, sacred space with glorious yet soothing light.

The effect creates a sense of serenity, clarity, and peace of mind. If this doesn't calm you down instantly, then nothing will.

Matisse said that he chose yellow a as symbol of the sun and heavenly light; green of plant life and the earth; and blue of the sky, the sea and the Madonna – perhaps the very same expression of springtime as the one Russell observed.

A vivid blue tile roof provides the sole splash of color outside. Look for it if you are driving to the chapel.

Try to time your visit for late afternoon, when the tourist coaches have departed and the chapel is blissfully devoid of the hordes of gawkers that can turn even the most sacred site into a sideshow of shorts, sandals and snotty striplings.

If you have ever been to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, you will know what The Luxurist means.

But I digress.

Vence's historic center

The Rosaire Chapel is perched on a hillside a few minutes from the center of Vence, a small, unremarkable village inland from the sea and situated about midway between Cannes and Nice.

There's not much else to do in Vence.  If you have the time, you can spend a pleasant hour strolling through the town's medieval center. The main reason to visit is to see the Rosaire Chapel.

If you go, The Luxurist advises you, beloved Artful Traveler, not to confuse Vence with the more famous, nearby St. Paul de Vence, a charming medieval hilltop fortress village with a great deal more to recommend it.

And that is the topic of a forthcoming article.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

This Just In: Tesla Model S. "The car is dope."

The all-electric high-performance Tesla Model S is finally here, and The Luxurist cannot wait to own one.

But bide his time he must, as production delays have put deliveries four-to-five weeks behind schedule.

There is also the matter of the nearly $100,000 price tag. But I digress.

Why is The Luxurist so enthused about this grand new conveyance? He has read the advance reviews. They have been rapturous.

Automotive writers are saying that the sedan surpasses expectations in handling, engineering, acceleration, styling, and just about any other criterion imaginable.

"The is one amazing car. I mean, hardcore amazing" wrote the Wall St. Journal's great Dan Neil. "The car is dope." So much for understatement.

Neil compared the Tesla's acceleration to that of a Lamborghini – minus the potent snarl of the Lambo's legendary V12 engine. (Sadley, electric cars don't purr, they whine.)

The Model S comes with three battery options:  40kWh (with a 160 mile range), 60kWh (230 miles), and 85 kWh (a record-setting 300 miles).

Acceleration varies with the price, which starts at an affordable $49,900 and  rises to $97,700 for the Signature Performance model. This is more or less what you would have paid for a decent two-bedroom condo in Palm Springs last year before the real estate market started to rebound.  But, once again, I digress.

The premium SP model is powered by a rear-mounted 416-horsepower AC synchronous electric motor producing 443 pound-feet of torque between zero and 5,100 rpm. If that means nothing to you, this will: the car goes from zero to 60mph in 4.4 seconds. Fast, if not exactly furious.

Want to know how the car handles? Apparently very well, despite, or  because of, a very low center of gravity caused by the under-the-floor placement of its heavy batteries. "The Tesla corners like it's tethered with magic," writes Neil.

Worried about the time it takes to recharge? The SP package is equipped with a high-capacity drive inverter and twin 10-kilowatt-hour charging inverters. This allows for rapid charging in about four hours. (Not that you will want to stay away from your Model S for that long)

Looks-wise, the Model S is a stunner. Sleek and low to the ground, it will turn heads.

"What is that magnificent car?" people will want to know. "And where do I get one?"

You, dear reader, can buy yours right here. Or maybe at Nordstrom?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When A Deal Is Not a deal. And When It Is.

The Luxurist takes great pleasure in notifying his readers of good buys on noteworthy goods and services.

Nonetheless, he has never written about the so-called bargains served up by Groupon, LivingSocial, and the seemingly endless parade of other daily deal websites.

Deal.                                                                        No deal!

That is because he is disdainful of the majority of their offerings, most of which amount to a reduced price on – how to say it politely? – dreck. The Luxurist firmly believes that there is no point in saving money on inferior quality or on something he would not buy in the first place.

After all, how many Brazilian blowouts and pole dancing classes does one really need?

But I Digress.

There's a first time for everything.

Today we draw your attention, beloved reader, to attractive deals at two celebrated Los Angeles restaurants. Forgo them to the detriment of your palate and pocketbook.

Chinois on Main Prix Fixe Dinner for Two, $110 

Wolfgang Puck's second restaurant was an early pioneer in bringing a lighter, contemporary approach to Asian cuisine.

While it has been around nearly 30 years, it's still in top form today. In fact, over all that time, The Luxurist has never had anything less than a delicious, memorable meal there.

The signature dishes, including the Chinois Chicken Salad and Whole Sizzling Catfish, continue to be pretty fabulous.

The decor by Barbara Lazaroff was a stunner when the restaurant opened in 1983. It's just as fresh, vibrant, and appealing today. (Can you say that about yourself, dear reader?)

And can you think of another fine dining establishment that has had only one manager over a 30-year period? (The Luxurist cannot.) Bella Lantsman will greet you warmly at the door and see to your every wish.

As at all of Puck's eateries, you will be well treated by the management and staff whether or not they know you, and even if you have – we shudder to say – a coupon. No attitude here. That and consistently tasty and elegant contemporary food are Puck's hallmarks.

The place is often packed and hard to get a table on many nights. Lord knows why they are offering a three-course prix fixe meal for two for just $110?

But they are. The smart thing to do is snap this deal up right away. It's on Bloomspot.

Jar Prix Fixe Dinner for Two $115, Including Cocktails

Here's an even better deal on an equally fine dinner.

Jar on Beverly Blvd. is nominally a steakhouse – it calls itself a "chop house" – but intensely satisfying melt-in-your-mouth pot roast has been their specialty since 2001.

(Your grandmother's pot roast should only be as good as the one chef-owner Suzanne Tracht makes.)

If your big hat has gone to your head, then try their prime rib-eye, 28-day dry aged prime Kansas City steak, or the prime skirt steak.

This last cut is The Luxurist's personal favorite. Very little in life is more soul satisfying than the flavorful, chewy magnificence of a properly grilled skirt or hangar steak. Again, I digress.

The prix fixe Fall menu comes with a choice of Jar's pot roast or roasted sea bass,  soup or an endive salad, and either roasted apple bread pudding or pumpkin creme brulee for dessert.

Coffee or tea is include and so is a Jar Mai Tai or Ruby Margarita for openers. Sweet!

Grab this one now and plan to go when the weather turns cool. It's at Gilt City LA.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

We're Not Making This Up:
Caring For Blue Jeans, The OCD Way

The Luxurist was  surprised to learn that the pros don't throw their dirty blue jeans in the washer and dryer, as we mere luxurists  do.

These care tips, from Carl Chiara, a Levis executive, appeared a while back in The Wall St. Journal:
  • Rarely wash them, and never in a washing machine. That causes the cotton fibers to bloom and then tense up. (Tense jeans, that's a no-no!)
  • Tossing them in the dryer will shrink and fade your jeans. (This part, we understand.)
  • Never dry clean your jeans. It makes them stiff.
  • Spot clean with a sponge, as necessary. (A clean sponge, of course. Not the one you use to wipe down your kitchen counters. But you knew this already.)
  • Every six months, lay them flat in a tub with about six inches of room temperature water and a couple of teaspoons of mild liquid soap.
  • Add about one-eighth cup of white vinegar to set the color and prevent fading
  • Soak for 20 minutes. Do not agitate. (We repeat: do not agitate!)
  • Dry flat. When almost dry, put them on and sit in the sun so the jeans take on the shape of your body.
  • At the end of the day, hang your jeans by their belt loops.
Who knew!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler: Affordable Luxury In Morocco

The Saudi royal family notwithstanding, most of us want a first-class travel experience and wouldn't mind saving a few $$, to boot.

The spectacular Palais Namaskar, run by the same folks who own the Hotel du Cap
London's great Financial Times – a must read for savvy travelers and shoppers – reports that there are high-end bargains to be had in exotic Marrakesh, the result of a surprising luxury hotel building boom.

Five new hotels open this year, with more to come.

"Whether there will be sufficient guests to fill them, however, remains to be seen," the FT hypothesizes.

That is because tourism is already down in Morocco, a drop of about 20% in the last two years. Half of the country's visitors come from France. The Eurozone financial crisis isn't going away anytime soon.

Small is also beautiful. The 28-room Mosaic Palais Aziza.

The country's top five-star hotels – the fabled La Mamounia included – are already discounting, even before the addition of the new luxury properties.

Here's a quick rundown, according to the FT, on what's just opened or coming shortly:

The Palais Namaskar is noteworthy because (1) a third of the 12-acre grounds is under water, thanks to the 28 swimming pools, multiple ponds and the great reflective sheet of cooling water that bisects the property, and (2) it is run by the Oetker Collection, owner of the super deluxe Hotel Du Cap in Antibes and Le Bristol in Paris.

The Taj Palace, from India's Taj hotel group, opens in the Fall with Indian chefs in its restaurant and Indian ayurvedic doctors in its spa.

The 28-room Mosaic Palais Aziza stands opposite the ritzy palace of its owner, Saudi Prince Bandar.

La Mamounia: Grande Dame of Marrakesh hotels since 1922 and still fabulous
The FT describes The Selman as having"the most opulent, most technologically advanced spa in the city, an 80m swimming pool, a water garden redolent of the Generalife in Granada, as well as a stable of Arabian thoroughbreds." The traditional (but plush) Moroccan interiors are the work of Jacques Garcia, the architect behind the extensive renovations at La Mamounia a few years ago.

Garcia is also designing The Delano, the first Moroccan property from New York's Morgans Group. It opens in September.

At least six more deluxe properties are planned through 2014, including a Mandarin Oriental, a hotel from Monaco's casino operator, Societe des Bains des Mer, and a second inn from Morgans.

Competition is already fierce – all the better for you, dear Enlightened Traveler. Now's the time to do your  research and snap up a dream Maghreb vacation at a favorable price.

The full FT post, with links to the hotels mentioned, is right here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

London 2012: Who Designed the Most
Attractive Uniforms for Olympians? No one!

In the unofficial competition among designers of the clothing to be worn by athletes in London starting this week, it appears that there are few winners and many losers.

Stella McCartney, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Prada, Hermès
and Salvatore Ferragamo are just a few of the famous names enlisted to outfit Olympians.

Some countries selected local or little known names.

Either way, it's hard to pinpoint exemplary work. Most of the apparel is, as the Brits are fond of saying, a train wreck.

With an estimated billion folks watching on TV, would you want to show up at the opening ceremonies in in bright orange and yellow?

Most likely not, yet that's what the Chinese will be wearing.

Spanish athletes will be decked out in equally garish kit designed by – are your ready? – a Russian firm. Did they forget that Barcelona is now one of the world's hot fashion capitals?
The Brits, Americans and many others are going for boring, blah, banal blazers, like these goofy piped ones from New Zealand that recall a community playhouse production of The Music Man.

And here's what Giorgio Armani came up with for Italy. Uninspired, for sure. But at least he's consistent.

On a positive note,  Jamaica has received advance praise from fashionistas for snappy apparel from reggae icon Bob Marley's daughter, Cedella.
Fortunately, we're not watching the Olympics for the clothes. Let the games begin!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler:
When In Tel Aviv, Do as The Tel Avivim Do

The dynamic residents of Israel's bustling second largest city know how to live.

Modern Tel Aviv has stunning beaches and charming neighborhoods, if you know where to look
On every block, in every Tel Aviv neighborhood you'll find a cozy cafe, chic wine bar, funky coffee joint, tantalizing ethnic eatery, or world-class restaurant. Enthusiastic diners spill out onto sidewalks where they perch at tables and carry on until two or three in the morning, even on weekdays.

It's hard not to fall in love with a city whose population derives so much pleasure from good food and lively conversation.

("Lively" is an understatement. The Tel Avivim don't converse, they debate – about everything from politics to who makes the best pizza. Or as the old joke goes, "Four Israelis, five opinions!")

Tourists congregate mostly at the large, graceless chain hotels that hug the city's shimmering Mediterranean shoreline; along Dizengoff Street, its hit-or-miss main shopping boulevard; or at the bars and restaurants of the renovated, crowded Old Port.

While its  beaches are fabulous, Tel Aviv isn't really a resort destination. Nor do you go there to shop.

Much has been written in the last few years about Neve Tzedek, one of the earliest Jewish neighborhoods dating from the last quarter of the 19th Century. It was neglected until the 1980s when gentrification and preservation efforts brought boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants.

Today it is one of the city's most fashionable and expensive districts, frequented late into the night by tourists and locals alike. Particularly notable: The Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance, home to two of the country's leading troupes, Inbal and Batsheva.

While Neve Tzedek remains a popular entertainment quarter, savvy locals often head in the other direction at night toward the less well known Ibn Gvirol Street, home to some of the city's hottest and most interesting eateries.

Elba: new addition to Ibn Gvirol's many restaurants
The municipal government upgraded and refreshed this modern, wide boulevard a few years ago. Its arcaded buildings provide shelter for a stroll on a rainy or stifling day. Tel Avivim flock here because they know that there's something for everyone to enjoy on Ibn Gvirol.

Elba (at No. 36) is a sophisticated, pricey wine bar that opened to great anticipation a few months ago. It's minimalist interior would look right at home in New York or London.

Chef Yair Yosefi was born in Tel Aviv, cooked in Paris (at Le Grand Vefour and Lasserre) for ten years, and returned to start Elba. Yosefi is offering new interpretations of Israeli, French, and Mediterranean dishes, including a signature slow roasted chicken that undergoes a 48-hour preparation and cooking process.

Ha Miznon: modern twist on a pita joint

At the opposite end of the scale sits Ha Miznon, a tiny street food joint serving up fluffy, warm pitas filled with a remarkably delicious assortment of unlikely ingredients: short ribs, chicken livers, and shrimp plus house-made tahini sauce, pickles, peppers, and other condiments.

Another specialty is a whole cauliflower, unhurriedly roasted to delicious, tender perfection.

Eyal Shani, who previously ran several noteworthy high-end restaurants, is the talented chef behind this very affordable, locally popular establishment.

The scene is so casual and the food so original and tasty that you will want to come back again before you leave Tel Aviv.

Ha Miznon is at No. 23 Ibn Gvirol. The sign is in Hebrew only, so ask to make sure you're at the right place.

We'll have more on the many pleasures to be found on trendy Ibn Gvirol plus hotel recommendations and additional Tel Aviv travel tips in a subsequent post.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Things Not (Yet) Available In The U.S.: Fiat 500L

If you think the scrappy Fiat 500 is the height of pint-sized sophistication, the Italian auto maker has a surprise in store.

Fiat plans to bring a roomier five-seat version to the U.S. in 2013.

The 500L ("L" stands for "large") debuted earlier this year at the Geneva Auto Show and is available currently only in Europe.

U.S. sales of the original chic but slight 500 coupe have proved disappointing. Fiat is counting on the longer, taller four-door L model to drive more customers to its showrooms.

The move echoes the course BMW charted when it followed the Mini Cooper Hatchback a few years later with the bigger Mini Countryman.

Styling-wise, the 500L lacks the aren't-I-oh-so-cute? appeal of the 500. Some will find it downright unattractive.

Car and Driver likened it to a 500 that "stuck its thumb in its mouth." Ouch!

It remains to be seen whether U.S. buyers will stand up and salute the 500L or give it a raspberry.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Things Not Available in the U.S.:
American Cars Made for the Chinese Market

The big news in the automobile industry isn't about new luxury models American and German car companies are introducing in the U.S. It's about new models they are rolling out in China – ones that won't be sold here.

That is because a few years ago China topped the U.S. as the world's largest auto market. By 2015 it will become the biggest market for premium cars such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac, and the like.

"Home, Jiang. And step on it!"

It's already the largest market for Bentley. Of the 1700 cars sold worldwide in the first quarter of this year, 468 were delivered in China.

Luxury car makers are falling all over themselves with new designs and features that cater to Chinese preferences and tastes.

Nissan, Toyota, and Audi presented new premium models just for China at April's Beijing International Auto Show. These typically have a longer wheel base to allow more room in the backseat, a prime consideration for wealthy Chinese who like to be chauffeured around town.

BMW also showed a stretch version of its 3-series at the Beijing event.

Only for sale in China: a Jeep with dragons on it

More leg room isn't the only thing car makers are offering wealthy Chinese.

Chrysler announced that it is planning a dragon-themed Jeep Wrangler with gold-tone accents and dragon motifs on the outside and inside of the vehicle. China is Jeep's number two market after the U.S.

Too bad for you if you would like to drive one of these cars on your daily commute. To do that you'll have to get transferred to your Shanghai office.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Letter from Buenos Aires: The Cost of Visiting Argentina Is On The Rise, Sort Of. Plus Where To Eat Now in BA.

Regular readers of But I Digress know that THE LUXURIST loves pretty much everything about Argentina.

It used to be a great bargain, but is it still a good value for budget-conscious visitors?

The answer is yes – and no – according to our friend and correspondent Alexandra Lazar, author of the terrific, informative blog on food and restaurants in Buenos Aires, Pick Up The Fork.

Pick Up The Fork recommends this hot new eatery in the oh-so-hip Palermo Hollywood quarter of BA
Allie writes:

Argentina isn't as great of a deal as it used to be. Inflation is a killer, and prices are constantly rising. 

Those who have already traveled to Argentina within the last few years will notice that it is much more expensive now. That being said, for first time visitors Argentina would be quite the bargain. 

They can find great deals staying in very nice apartments (instead of hotels) and eating out at wonderful restaurants, spending a fraction of the price that they would in the U.S. Shopping (leather and wine, for example) is more affordable. Public transportation and taxis are relatively cheap, too. 

Superclassico: River Plate vs. Boca Juniors. Not to be missed!
The type of things that are more expensive, or the same as the U.S., are small items like a good cup of coffee (which costs around US$ 3-5). Ethnic food is expensive compared to the U.S. (although tourists probably won't be eating much of this). So are toiletries and, of course, anything imported.

Even though it's about 4.39 pesos to the dollar, and local prices are pretty inflated, it's still a good time to travel to Argentina. 

Allie adds that Spring or Fall are the best times to be in Argentina.

She also makes this recommendation:

Those who want to experience Buenos Aires to the fullest should contact Madi Lang, who runs BA Cultural Concierge. She'll organize a customized itinerary for your visit, book you into a smart boutique hotel or charming apartment (at a fair price), arrange a guide, driver, or cell phone, and generally ensure that your entire visit will go smoothly and be memorable.

That's good enough for us, and it should be for you, too.  Contact Madi at www.baculturalconcierge.com.

Alexandra Lazar's lively blog, Pick Up The Fork, is our go to source for anything and everything to do with food in Buenos Aires. We especially recommend her recent post Eat As The Porteños Do – Lazar's take on the best places to eat the most typical local breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  

Residents call themselves Porteños because BA is a port city situated on the Rio de la Plata, or River Plate, after which the beloved Argentine soccer club is named. 

Be sure, too, to catch an Argentine soccer match. It's an experience. Because the fans are usually more excitable than the players, don't go on your own unless you speak Spanish well and feel very comfortable in a dark alley around 3AM. Your hotel, or Madi Lang, will make arrangements for a group visit with an escort.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Artful Traveler: Budapest's Spectacular Summer

The Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti once remarked, "If you come from Paris to Budapest you think you are in Moscow. But if you go from Moscow to Budapest you think you are in Paris."

While that may have been true a few generations ago, Budapest today is a major destination for savvy  travelers.

We haven't visited in some time. We are itching to return after reading a dispatch in The Economist on the grand Hungarian capital's summer arts and festival scene.

"This central European nation’s dazzling cultural and musical heritage is now enjoying a renaissance," gushed A.L.B. in The Economist.

The Danube divides the two halves of Budapest, gloriously illuminated at night
While the Budapest Spring Festival just ended in March – a show starring John Malkovich and based on the autobiography of Jack Unterweger, an Austrian serial killer, apparently was one of the highlights – April brings both the Titanic International Film Festival, a mammoth celebration of Hungarian cinema,  and Budapest 100, paying homage to the city's arresting architecture with tours of  the city's historic buildings and lesser known treasures.

Many other festivals and cultural events abound throughout the Summer.

"Evita" at the Budapest Summer Festival in 2009
From June 8 to September 8 the Budapest Summer Festival offers scores of open-air concerts, dramas, operas, and musicals on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. This year there's a musical based on Count of Monte Cristo, Moliere's The Misanthrope in Hungarian, and Puccini's Turandot, presumably not in a Magyar translation.

On June 23 the city's varied fine arts, history, science, and specialty museums remain open until 2:30am for the popular annual Night of the Museums. One ticket affords admission to all of them, as well as free transit on the municipal bus system until 5:00am, with special bus routes between collections to speed you safely on your nocturnal itinerary.

And then there's Sziget, one of the largest indie and alternative music festivals anywhere. Some 400,000 high-spirited spectators are expected this year between August 6-13.

With seven venues, including a pop-rock mainstage, a Europe stage, World Music stage, a Rock and Metal stage, and a party arena, there will be something for nearly everyone.

Enthusiastic fans at the Sziget Festival
On the program are international stars, such as the Chemical Brothers, Judas Priest, Kaiser Chiefs, Good Charlotte, and The Gotan Project plus less well known acts with intriguing names like Manic Street Preachers, Flogging Molly, Gogol Bordello, La Shica, Goran Bregovic Wedding And Funeral Band, and The Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77.

And those are just the ones we can pronounce. Coachella is bound to be pretty tame by comparison.

Certain to prove less intense is the Festival of Folk Arts, taking place from August 18-21. The event brings the finest Hungarian craftsmen and their work to Buda Castle from across the country. A variety of different folk crafts ranging from woodcarving to egg painting will be on display, and visitors can partake in many of the activities, as well as enjoy live folk music and dance performances.

When you've had your fill of music, drama, arts and egg painting, Budapest's summer food festivals are just the ticket.

Budapest's famous Széchenyi Bath. Not too shabby!
Restore yourself at the Foie Gras Festival (May 18-20), Budai Gourmet (June 7-20), Czech Beer Festival (June 6-12), or the Palinka Festival (May 10-13). Palinka is a type of potent Hungarian brandy. Three hundred different varieties will be offered, assuring both a good time and a splitting headache the next morning.

That's when you should take the day off and head to one of the numerous spas and thermal baths for which Budapest is famous.

Two of the most famous are the spa at the Hotel Gellért and Széchenyi Thermal Bath, a sprawling Baroque complex built in 1913. This palatial bath "includes a whirling corridor, underwater effervescence production, neck shower, water beam back massage installed in the sitting banks and many other services," according to budapest.com.

The translation may be a bit shaky, but you get the idea.

After a heady week or two of concerts, plays, brandy, quaint crafts, and raucous partying at Sziget, what could be a better way to bring your Hungarian idyll to a satisfying close?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler:
What's Going On In Paris And London

If you think you are a savvy traveler, then you'll want to always know what's going on in Paris and London.

Here are two web resources we rely on to keep au courant:

There's so much to do in Paris, one of the great destinations for art, food, strolling, and... shopping! That is why we frequently check Chic Shopping Paris for the latest boutique openings and sales. Lots of terrific shopping tips, too.

We also are dutiful readers of the weekly arts and culture e-mail published by London's Telegraph. In it you'll find useful, up-to-the-minute information about theatre, art exhibits, music and more. Sign up for the paper's Arts Agenda here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Enlightened Traveler:
Brazil, Mexico City - What Are You Waiting For?

If you believe the Wall St. Journal – and you should, so long as you avoid the editorial pages at all cost – two of the top tourist destinations right now are Mexico and Brazil.

Then, again, we've been saying that for years now.

Despite drug wars and scare inducing headlines, Mexico ranks 10th globally in tourism. Americans still make up the largest group of visitors. Tourism overall has picked up in Mexico and is expected to reach record levels in 2012.

Most of the drug-related violence has been concentrated in the North.

Not to be missed in Mexico City: murals by Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros
Mexico City remains one of the safer parts of the country. That's a good thing, as the seat of government is home to the kind of world-class cultural institutions, restaurants, and shopping that artful travelers appreciate.

Another plus: it's one of the less expensive major capitals and can be reached by plane from the U.S. in just a few hours.

Read our post from 2009 on what to do in fabulous Mexico City.

Brazil, too, has experienced an uptick in violence, although we've never felt unsafe in the parts of Rio de Janeiro that tourists prefer.

Rio's Santa Teresa hotel, its highly rated restaurant, and arty
surrounding neighborhood are hot, hot hot right now

If anything, Brazil is more secure and more enjoyable today than ever, thanks to a booming economy, rising standard of living, and government preparations for the Olympics in 2016 and World Cup in 2014.

Don't wait for those events to visit. Brazil is ready right now for its close-up.

There's so much to do in the planet's third largest democracy. The Wall St. Journal has just devoted its entire weekend edition to amazing Brazil. It's full of great, up-to-the-minute restaurant and shopping tips. Make sure to devour it before you plan your trip.

Read The Luxurist's Rio de Janeiro suggestions right here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Very Hip iPod Speakers and Other Small
Electronics for Very Cool People

When it comes to portable and home electronics, we sell some choice stuff.

We offer quality audio products from top lines like Sony, Zennheiser, Shure, JBL, and Apple.

We also sell several hard-to-find audiophile brands that make memorable gifts for your most important clients and VIPs. These are the kinds of things preferred by celebrities and other show business VIPs.

Introducing award-winning Tivoli Audio - the finest, coolest table radios, CD players, and iPod speakers you've never heard of.
Tivoli iPod speakers, alarm radios, and Internet radios come in multiple finishes

Tivoli products will please and amaze critical listeners and sophisticated design purists alike.

With exceptional tone, rich bass, stunning clarity, and handsome wood cabinets, they represent a level of sound quality, fit, and finish unequaled in their price range.

Every model begins with a handmade wood cabinet that is both beautiful and is the ideal acoustically inert speaker housing.

Tivoli uses cherry, ash, walnut and sometimes exotic woods, burnished to a lustrous finish or spiffed up in luminous stains or sleek enamels in shades of high gloss red, blue, silver, piano black, and others.

Each speaker contains a heavy-magnet, long-throw driver that is mated to a frequency contouring circuit. This automatically adjusts output over half-octave increments, resulting in musically accurate tonal balance and bass response.

Technical specs aside, the main thing is whether or not you like what you are hearing from any piece of audio equipment. Trust us, the folks you give Tivoli products to are going to like them a lot.

Tivoli CD, iPod player and radio component system.
Sounds great, looks smart, timeless at home or office

Tivoli's complete range of Internet radios, table radios, iPod speakers, and bookshelf component systems start at a very reasonable $200. Most cost no more than about $700.

They all make wonderful, appreciated gifts for start or end of production, awards recipients, birthdays, or other special occasions.

And, as we said before, they're not the same old, same old.

Call us at (310) 581-6710.

We will be happy to show you our full line of stunning Tivoli Audio products and help you select the ones that will make the impression you require.