We had a whole lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving season. While we weren’t all together all the time, the circle somehow remained unbroken, which is a kind of accomplishment given the size of our tribe.
Taylor put in an early appearance when he visited the weekend before Thanksgiving for a reunion with college roommates Jon and Chris.
We provided the usual fluffy and furry entertainment options:
And yes, speaking of fluffy and furry: THAT BEARD! There’s a rumor going around that it might get canceled sometime soon. If not, I guess we’ll just have to hang ornaments on it at Christmas.
After Taylor and his friends departed, we packed and headed for the hills. Beverly Hills, that is. If you’re old enough to remember the Clampett’s, you’ve got a good visual of how well we fit in there. Somehow the very gracious folks at The Peninsula overlooked our flaws.
Breakfast at their Roof Garden restaurant was a daily ritual:
And they even dispatched their very fancy house car to fetch the CE from a local errand:
The only place fancier than The Peninsula is Angie and Randy’s new home. This labor of love – and likely some blood, sweat and tears – was completed just in time for them to move in before the holidays. Absolutely stunning!
And they are all so happy!
We had a lovely dinner together at Il Pastaio our first night, and then took an obligatory stroll along Rodeo Drive. The CE is always happy to take a walk there – at least when all the stores are closed:-)
On Thanksgiving Eve, we met up at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills for dinner at The Rooftop – the latest masterpiece in the Jean-Georges repertoire. Wow. Just wow!
While we were slumming in Beverly Hills, Tina and family were having their own rooftop moment – at our apartment in NYC!
They enjoyed their front row seat to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and of course, Central Park.
As they celebrated Thanksgiving with John’s family in New Jersey, we headed over the river and through the woods (of Santa Monica Blvd, that is…) to Angie and Randy’s. By the time we got there, they had already put Daniel to work peeling potatoes…with some moral support from Moo.
What a wonderful time we had! A truly memorable Thanksgiving.
And, of course, in southern California there has to be the postprandial dip in the hot tub:
Next day, everything came full circle when we picked up this guy:
and ferried him down the road to Newport Beach to be reunited with his family, just back from the big city.
We get to kick off the Christmas season with all of them this weekend before we head home and get ready to see everyone again in a few weeks.
He is quite the collector, the CE. Oriental rugs, books, antiquities, arcania, etc. etc. Through the years he has filled up quite a few walls and closets with his favorite things.
Lately, it seems, though, for both of us that the collections that are adding up – alarmingly fast – are of birthdays! Seems like just yesterday was his 70th…
Yet somehow the 75th was suddenly upon us. How to celebrate the whirling of the years? Seemed to us like it was time for something over the top. And that meant Vegas! A little bit of poker, and then onward to collect a lot of birthday desserts…
We kicked it off with a terrific dinner (and birthday dessert) at SW Steakhouse:
Then a lunch (and birthday dessert) at our longtime favorite, Tableau:
Don’t forget about the poker (where no one seemed to care that it was his birthday):
But there was another birthday dessert at Sinatra:
At Mizumi we had our favorite sushi,
Andddddd another birthday dessert!
We had just finished dinner at Bouchon the next night when a birthday call came in and the waiter asked “Is it his birthday?” Suddenly there was a whoosh and a flourish and a creme brûlée appeared:
Well, I did say the trip was over the top, didn’t I?
And as our time there came to an end, the CE thought it had been a pretty good birthday.
Little did he know…
Along with all the things he’s collected along the way, the collection most precious to him is his children, and three of the four made a heroic effort to surprise him for the mid-milestone birthday. I’m not sure how we all managed to keep the secret, but one by one, Taylor, Daniel and Tina slipped into Las Vegas and gathered to shout out “Surprise!” when we arrived at Mon Ami Gaby for the last dinner of the trip. (Angie was there in spirit):
That is a very, very happy dad!
We had a wonderful dinner, oh, and of course another birthday dessert:
There was a little bit of fun at the tables:
And then we stepped out onto Las Vegas Boulevard:
And ended the evening with a visit to the iconic Bellagio fountains:
We didn’t have a whole lot of time together, but every minute of it was magical.
Midway into the early lockdown, the CE and I started planning: where would we go when this was over?
(Over? Hah! Anyone remember “15 days to flatten the curve”?)
Okay, maybe “over” is a euphemism. Other than Norway, Sweden and Florida, no one seems to want it to be over.
But wait, did someone mention Florida?
Rome was our top choice but overseas travel seemed daunting at that point. Hawaii was, of course, the itch we had to scratch first and luckily for us, we parachuted in and out before their governor, overwhelmed, begged travelers to stay away.
But the other travel memory that kept re-surfacing as we padded around the house during the infernal, eternal lockdowns, was of our time back in 2014 at The Breakers in Palm Beach. That oceanfront room. The sweet thunder of the waves breaking below us. The impeccably gracious hospitality that is on as grand a scale as the hotel itself. This place is amazing!
“Onceyou stay, you’ll understand” promises the hotel’s current tag line. Maybe not the most compelling advertising but absolutely true. There is no place like it and, a week after we reluctantly checked out, we’re already dreaming of a return visit.
We found The Breakers to be every bit as alluring as it was when we visited seven years ago. Astonishingly – and we have no idea whether it was coincidence or more Breakers hospitality wizardry – we were given the same room we stayed in before. Yes, it seems nice enough…
But you have to look out the window to truly understand…
Maybe some of my affection for The Breakers is its dowager status. Henry Flagler, the dynamo behind Florida’s emergence as a place to be and a place to go, opened the doors of The Breakers, originally called the Palm Beach Inn, in 1896:
The hotel burned in a 1903 fire, as did the next iteration in 1925:
Third time’s a charm, it seems: rebuilt in 1925-1926 the hotel underwent a major renovation in 2011 and seems to glory in its grandeur.
Nothing here is done on a small scale. That includes the room rates, regrettably, but once you’re immersed in the Breakers experience, you somehow forget about trifling matters like bank accounts.
There is the entry floral display:
The Circle breakfast room is an excellent reason to get up every morning:
So many pools to choose from, and, of course, the beach:
And, of course, the only civilized way to end each day is with Baked Alaska in the HMF lounge:
As hard as it was to tear ourselves away, we did explore the town of Palm Beach a bit. The last time we were here it was the sweltering month of August. I must say that Worth Avenue has far greater allure by the time things begin to cool down in late October.
Homages to NYC’s Upper East Side abound, including a replica of La Goulue restaurant and a Café Boulud where we had dinner one evening to assuage the loss of the one that recently closed in the city.
The Dover Sole was divine:
We also had lovely meals at Būccan (duck confit!), Bricktops, where the tuna tartare reigns supreme:
Trevini’s, whose Tagliolini Norcia may have been the best pasta I’ve ever had outside of Italy,
and Palm Beach Grill, an outpost of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, where the prime rib was so generous a cut that we carried half of our order across the country the next day to gift as a peace offering to Lily. The only restaurant that didn’t really measure up was The Breakers’ own off-site Henry’s Palm Beach, which on the inside resembled a glorified (and very expensive!) coffee shop and where the outside tables are so dear one must undertake a serious negotiation to snag one.
But man cannot live by bread (or prime rib) alone. After every meal, we rushed back to our room to drink in the sound of those waves crashing on the shore. If this could be the reward for every lockdown, I might be convinced to join the crowd that wants this all to go on forever.
Here we were for another Sarasota wedding! The big day was near for nephew Nick and his beloved Alex.
The celebrations began with a barbecue at Mark and Jean’s home, where we feasted on grilled shrimp and steak with the family and Nick’s boyhood friends.
Jean and Nick:
Nick, Adam and Shannon:
Also in attendance, the absolutely adorable Huckleberry, Laura and Colton’s new puppy:
More festivities awaited the next evening at the rehearsal dinner:
We finally met the lovely Alex!
And Gail miraculously arrived after a wave of airline cancellations in Montana threatened her trip. She found a last-minute redeye to Tampa and arrived in plenty of time to celebrate.
So good to see Laura and Colton:
Hard to believe that seven years have passed since we were here for their wedding:
And then the most special day of all was upon us. Nick and Alex chose a spectacular lakeside setting for their wedding:
As Nick stood awaiting the arrival his bride, I thought about the incredible leap of faith that marriage entails. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, it seems to be something that can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. These two dear young people seem beautifully suited to the journey ahead of them.
Wishing them so much happiness ahead! What a joyful day it was for our family.
Dateline: Sarasota, Florida where we spent yesterday morning touring the Ringling Museum.
John Ringling, along with his passel of brothers, bought the Barnum & Bailey show in 1907, beginning a remarkable ascent to wealth and fame for Ringling and his beloved wife Mable.
In 1911 they began amassing real estate in Sarasota and moved the circus winter quarters here in 1927. Ringling was at one point the 13th wealthiest man in the country but like so many others, was doomed by the Great Depression to lose most of his wealth. He died in 1936 with only $311 in his bank account! However, he did manage to leave an incredible legacy to Sarasota when he bequeathed to the state of Florida his mansion and extensive art collection.
It is a must-see in Sarasota. Yes, the adventure is a bit steep at $25 for adults and an additional $10 to tour the mansion, but just like the circus, it turned out to be worth the price of admission.
We actually got to go for free because our dear friend Rosanne, a recent Sarasota transplant, paid our way. Rosanne and I go way, way, way back, our long friendship hallmarked by the fact that neither of us would have met our husbands without the other. Lots of good memories together. Here she is with the CE on the lovely grounds of the Ringling Museum:
We began our tour at the Circus Museum, which is chock full of memorabilia from its heyday in the early part of the 20th century.
Old as we all are, I think most of the items we saw pre-dated us, although there was a certain whiff of familiarity. I guess almost everyone has a childhood memory of being terrified by a clown, right?
Everything in the museum is on a grand scale:
It was edifying to see that chickens were apparently as entertaining back in the day as they are now:
The most impressive exhibit is a vast, impeccably accurate scale model of the Howard Bros. Circus from the 1920’s:
From the circus building, we strolled the lovely grounds for a bit
and wended our way to the art museum.
Some of the exhibits remain closed, presumably due to the impact of the pandemic, but Ringling’s impressive collection of Italian and Northern European art more than satisfied our curiosity. Front and center are the Triumph of the Eucharist paintings by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens. My favorite was The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek:
Each room of the museum is filled with treasures.
And the grounds outside the art museum are lovely.
There is even a monumental replica of Michelangelo’s David:
After a lovely lunch at the Ringling Grillroom, we meandered over to visit the magnificent Ca’D’Zan: “House of John”.
Completed in the mid-1920’s at a cost of $1.5 million, the mansion is somewhat reminiscent of the grandeur of the “cottages” at Newport, Rhode Island, but with a definitive Italian accent.
The most stunning thing of all is its sighting at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. Just incredible! The oceanfront footage is so expansive it isn’t possible to get a representative photo. You will just have to go see it for yourself.
What a lovely time we had. I’m far too old to dream of running off to join the circus but this was a very fine substitute and all at the exquisite edge of the sea. Perfect day!
My very most favorite days are those when I realize there’s no place I would rather be than where I am in that exact moment. And this was one of those days.
We stepped into the Park at West 66th Street and saw that we weren’t the only ones who had the idea of spending Saturday in the Park. Sheep Meadow was dotted with with couples and families – such a welcome sight after the all the forced isolation.
The carriages were doing a brisk business.
And while the calendar was about to announce the start of fall, it felt like we were in the midst of a summer celebration. It was a party, complete with entertainment:
We ambled on up to the Ramble, where just ten minutes or so from the center of Manhattan, we were instantly immersed in a woodland fantasy. According to the Central Park Conservancy, “the design of the Ramble was intentionally intricate, with twisting paths that encourage wandering and create a sense of mystery and surprise”. Mission accomplished!
This view of the pond! Oh my!
We sunned ourselves at the water’s edge like the turtles that basked on the rocks, while punters in the rental rowboats eased past, the water lapping at their oars. Pastoral bliss in the middle of Manhattan.
How lucky we were to have that day. It was a gift; the shimmering end of summer.
Just days later, rain…
And now, back home in California, fall has arrived. The light fades earlier and earlier and like it or not we steer toward winter. Here’s hoping it, too, brings moments where we all feel we’re exactly where we want to be. I’m reminding myself that every season has its blessings.
Pretty much every. single. thing in life changed in the last year and a half, so I’m not sure why I held on so tightly to my vision of NYC being EXACTLY the same. In my defense, this is a city where you can trip over the same cobblestones trod by Dutch settlers and dine in the same restaurant where George Washington quaffed a glass of ale. You can gaze up at a skyscraper and then see a horse and carriage straight out of the nineteenth century trotting up the street. Many, many things do stay the same.
And indeed, the Fraunces Tavern, which welcomed George Washington in 1783, is still serving pub fare down on Pearl Street. But not every restaurant has survived the maelstrom of pandemic culture. When I started making plans a few weeks before our trip I was devastated to learn that our most favorite eatery, beloved Beyoglu on the UES, had closed permanently early during the initial lockdown. And I was shocked when I walked past Rockefeller Center to see that Brasserie Ruhlmann, a midtown stalwart, was no more.
These losses made us all the more determined to go to our most favorite restaurants while we were in town. We were so grateful to renew our tradition of having our first lunch in the city at Bergdorf Goodman’s BG Restaurant. Not only did we get to sit in the coveted birdcage chairs, but our long-time server, Corinna, waited on us and surprised us with scrumptious desserts.
Our favorite Saturday brunch spot, The Smith at Lincoln Square, was blessedly still serving up Bloody Marys and rashers of bacon:
And the sacred Sunday tradition of brunch at Jean-George’s Nougatine remains intact. So many lovely choices, but please remember that one of them must always be the Shrimp Salad with Champagne Beurre Blanc:
Now that we’ve learned once and for all that life is unpredictable, I allowed myself – just this once – to order the butterscotch pudding.
And, of course, a day was set aside to have lunch at the one, the only, Balthazar, where for the first time ever, we saw a few empty tables. Now is the time to go, before it becomes impossible to get a reservation again!
One of the darker days of the pandemic for me was when it made national news that the iconic Central Park Boathouse it was “permanently closing”. Fortunately, whew, they didn’t mean it! It has reopened and everything is the same, except maybe the food is bit better! And the view is absolutely perfect:
We were grateful and thrilled to see that another of our favorites had survived the pandemic. Indian Accent is unlike any other Indian restaurant I’ve been to. There are so many choices on the prix fixe dinner menu that you could eat there days in a row (and yes, I am tempted!) and never duplicate your meal. They brought us a tiny mug of warm pumpkin soup with dumplings as an amuse bouche:
I doubled the dumpling fun by ordering assamese pork dumplings with broth, nettle oil and crispy black rice as my appetizer:
I don’t remember what either of us had as a main course because I was mostly thinking about the signature dessert: makhan malai, saffron milk, rose petal jaggery brittle, almonds. Light as air!
Reassured that so much did, after all, remain the same, we gathered the courage to at least try a few new places. The Leopard at des Artistes has been around for several years but not really on our radar screen until now. Like many other restaurants they have created an outside dining option and we spent one of our favorite evenings of the trip there, feasting on pappardelle and watching passersby on 67th Street.
Since we hadn’t been to the city since the beginning of COVID, we missed the opening of La Grande Boucherie, which takes up an entire magical block of the quirky 6 1/2 Avenue at 53rd Street.
I ordered the paté campagne and look forward to returning for more:
Returning to the familiar and discovering the new is a never-ending pleasure in New York. And while there were, indeed, some losses during the challenges of the past year and a half, I have a feeling that NYC is charging forward, as it has through so many other challenges. Can’t wait to return next visit and see what awaits us! As we all know by now, the only thing that is constant in life is change…
If I’d made a list of the things we missed about NYC during lockdown, Greek food might be very near the top. I’ve never been to Greece, so I can speak only to Greek food NYC-style. I’m sure it must taste better looking out over the Ionian or Aegean Sea but I have to say it tasted just fine looking out over the Hudson River, too. We couldn’t get enough of it this trip. Hence, glorious Greek, four ways:
Best Value: Avra Estiatorio has two NYC locations. The one on 60th Street (former location of Rouge Tomate) is a bit precious and pricey. But Avra on 48th, between Lexington and Third Ave. is a gem in the currently boarded-up desert of Midtown East. The National is gone. Maloney & Porcelli, gone. But Avra 48th survived and is bustling, with a $31.50 three-course lunch prix fixe that is so popular you’ll need to reserve well ahead.
Pre-pandemic it was a sprawling warren of indoor dining rooms. Now there are umbrella-shaded outdoor tables that take full advantage of the restaurant’s garden entry:
No sooner had we been seated than sustenance arrived – their bread is divine.
We always start with Greek salad.
And then I splurged on lamb chops, which are an up-charge, but well worth it:
Of the Greek restaurants we visited this trip, Avra was the only one to offer baklava on the prix fixe dessert menu. Extra points for them – it was perfection!
Best shopping location: Anassa Tavern at 60th and Lexington. We’ve often eaten lunch here because of the convenience – just a block away – to Bloomingdale’s, but this trip we noticed that they seem to have upped their food game. The menu seemed a bit more polished and the food more flavorful than in the past. They aren’t currently featuring a lunch prix fixe – I hope with time that will find its way back onto the menu.
Their bread is almost as good as Avra’s:
And one thing we had not noticed on the menu before are the irresistible fried eggplant chips:
By the time our salads came, we were already full! Anassa’s salad features capers and a very generous portion of feta:
Best view: Estiatorio Milos/Hudson Yards (Level 5) Even before the pandemic, we were curious as to how the ginormous Hudson Yards development would fare. Building an immense mall when malls had gone decisively out of favor seemed very courageous – or maybe just foolhardy. Then came COVID and soon after, the Hudson Yards anchor store, Neiman Marcus, breathed its last. Dire headlines followed in its wake. “Will Hudson Yards Survive the Pandemic?” queried The New York Times.
The mall, in general, seemed lightly peopled the day we were there, but there are signs of life and signs of new store openings.
We had an early reservation at Milos, so we snagged one of the coveted window tables, looking out on the currently-shuttered Vessel.
By the time our “Milos Special” – the classic that other mere mortal restaurants copy – arrived at our table, nearly every seat was taken. The Greek gods apparently smile on Milos and why not – their airy special is served with flaky nuggets of kefalograviera cheese on the side – ambrosia!
Milos’ lunch prix fixe is $39 but when you consider the view, it’s a bargain, or at least you can talk yourself into believing it is if you’re having a glass of Assyrtiko wine with lunch like I did. After the obligatory tomato salad
the CE had fish,
while I enjoyed more Assyrtiko and the view. Dessert was yummy Greek yogurt steeped in honey:
If I could only dine at one Greek restaurant in the city it would probably be Milos. But beware of dinner there – the Hudson Yards escalators are nothing compared to the escalated prices on the dinner menu where you purchase your fish by the pound.
Best new Greek restaurant: Iris (Broadway between 55th and 56th) We walked past the sleek and inviting upscale patio filled with happy diners several times before finally stopping to look at the menu – no wonder everyone looked so happy – more Greek food! But with a plot twist – also Turkish food! Here, the menu and experience are artfully crafted by Chef John Fraser of former Dovetail fame. How fortunate we were to find this new venture just a few blocks from our apartment.
As The New York Times sagely observed in their review, the “prices occasionally drift into expense-account territory”. Thus, I had to order a second Tsipouro Sour before I gained the courage to contemplate $60 lamb chops. (And THIS, friends, is why the Avra lunch prix-fixe is such a steal!)
While we contemplated, the CE ordered a sumptuous mezze platter:
The Iris take on a Greek salad was fresh a full of heirloom tomatoes:
Still smarting from the price tag on the lamb chops, I decided instead on the moussaka, which was both affordable and terrific:
while the CE ordered the swordfish kebab:
We were too full to order dessert, but will save room for next time. Iris has not quite fully bloomed – there were some hiccups in the service and I didn’t totally grasp the vibe of servers attired in what was either trireme sailor casual or a Hamptons weekend uniform. Perhaps they are trying to convey that the restaurant is sophisticated yet casual, and both things are true. We’ll be back!
I don’t know if I will ever make it to Greece, given the chaotic and ever-changing rules of pandemic world travel. The tomatoes in all the Greek salads we enjoyed more likely come from New Jersey than Santorini, but I’m okay with that. Wherever they make it, Greek is definitely the food of the gods. It might just look like Broadway, but after a few Tsipouro Sours, it felt just like Mount Olympus:-)
Let’s call it a parable of loaves and dishes. Thanks to restaurateur par excellence Daniel Boulud, we ate well (and often!) during our city sojourn. Initially alarmed to learn of the closure of our beloved Café Boulud, we vowed to somehow make do with the chef’s UWS outpost, Bar Boulud.
Has “making do” ever looked better?
Chef Boulud, through some sort of wizardry or legerdemain – or perhaps just talent and hard work – is currently juggling fifteen establishments, seven of them in NYC. Bar Boulud, felicitously, is less than a thousand steps from our apartment and has adapted its space and menu brilliantly to pandemic cuisine. Talk about comfort food!
Yes, I know, I should have stopped at the Kale and Fig Salad:
But it was NOT my idea to order the Merveilleux Noir: “crispy meringue, jivara chantilly, dark chocolate sorbet”. I ate two bites. Okay, maybe four bites:
It’s not just the food at a Boulud restaurant. There is always a genuine warmth of hospitality and sometimes even a bit of whimsy. Some nights the sommelier at Bar Boulud totes a jeroboam around the restaurant, offering patrons a glass of something they might not otherwise have tasted – the night we were there it was a French burgundy. I personally think it’s bad luck to ever say no when someone appears bearing a jeroboam.
The centerpiece of of our culinary experience this trip was an evening at Boulud’s recently opened Le Pavillon at 1 Vanderbilt next to Grand Central Terminal. At 1.5 miles from our apartment, at least we got a few calorie-burning steps in during our walk down to 42nd Street that evening.
The restaurant’s space is delightful – chic but not overly formal. And yes, it’s on the pricey side, but one always departs a Boulud restaurant with the sense that whatever the tab, it was worth it. Le Pavillon is apparently thus christened in honor of a former restaurant that occupied the same space from the 1940’s to 1960’s. debuting at New York’s 1939 World’s Fair:
Boulud’s iteration of the space recalls the airiness of its predecessor but in a distinctly 21st century way:
After a refreshing cocktail
we pondered the menu. It is seafood forward but there are plenty of options for those who prefer terre to mer. We took a first course dip with “Torchetti pasta, Maryland jumbo lump crab, fennel confit, Jimmy Nardello peppers”:
and “Yellowfin tuna, fennel pollen, socca crisp, tonato sauce”
I was too focused on my Sole Romanesco to notice what the CE ordered. It took all my attention to behold the tableau of “kataifi crusted Dover sole, roasted Romanesco, artichoke, sauce grenobloise”:
For dessert, the Peche with Fromage Blanc:
What a lovely evening we had! While we certainly needed a long walk home after that meal, it was late and the city doesn’t feel as safe as it has in the past. Le Pavillon’s location is a bonus because while cabs seem to be in short supply these days, you can always find one in front of Grand Central Terminal. Another reason to love Daniel Boulud!
Lucky for us, the re-opening of Boulud Sud, the chef’s Lincoln Square nod to Mediterranean cuisine, was scheduled for our last night in the city. The CE enjoyed a mezze appetizer
while I ordered the gambas:
and then my old favorite, the chicken tagine:
Of course, this was all just lead-up to one of our favorite desserts in the city: Grapefruit Givré. A 2018 Eater article deconstructed the elements for us: “The chefs spoon sorbet into a hollowed out grapefruit shell before tossing in fresh segments of the fruit and citrus marmalade…sesame foam…rose loukoum, [then] seals the grapefruit with a brûléed orange sugar tuile, and anoints the whole affair with halva candy floss.”
Pure sorcery! Pure delight! The CE was unwilling to share, so we each had our own:
If only along with all the other “passports” we need these days, Daniel Boulud offered one for his “frequent flyers”. If there were such a thing, perhaps I could “earn” my way to an evening at the pinnacle of the Boulud empire: Restaurant Daniel on the UES. One can always hope…