Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Norma Kamali Wellness Café NYC

About three years ago, I started changing my diet; I began cutting out processed foods and trying to eat fresher and healthier.  Unlike a lot of people I know, my goal was not to extend my life indefinitely.  My reasons were geared more towards immediate gratification.  By eating healthier, I found that I could control my weight more easily and improve the quality of my daily life. Yeah, my reasons were a bit more superficial.  I like nice clothes!

So, having attended an event at Norma Kamali’s Wellness Café, I was intrigued to find out more about what they had to offer.  I returned for an event that focused on salt and its healing properties.  They introduced me to Halo/Air Salt Rooms, Himalayan salt products from Solay and I was even lucky enough to interview Norma Kamali herself and find out what her Wellness Cafe is all about.  Check out the video segment below. :)

Additionally, I discovered that the items that are offered in the Wellness Café make ideal gifts!  You can even choose from all of the products that they offer from olive oil and Himalayan Salt to Vital Choice foods and they will put together gift packs that are personalized in any way you wish. And, they will ship them as well! That takes care of some of my shopping list this year!
To order their awesome products and/or make gift packs contact;
Diana Spohn, the Wellness Manager
212.957.9797 x111

Photos and Video by Ritika Wahal

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Creators Co-Op in Astoria, Queens

Astoria, Queens.  How unlikely a place to find me. So you would think.  Being a Manhattanite, I have very rarely traveled to the other boroughs.  Back in my youth, I taught ballet classes in a studio in Morris Park in the Bronx and since I was already there, I would visit my Italian relatives that lived in the neighborhood.  Outside of that, there were a few random visits to Brooklyn to go to the homes of friends in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope.  As for Queens, I had only ventured there once with a group of dancers from the Joffrey Ballet.  We had spent the night partying at Studio 54, afterward piling into cabs and making the trek to one of our groups apartments in Astoria, Queens, where we crashed on sofas, floors, etc.  Why we decided to head off to Queens, to this day I still do not know. The next morning, we jumped on the subway back into Manhattan, without really exploring the neighborhood.
So when I recently received an invitation to the opening of a co-op artist boutique in Astoria, like so many other Manhattanites, I struggled with the concept of journeying there for a boutique opening.  But deciding that it was more than time for me to explore more of my hometown, I enlisted my friend Brenda, a Queens native, as my escort and off we went to Astoria.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Astoria has a vibrant community.  The Greek community has long called Astoria home and it is evident in the markets and restaurants that you find there.  But one can also find interesting cafés and small boutique shops.  It was to one of these boutiques that had brought us here in the first place, Creators’ Co-Op.

Creators’ Co-Op is the brain-child of artist and designer, Kazuki Kozuru-Salifoska.  Kazuki is the creator of the so very New York all black children’s line, babyNOIR and the follow up more colorful line babySOLAIRE.  After years of selling her designs at streetfairs and craft markets, she decided that she would like a permanent location for her creations.  She also wanted to create a space for fellow artists to display and sell their work.  Kazuki has basically corated the artists joining the co-op based on the quality of their work, style and taste level.  And just as importantly, she wanted to give the people of her neighborhood the opportunity to shop for cool items, without leaving the neighborhood.  The result is a store that sells hand-made unique items, which include fashion, jewelry, accessories, art, homegoods and personal care products.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Rebecca Moses Book Debut at Fratelli Rosetti

For the last 20 years, designer Rebecca Moses has been designing in Italy for labels such as Genny and since 1996 for her own label.  America’s loss was a brilliant gain for Italy.  Thankfully that is about to change.

Fresh on the heals of showing her beautiful collection for Macy’s, Heart Soul Style, at New York Fashion Week, Ms. Moses was on the scene last night.  This time it was for the debut of her new book, A Life of Style: Fashion, Home, EntertainingBeautifully illustrated in a playful manner, this new offering from Rebecca Moses takes the reader on a journey through the world of style and urges them to develop their own style and use it to express themselves.  Using witty captions to drive home her philosophy of style for all aspects of life, Ms. Moses creates an experience that is a sheer delight for its reader.

The debut of the book was held at Fratelli Rosetti on Madison Avenue where fans and friends of  Rebecca Moses turned out to buy a copy, have the designer sign their copies, while sipping Proseco and enjoying light appetizers.  This fan got my signed copy and now am kicking myself for not having gotten more copies to give as presents this Christmas!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Vital Choice at Norma Kamali's Wellness Café

Norma Kamali has been a fashion innovator and legend since the 1960’s.  From her “parachute” collection and “sleeping bag” coat to flattering swimwear and sexy body conscious dressing, Norma Kamali has always led the way to new ways of looking at and approaching fashion.  In keeping with her innovative and trend leading history, I was not surprised to find out that Ms. Kamali had opened up the Wellness Cafe in her 56th street boutique.

Believing that what you put in and on your body is as important as what you wear, Ms. Kamali opened the Wellness Cafe to offer gourmet healthy foods and personal care products.    Every Wednesday, The Wellness Cafe features products and concepts that promote healthy living.  This last Wednesday, the Vital Choice company was featured with products such as salmon that comes in a vacuum packed pouches or in single serving cans, pouches of organic wild blueberries, organic trail mix, and organic no-guilt chocolate bars.  Among these offerings are what Norma Kamali calls “organic fast food”, which basically means that you can take it on the go with you, providing a healthy alternative to burgers, fries and all of the other foods that one might eat on the run.

Although I myself am a vegetarian, a very personal choice, I believe if you are going to eat fish and fish products that they should come from sustainable healthy supplies.  Vital Choice was started by husband and wife team Randy and Carla Hartnell, when they realized that farmed salmon threatened to replace wild salmon in the marketplace.  Their goal was to provide consumers sustainably harvested wild salmon; good for your health, the environment, and the health of coastal fishing communities.  Farm raised salmon is often raised in unhealthy conditions and fed hormones and antibiotics.  They even put dye in their food to create different shades of the salmon pink that occurs naturally in wild salmon.  As a tremendous source of Omega-3 fatty acids, they help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, reduce incidences of depression, fight disease and contribute to overall better health.  And, while salmon is a good source, Vital Choice also offers other fish high in Omega-3s, such as tuna, sardines, mackerel and sable fish.  In addition, Vital Choice has one of the purist Salmon Oil Vitamins on the market.  Their catalog provides all of these products and a myriad of other organic products to keep you eating healthy.

It only makes sense to eat products that are the most healthy and nutritious for you and Vital Choice offers exactly that.  For us veggie people, while we will have to get our Omega-3s from sources such as walnuts and flax seeds, Vital Choice still offers a myriad of healthy eating products which we can incorporate into our daily eating habits.

Thank you Norma Kamali for introducing us to such wonderful companies and products.  Ms. Kamali’s concern for healthy living matches her brilliant talent for design and I can only ask myself, what next?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Career Transition for Dancers Gala

During Fashion Week in September, the divine Ms.FABulous told me about the 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee Gala to benefit the Career Transition for Dancers organization.  I was thrilled to find out the the gala would be taking place when I would be back in NY in November and I immediately purchased a ticket to the event.
Myself a former dancer, this event was of particular interest to me.  As a dancer, you eat, sleep and breath dance from a very young age and it becomes a deep and integral part of you, no matter to where you move on.  I used to think of it almost like those people that had left the Soviet Union; it was a home that would always live within, yet you could never really return.  Transitioning from the dancer life to other fields can be a major challenge and the Career Transition for Dancers organization is a vital force in aiding dancers in that process.
The gala was held at City Center Theater on 55th Street with a packed house in attendance.  I had performed at City Center with the Béjart Ballet many moons ago, yet had never sat in the theater for a performance.  The Moorish influence decor was still stunning and although seated in the Gallery, I had a wonderful vantage point for the performances.

Hosted by Angela Lansbury, the program featured performances by Jacques D’Amboise’s National Dance Celebration Team, the cast of 42nd Street, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Joffrey BAllet, The Last Mambo, Momix, American Ballet Theater’s Yuriko Kajiya and Daniil Simkin performing the Don Quixote Pas de Deux, the cast of Chicago with the incredible Bebe Neuwirth.  The program was diverse and each performance was a masterpiece of artistry.

The Rolex Dance Award was presented to a gracious Twyla Tharp by the dance legend Edward Villella.  The gala closed with a new work by Marvin Hamlisch “I’m Really Dancing” with Mr. Hamlisch on piano and an all star cast of performers including Charlotte D’Amboise, Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, Chita Rivera, ABT II, and the American Tap Dance Foundation Youth Program.
Recently starved for live theater and especially dance, the evening was both nostalgic and exhilarating; taking me back to my youth and reminding why I had fallen in love with dance so many many years ago.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Diwali Dinner in New York

After a long but pleasant day bounding about the city (NY), I ended up on the Upper West Side with two close friends.  It was late Sunday afternoon and everyone was ready for an earlyish dinner.  But deciding on what type of restaurant to go to was a challenge.  Each of us tossed out our options: Lebanese, Japanese, Chinese......but no one could make up their mind.  I finally settled the matter by suggesting that in honor of Diwali, now in its third day, that we go for Indian cuisine.  After debating which restaurant to go, we finally decided on one within a short walk from my friends apartment.
A walk in the crisp Fall weather stoked our appetites further and we were more than ready to eat when we fell into Indian Tanpura.  A very friendly server greeted us and sat us in the small nicely decorated dining room with crisp white linens.  We perused the menu and decided upon dishes that we would all mostly share.

We began with samosas, which were delicately seasoned and added broccoli to the usual combination of potatoes and peas.  The nicest thing about these samosas was that they were not in the very least greasy, but still nice and crisp.

Then the main courses arrived: Dahl Makhni (Black Lentils sautéed in Ghee with ginger & garlic) , Alu Mottor Gobi (Potatoes, Peas & Cauliflower cooked in Masala sauce), Vegatable Jalfrezi (Mixed Vegetables sautéed with Green Pepper, Onion & Tomato), and an order of Chicken Tikka (Marinated Boneless Chicken Breast cooked in the Tandoori Oven) for my two friends.  The entrées came with white basmati rice and we also ordered the Nan.  All of the dishes were very flavorful and were seasoned perfectly with all of the spices that make Indian cuisine so special.   We enjoyed everything and felt completely satisfied by the end of the meal, with every plate cleaned.  

And as an extra bonus, our extremely attentive server treated us to servings of their rice pudding which was as delicious as everything else had been, sweet with just a hint of curry.

One note to those embarking on a meal at Indian Tanpura.  I love all of the spices that go into Indian Cuisine: cumin, cardamon, garlic, ginger, etc.  However, I seem to have an intolerance to red pepper.  Pile on the black pepper or any other spice and I’m in love.  Red pepper on the other hand.... So, I was incredibly surprised that all of the dishes had an abundance of all of the spices I love, but only enough red pepper to give it a tolerable kick.  I asked about this and was informed that they made their dishes mild as far as red pepper was concerned, unless it was requested to make the dishes really spicy.  So if you are one of those who like their Indian cuisine at fire department levels, just let them know and they will gladly accommodate you!
We had an excellent meal and I would not only recommend dining at Indian Tanpura, but will put it on my list of places to return to.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Candle Cafe New York

In the 80’s and early 90’s, I ventured on a few forays into the world of “vegetarian” restaurants in New York and in Venice, CA. Needless to say I was unimpressed.  The demographics that those restaurants were going after didn't really suit me.  Nothing against them, but they were just not for me.  The atmosphere was very “hippie”, calling to mind Birkenstocks, Tie-Dyed Shirts & Skirts, long unwashed hair, etc. What I used to refer to as “the granola lady”.  As you can imagine, it was hardly the setting for the Ladies Who Lunch set.  As for the food (notice I don’t call it cuisine for a reason), it was plain, bland, and just unimaginative.  I was never going to fall in love with a plate full of brown rice and steamed unseasoned sea vegetables.
Since then, the tide has turned and there are restaurants that finally cater to my demographic.  Yes, I am a snob, but not in a mean way :)  Without being aware, it seems that chic vegetarian restaurants had started popping up right under my nose and it was time to give them another chance.  My first exploration into this new world was in Los Angeles at the famous Real Food Daily.  Not just a vegetarian restaurant, but a vegan restaurant, I was wowed and became a complete fan (you can see my on camera visit with Chef/Owner Ann Gentry with this link:  

My appetite whetted, I now wanted to explore more of these establishments and where else should I do it but in my hometown of New York.  It was an early Sunday afternoon, driving back from attending a wedding in Pennsylvania, that it struck me to stop at the much touted Candle Cafe for lunch.
Candle Cafe began quite humbly as Healthy Candle, a health food store and juice bar in 1984.  I still remember going there with friends to get bee pollen and other such energy boosters and natural medicines.  It evolved into a full service juice bar & cafe and in 1994 expanded to become Candle Cafe, serving an organic vegan menu.  The restaurant creates its menu based upon sustainability, eco-friendly practices, local farming and compassion for animals.  They were also the first  Certified Green Restaurant in NYC.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is very homey and soothing.  Diner style tables line the pale sage walls which are decorated with three dimensional undulating cloth screens on one side and mirrors, framed photos and shelves with knick-knacks on the other side. The space is fairly narrow and they have made well use of the space.
Now on to the cuisine!  I went with one of my closest friends so we decided to order and sample each other’s picks.  We started off by sharing the Greek Salad.  This was a good rendition of a classic Greek Salad, but heightened with the addition of marinated chickpeas and bell peppers.  The usual feta cheese was replaced with a feta made from tofu and quite honestly, if you hadn’t told me, I would have never know the difference.

For the main course, I opted for the Tofu Club, a version of the traditional with grilled tofu replacing the turkey and tempeh bacon.  I have had vegan clubs before and usually they are made with seitan replacing the turkey.  This was a nice change, light and refreshing.

My friend decided to take their option of making her own dish by choosing 4 sides and 2 dressings.  Her selection was a combo of steamed greens, quinoa vegetable pilaf, black beans and grilled tofu with Ginger Soy dressing.  Not only was everything in this combo delicious, I actually could eat as much as I wanted without feeling the least twinge of guilt!

I heartily recommend Candle Cafe and know I will return for more exploration.  However, I think my next stop will be to try the more upscale sister restaurant Candle 79, since I am of course an upscale kinda guy. :-)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: La Nuit du Gateau in New York

Many years ago, I was celebrating my birthday in Paris with my cousin and a close friend.  The friend had insisted on making all of the arrangements, so my cousin and I acquiesced and let her take care of it all.  The night of my birthday, she picked us up and drove us out to Neuilly to what was a very chic restaurant.  Upon opening the menu, I discovered that it was strictly a seafood restaurant and the only non-fish item on the menu was an appetizer salad with goat cheese.  Even though I was not a vegetarian back then, I had never liked fish, a fact that everyone that knew me was cognizant of.  I ordered the salad and picked at it, while the friend who had made the arrangements kept trying to get me to eat some of the fish, which I politely refused.  Finally, my cousin couldn’t hold back any longer and blurted out, “Why would you bring Mdivani to a restaurant that serves only fish when you know that he doesn’t eat fish?”.  To which she replied, “Because it’s my favorite restaurant!”  Which elicited from my cousin, “But it isn’t YOUR Birthday!!”
I was starving as we drove back to our apartment.  My cousin gave me my birthday present in the car, a giant box of chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat.  I started ravenously eating them, when their incredible quality finally registered in my head and slowed down to appreciate them.  Needless to say that I have been a fan ever since and was happy when they opened up a store in NY.

Last night was the 20th Anniversary of the La Maison du Chocolat store opening in New York and I attended the event with none other than the divine Ms. FABulous.  To celebrate, the event was dubbed “La Nuit du Gateau” (The Night of the Cake) and they offered up a diverse selection of chocolate pastries, cakes and other delicacies to all that came between 7-12pm.  As you waited in the long line to get in, servers brought out trays of deliciously rich hot chocolate, which not only warmed us on a chilly Fall evening, but whetted our appetites for what was to come.  Once inside, you were given the opportunity to taste a chocolate pound cake, choose between various flavored macaroons, a chocolate raspberry cake, mini chocolate filled eclairs, a pastry with a layer of chocolate above a thin crispy cookie-like pastry, chocolate mousse and a vanilla ice cream with crumbles of nutted chocolate on top.  Every single offering was a sheer decadent experience of the finest most exquisite tastes of chocolate and reminded me why I so loved this place.

As the experience washed over me, I was already making plans to come back to the boutique later in the week to purchase more of their wonderful bites of paradise.  Happy Anniversary and here’s to another 20 years!!


Monday, November 1, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: M5 Couture Spring/Summer 2011 Collection

Besides benefitting Entertainment AIDS Alliance, the Fashion Minga event also showcased 5 Southern California design houses.  Events like these can be very important to small design houses, because they can help to give them the much needed exposure necessary to succeed in the highly competitive fashion arena.  Los Angeles has a vibrant fashion community that marches to its own drummer and often reflect the local culture and concerns.
M5 Eco Couture is a perfect example of a design house that produces clothing that is right in line with LA style and is also fashion with a conscience.  Designer Morgan Olson, the founder of and the creative talent behind M5 Eco Couture, definitely has an agenda.  An agenda for saving the planet.  M5 Eco Couture is all about being Eco-Friendly.  Ms. Olson not only designs using resources that are sustainable and won’t harm the environment, but a big part of her collections are focused on recycling materials.  Making garments out of recycled denim, scarves and other fabrics from used clothing, M5 Eco Couture strives to eliminate the waste that is caused by mass production.  It also eliminates the need for producing new fabrics.  Manufacturing fabric can pollute the environment with chemicals and dyes used in the process.  Ms. Olson tries to use very little to none of packaging materials, with an eye toward reducing the mount of plastic bags and other packing items that end up in our landfills.
M5 Eco Couture presentation at Fashion Minga proved that you can create LA Chic clothing without being detrimental to the environment.  A noble cause for fashion and a noble cause for our future.

Photos by Omri Escalante