Saturday, May 29, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: It's In The Bag!!

I realized today that I have Tweeted and ReTweeted a lot about purses.  Purses are not only utilitarian, but can be things of beauty and a reflection on the carrier's style.  I recently read a blog about a mustard Balenciaga bag and literally drooled over the design of this bag (nod to  Even though I have no use for a woman’s Balenciaga bag, I still couldn’t help being envious of the “Mrs. L” that was buying this bag in the blog entry.  This is truly a gorgeous bag!  The workmanship is incredible.  Today, to my surprise I discovered that the mysterious “Mrs. L” is actually a college buddy of mine!!! (Okay, not a complete surprise since she is an extremely stylish gal.)

All of these musings got me thinking even more about bags.  More specifically, it got me thinking more about bags for me or as they are now referred to as “man bags”.  Although in much of the United States, they are still looked upon with humor and some disdain, I am in constant search of bags that I can utilize.  Hey, if David Beckham can carry one...?????

Growing up in New York, you always had your book bag.  Not only was it necessary for carrying all of your books and papers, but snacks, walkman and cassette tapes (yes, I am dating myself).  As I moved into my teens and was studying and performing ballet, the same bag was then dubbed a “dance bag” and held all of the above mentioned items, plus dance shoes, leg warmers, sweatshirts and on and on....  Your bag was a necessary item to get you through a day in the city, especially since you would quite possibly leave your apartment early in the morning and not see it again until late in the evening.  In those days, I always carried a Danish Book Bag.  As soon as one had worn out with much loving use, I would rush back to The Chocolate Soup (a small but really cool children’s shop on Madison Avenue and 75th Street, sadly no longer there) to get a new one.  It was totally practical, with a zippered flap, interior pockets and an outer zipper that when unzipped allowed the bag to expand.  Not only did I carry one of these everywhere I went on a daily basis, but a Danish Book Bag accompanied me on treks throughout the world.  When my last bag wore out, I was quite saddened that I could not find another one.  I did finally find one online from the man that originally introduced them to NY in 1968 and ordered another which I treasure to this day.  Going on line now, he has been out of stock for quite some time and the Danish manufacturer seems to be out of business.  I contacted the Souperbag man and he will quite possibly have a new vendor who will make the bag again.  I will keep you posted. :) In the meantime, you can have a look at

As I have grown older and spend my days a little more differently than in my youth, I find that I don’t need the size of my Danish Book Bag or even a standard messenger bag.  A little too bulky.  And despite the fact that I am oftentimes not in New York or Paris where men carry bags all of the time, I still personally find a need for a bag.  Let’s face it, with all of today’s gadgets, I need a place to carry them around.  On a typical day, I will have a wallet, iPhone, iPhone charger pack, earphones, keys, sunglasses, pen, etc.  No way is all of that going into my pockets.  On top of that, I don’t like to have my pockets bulging or too many items stretching out the pockets on my jackets.  Especially when I am wearing an exquisitely tailored Ted Baker or Paul Smith. I NEED A BAG!!!

I found a Prada bag a few years ago that has suited my needs quite well.  It has a great 2 zippered pouched flap, another zippered pouch under the flap, an inside zippered compartment with another small zippered pouch inside of that and a velcro pouch on the back side.  It carries all of my necessities, yet is still pretty small and easy to carry slung across my chest.  It is stylish in a sleek way: black nylon with red rubber Prada logos and zipper pulls (my two favorite colors) and although it is definitely unisex, it is also leaning towards the masculine side. Problem is, that I have used it so much that it is starting to disintegrate and I now need to find a new one and Prada no longer carries a similar bag..  The hunt is on!!

I am so far liking the Coach Op Art Coated Canvas Map Bag. It has a sleek masculine look and has ample storage space for all of my gadgets, without being too large. And a great price at $298.

Second in the running is the Louis Vuitton Citadin.  Love the look, love the logo, good space.  Wish it had a flap and at $880 it is a bit pricier (though not as expensive as the Balenciaga!!).

And finally, the Prada Nylon Flight Bag.  It’s definitely utilitarian and I like that it has an inside zippered pocket.  But it definitely lacks in style.  I don’t think that I would ever describe this bag as chic.  And at $660, I was kinda hoping for a bit more of a statement.
Why is it so difficult to find a man bag that is both functional and stylish?  Hmmm, maybe I should look into designing man bags???  Of course if Chanel would come out with a man bag, the problem would be solved. No matter what the cost :)  Hey!!  Why should you girls have all of the fun?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: When The Moon Hits Your Eye.........

Yeah, you guessed it.  Here I go on the subject of pizza again.  I would like to tell you this will be the last review of a pizza establishment, but I would be lying.  The fact is that I am obsessed with pizza.   I am not quite sure at just what point in my life my obsession with pizza began.  Perhaps it was that first slice that I remember in NY’s Little Italy way back when as a kid; the crispy outside of the crust, the chewy inner part of the crust, the tomato sauce, the cheese, the grease dripping down my chin....... Anyway, however it started, I am hooked.  I like all kinds of long as it’s good pizza.  I can appreciate different types of pizza: NY Style like Ray’s Pizza on 6th avenue in the Village, Arturo’s and Grimaldi’s coal oven pizza, John’s brick oven pizza, true Neapolitan pizza in a wood fired oven (Pizza Oskian in Paris, Keste in NY, Pizza e Vino in the OC, etc.).  I appreciate all of the different varieties of pizza, even an occasional Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, although I don’t really consider it to be pizza per se, but more of a pizza inspired casserole.  But I’ll save that discussion for when Ladies Who Lunch hits Chicago.
The latest in my quest for the Holy Grail of Pizza led me to Pizzeria Ortica in Costa Mesa, CA.  Although the name of this restaurant is “Pizzeria”, it is actually a full-on Italian gourmet restaurant. But you know me, I was there for the pizza. And to clarify, Pizzeria  Ortica serves Neapolitan style pizza made with a 300 year old starter garnered from just outside Naples.  I met two friends there and quickly scoped out the joint.  The restaurant is in an interesting location, very long and narrow, with the kitchen completely exposed in the center of the space. Seating is found either directly in front of the kitchen, to one side where you can also find the bar or to the other side where there is seating only.  The narrowness of the space is counter-balanced by the height of the ceilings and tower-like vaulted areas that lend a great deal of character to the restaurant. There are also a few tables outside for when the weather is nice.  We were at first shown a table in the bar area.
Initially, they attempted to seat us near the bar.  We opted instead to sit at one of the tables directly in front of the kitchen.  Perhaps a bit more chaotic, but I was loving watching them hand stretch the dough and pull the pizzas in and out of the oven.
They have a full bar and an interesting wine and beer menu, mostly populated with Italian wines with and a sprinkling of California wines.  The price point on the wine list is reasonably moderate and is a decent selection.  We ordered a bottle of Sangiovese and finished looking over the menu.  The wine arrived and after a quick toast, we placed our orders.
We started by splitting the salad Tricolore - Radicchio, arugula, endive, apples, Gorgonzola, candied walnuts.  All of the lettuces were beautifully fresh and the light dressing complimented their flavors mixed with the thin apple slices, walnuts and Gorgonzola.  The salad was in fact so good that I actually considered ordering another one all for myself, but decided to wait and see how we did with the pizzas.
The pizzas were delivered piping hot out of the oven and looked delectable.  We waited for them to cool and set up a bit and just enjoyed the aroma that wafted up and around us from the beautiful creations.  The staff brought little dishes of red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese to the table and after everyone had anointed their pizzas with these ingredients, we dug in.  My two mates both ordered the Salame piccante e funghi - Margherita with Calabrese salami and mixed mushroom.  The salami was generous and my friends loved the just right spiciness of it co-mingled with the other ingredients on their pizzas.  I ordered the Margherita and had them add mushrooms to it.  Essentially it was the same as my friends, but minus the salami.  The sauce was made from D.O.P. San Marzano tomatoes and their distinct flavoring was evident as soon as you bit into the pizza, as was the fresh basil.  The mozzarella was delicate and flavorful.  But what really made this pizza was the crust.  The crust was lightly crisp to the tooth and light and slightly chewy on the inside.  The crust was bubbled up in places around the edges and it had just the right amount of charring on the bottom to give it that just perfect flavoring.  Some might say that the 300 year old starter doesn’t matter, but I think that the flavorful nuances of the crust must be attributed to it.  So many times, the texture and tooth of the crust can be perfect, yet the dough  is just a little bland and almost flavorless.  Definitely a 2 thumbs up on this pizza.  I wish I had been able to try some of their desserts (everything that came out of the kitchen looked amazing), but I was so into my pizza that I devoured the whole thing and didn’t leave any room for it.
Having been in the OC when it was a virtual pizza desert (Dominos and Pizza Hut aren’t even on my radar), it is refreshing to find that not only has good pizza arrived in the OC, but it is in the same league as that which can be found in some of the most established pizza capitals of the world.  I for one am beyond pleased that more outlets for my obsession are now available in more locales, giving me more and more pizza to delve into and torture you with :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch: Beso Me Mucho

One can really run the gamut of emotions in Las Vegas.  And with an ever expanding scene, you can express those emotions in extremely diverse settings both on and off the strip. My recent visit to Las Vegas added Red Rock, Town Square and City Center to my repertoire.
I am a professed city boy, so I was particularly intrigued with City Center.  A “city” setting in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip?  I had to explore.  And explore I did: the Crystals Shopping Mall, Aria Hotel and Casino and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  I checked them all out.  Very soon, I will give a review of each of these areas and also of the complex as a whole.  But for now, I will focus on dining.
Wanting to experience City Center from every angle, I decided that I must have a dining experience there.  I will definitely go back to explore all of the different restaurants in the complex (I’ve heard particularly wonderful things about Sage in Aria), but opted for my first endeavor to try Beso.  Beso is the restaurant collaboration of Eva Longoria and Chef Todd English.  Where better to dine than at the restaurant of one of the Desperate Housewives?
Located in the Crystals shopping complex, Beso takes full advantage of its location with floor to ceiling windows that overlook the entrance to the Aria Hotel and the entire City Center complex. This total immersion into the cityscape works quite nicely and compliments the decor.  I would describe the decor of Beso as “modern luxury”.  Half circle banquettes line the windows and the outer walls of the restaurant with a sea of detached tables in between.  Walls, floors and tables in dark lush woods work harmoniously with crystal chandeliers that drip light from the ceiling like a rain shower of light, glistening and trickling above the diners.  The chandeliers are made from the Swarovski Crystal curtain that was featured at the 2009 Academy Awards. The lighting is suitably dark to make the atmosphere both relaxing and romantic. Pulsing club music played in the background and I scrutinized the music, thinking that it was perhaps a bit too frenetic. I finally decided that it was actually a good match for the overall feel of the restaurant.
I truly believe that atmosphere is an integral part of the dining experience and Beso has created an atmosphere that is very, as they put it, luxuriously hip.  Yes, atmosphere is important to me, but the cuisine needs to live up to the atmosphere as well.  I am happy to say that Beso delivers on both counts.  Beautifully presented, each dish we had was prepared and seasoned perfectly.  First course for my companion was the Shellfish Tower, consisting of Maine lobster, jumbo shrimp, oysters, little neck clams. P.EI. mussels and ceviche. It was accompanied by sauces in which to dip the seafood, from cocktail sauce, sangria mignonette and horseradish to grainy mustard aioli and fresh lemons and limes.  Originally from New England, my companion is a giant shellfish lover and he gave two thumbs up to the Shellfish Tower.  I started our meal with the Beso Beso salad, a salad of bibb lettuce with a champagne vinaigrette and halves of yellow and red pear tomatoes.  The simplicity of the freshness of the lettuce and the light and flavorful vinaigrette made this a perfect starter for me.
Now on to the main course.  My companion had the Filet Mignon, ordered Medium Rare but on the rare side.  Upon cutting into the filet, it proved to be a bit too rare and was sent back for a few more minutes on the grill.  But that is exactly why it had been ordered on the rare side, because you can always cook it more, but if it is too done, you are out of luck.  Upon its return, the filet was cooked to my companion’s tastes perfectly.  He also complimented the tenderness and flavor of the filet.  Mdivani, the vegetarian, opted for a plate of their sides: grilled asparagus, wild mushrooms and sauteed green beans.  I also ordered a side of their Herb Beso Fries.  The vegetables and mushrooms were all perfectly prepared and seasoned.  I thoroughly enjoyed this vegetable platter and the Beso Fries were excellent.  In fact, they were a little too good and I ended up fighting over them with my companion :)  Beso has a great wine list and a lovely bottle of merlot accompanied the meal quite nicely. 
I was stuffed by this point, considering I had indulged in a late afternoon chardonnay and appetizer break at the Bellagio a few hours earlier.  However, I had to try at least one of their deserts.  On a waiters recommendation, we tried the Cinnamon Sugar Dusted Churros with chantilly cream and caramel sauce.  These are NOT the churros that you find at Disneyland at all.  They were slightly crispy on the outside and remarkably light and airy on the inside with just the right amount of cinnamon sugar dusting them.  The caramel sauce for dipping was very flavorful without being overly sweet.  None of the churros stayed on the plate for very long.
I don’t always have the best of service in restaurants (I seem to wear my invisibility cloak when dining out).  At Beso, the service lived up to the atmosphere and decor.  The waiters were extremely friendly and attentive as were the support staff and made sure that our every need was taken care of.
As mentioned earlier, Beso is owned by Eva Longoria, but there is nothing desperate about this place and I would highly recommend giving it a try.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch Does Saks Beverly Hills

Many years ago, someone very dear to me made their first trip to Paris to visit me.  They were so excited about being in Paris and in awe of all of the sights they were seeing in person after a lifetime of seeing them in pictures, movies and books.  At the same time, they were a little stunned that I was so matter-of-fact about it all.  It was during that visit that I was tagged with the nickname “The Marquis de Blase”.  Of course, I appreciate all that Paris has to offer: the history, architecture, the culture.  However, after spending a good deal of my life in that spectacular city, I don’t share that excitement of discovery, of seeing something for the first time.
In fact, “The Marquis de Blase” is a nickname that fits me quite well.  I’ve been around the block a few times and admittedly am a bit jaded.  So, while I have a great appreciation for all of the places and experiences I come across in my life, it really takes a lot to fill me with true excitement and childlike awe.  In traveling and searching out new shopping and dining venues, I find many places that I find interesting, intriguing and fun.  But there are few places that feed my imagination enough to invoke that sense of awe.
Quite by accident, I stumbled upon one of those rare places just recently.  I had to attend a meeting at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, a store that I had not been in for so long that it had been completely forgotten.  After the valet took my car, I entered into the store and immediately found myself in an atmosphere of beauty, sophistication and luxury.  This was the real deal, a department store that conjures up all of the glamour that old Hollywood was.  Designed by architecht Paul R. Williams (a feat even more admirable since Mr. Williams was an African-American architect who was very successful despite the era of segregation. He also designed the Jetson’s style restaurant at LAX) for the stores opening in 1938, the store’s decor is true art-deco. My meeting was next door in the Men’s Store, but I was mesmerized.  I found myself wandering through the store, up the escalators, marveling at the interiors.  But it wasn’t only the interiors.  The store has merchandise representative of all of the major designers and displays it beautifully.  As much as I wanted to explore more, I knew that I had better head off to the Men’s Store for my meeting.

Darting across the street to the separate building that houses the Men’s Store, I was again taken aback by the beauty of the architecture.  Housed in the former I. Magnin Beverly Hills store (sold to Saks in 1994), this is truly a monument to the art-deco era.  Designed by architect Timothy Pflueger  in 1939 (designer of the San Francisco I. Magnin, The Castro and El Rey Theaters as well), the store captures the era beautifully.  You almost expect to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing through the aisles. The fashion show scene in the 1939 movie “The Women” was actually shot on the 2nd Floor of this store.  The word elegance only begins to describe this store.  As for the shopping, I was in love mode as well.  Like the women’s store next door, the merchandise is beautifully showcased and displayed and calls out to you to dive in and explore.  Also like the women’s store, all of the major designer lines are represented and each line shows the best representation of their lines.
In contrast, I recently went to a competitor’s store opening.  Although the store was very nicely done (in a fairly generic version of their branding), the merchandise for men was so generic, that it left me cold.  I literally had a hard time finding items that intrigued me or even made me consider whipping out my plastic.  What that store lacked is exactly what the Saks Men’s Store in Beverly Hills delivers on, an intangible quality that I refer to as the YUM factor: merchandise that not only appeals to my aesthetics, but is so beautiful it elicits a total YUM emotion from me and I just have to have it.  It’s the factor that cause credit cards to smoke and sometimes even burst into flames.  As I strolled through the store, the “I want, I want, I want” went through my head like a mantra.  Even Saks own Men’s Collection is beautifully styled and the attention to quality is evident.
Okay, I know some will scoff at this store as being, as I have read in some reviews, “ridiculously expensive”, but you have to weigh all of the variables.  Saks has beautiful, quality merchandise in an atmosphere that is almost unparalleled.  This is not your trip to the local discount store, it is almost a religious experience.  It is shopping therapy at its best. In addition, Saks was originally started as a luxury store and it still delivers on that promise.  And while I normally prefer to shop in boutiques and one-of-a-kind stores, there are a scant few department stores that manage to have qualities that make them irresistible.  Saks Beverly Hills is one of those few. I for one want the whole beautiful, enticing, mind altering experience that Saks Beverly Hills has to offer.  And what member of the Ladies Who Lunch (both male and female) would not consider it to be an obvious destination point.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch and Gossip Girls at the Met Gala

Of course I watch Gossip Girl!!  What red-blooded fashionista wouldn’t.  And I don’t just watch for the fashion (of which there is plenty).  I also find it a nostalgic trip back to my youth growing up in the Big Apple.  It has become my number one guilty pleasure!!
However, the fashion is spectacular and not just on the women.  I am constantly inspired to go shopping for the Chuck Bass look.  Ahhhh the clothes that dreams are made of.  But back to the girls......
At he recent 2010 Met Costume Institute Gala, Blake Lively and Jessica Szohr proved once again that the Gossip Girl stars are fashion icons off screen as well as on.
Blake Lively wore a very short one shoulder blue Marchesa dress that was highly embellished with ruffled rosettes.  With a spectacular figure and legs of death, she totally pulled this one off. I have long been a fan of Marchesa and love their very artistic creations. Two thumbs up!!!
In contrast, Jessica Szohr wore a nude gown with lace details on the bodice and a frothy layer of nude and black tulle and lace on the bottom.  The look carried off the Versace sexiness while at the same time looking very elegant and sophisticated.

And while Leighton Meester’s Marc Jacobs gown was panned by more than a few for not living up to her co-stars sense of dramatic fashion for this event, I still find it to be a refreshing look on her.  There is something very 1930’s Ginger Rogers about the look and I think it made her look very young and refreshing.

All in all, I think the Gossip Girl stars represented quite well.  Keep it coming!!!