31 January, 2010

The Duchess Retreats . . .

The Malibu Beach Inn

This afternoon the Duchess had a reasonably leisurely visit with the Marchioness, and discussion inevitably turned to spring and summer vacations. Having just completed her tax return (see "Drink Early, Drink Often"), the Duchess was in no position to fantasize about far-flung locales or exotic activities (art gallery tripping through Naples? that oft-mentioned but never scheduled spa trip to Koh Samui? architectural tour of Algiers?); this spring's getaway must be refreshingly simple.

Luckily California is replete with breathtakingly gorgeous natural vistas, including those right up the road in Malibu. There, on the glistening Carbon Beach, sits the Malibu Beach Inn, an utterly plush and serene getaway just a hop/skip from Los Angeles.

Drive up for dinner on a Friday night and make sure to be seated on the terrace. The calming views over the water will relax the knots right out of your shoulders, and the food is tasty and reasonably well-priced. One may dine indoors of course, but why California if not for outdoor dining? There is a handy bar right off the lobby, perfect for a post-dinner Sauternes or pre-dinner champagne, and just right in the morning for coffee and reading the paper in front of the fireplace.

The rooms are cozy and nicely appointed. There are 47 rooms total at the Inn, with six luxury suites, and all rooms have panoramic views of the water. Many of the rooms are appointed with fireplaces; for a soothing experience, the Duchess recommends falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach while being warmed by an in-room fire. Grab a bottle of California wine from the room's selection and voila! Sleep will be yours.

In the morning, stroll along the beach, or curl up on the terrace with a good book. After checkout, zip back to Los Angeles, where you're sure to be restored enough to handily win your weekly tennis match -- as though you wouldn't anyway.

Malibu Beach Inn
22878 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, California 90265
Tel. 310.456.6444

30 January, 2010

The Duchess Recommends . . .

Birth Announcements

Excitement never ends for the Duchess. This morning she awoke, jet lagged and groggy, to a message from her dear brother proclaiming that he and his wife were at the hospital, ready to welcome their firstborn. This afternoon that precious gent was born, and in celebration of that historic event, the Duchess commits this post to the art of announcing the delivery of nature's most perfect bounty -- a baby.

Sarah LeClere, Stork Announcement

This stork is adorable, perfect for a shower, tea or birth/adoption announcement for boy or girl. A timeless design.

Crane & Co., Rocket Card

For a fun-loving, casual look, this Rocket Card by Crane & Co. communicates class in its materials and construction but joie de vivre in its colors and designs.

Crane & Co., Ecru Note and Rule Lines

The Duchess also likes this Crane & Co. card for its simplicity, grace and elegance.

Luscious Verde, White Whale

A whimsical, colorful design, again appropriate for boy or girl baby. (Could also make a cute birthday card invitation for the toddler years.)

Kate Spade Paperie, Hedgehog Family

For the family preferring a more modern aesthetic, the graphic colors and print of this Kate Spade card, with its touch of humor (one doesn't see hedgehogs every day!), would convey perfectly hipness and savoir faire.

Vera Wang, Sunny Surprise

The Duchess adores the lush, springtime hues of this announcement by Vera Wang. Ideal for a peanut born in April, May or June, or with a name conjuring up the warmth and light of those months (Sunny, Autumn, Summer, Poppy . . .).

Kate Spade Paperie, Lavender Love

Pretty, with enough color to stand out and it's a unique one too. By Vera Wang. (Love that name, what a lucky baby.)

William Arthur, Birds Announcement

A delicate, feminine design for the traditional family to announce the birth of their Margaret, Elizabeth, Lily, or Grace.

Robyn Miller Designs, Happy Tulips Announcement

The spirit and exuberance of this card is terrific. A bit on the cutesy side for the Duchess, perhaps, but the colors are fit for a Missoni twin set.

PiPo Press, Birthday Blooms August

Completely fresh and new. This card pops, and it would be a memorable announcement for a modern mommy.

Checkerboard Designs, Have You Heard? Announcement

This card hints of Alice in Wonderland-ish curiosity; the contrast of the darkly lined envelope with the light and easy design of the card is provocative and maybe even a bit ill-designed. Still, there was something about this card that caught the Duchess's attention; what do you think, readers?

William Arthur, Cabana Announcement

Lest we forget the twins, here is one of the Duchess's favorite, favorite, favorite announcements, and ideal for multiples. And this card is versatile -- it isn't gender-specific (great for men or women making birth or adoption announcements), and it could be repurposed for any number of invitations or notes, from a summer birthday celebration to a party of cocktails and barbecue in the Southern climes.

Noteworthy Collection, Home Grown Twins

This card has a more romantic feel, more sentimental. It's old-fashioned in a way, and the Duchess loves its handmade attitude.

simplyput, Chocolate Bunnies Announcement

An adorable option for the parents of twins.

All cards available at
Fine Stationery

29 January, 2010

The Duchess Observes . . .

Oliver Arms


Last night the Duchess and the Empress took a frolic and detour down to West 22nd Street to attend the opening of the Oliver Arms exhibition at Ameringer-McEnery-Yohe Gallery. Mr. Arms is a close friend of the Empress, who owns one or two of his pieces and champions his work.

("For the Dead Travel Fast")

The works are fantastic, completely gripping and complex (in color and composition), and large scale. Daughter was the Duchess's favorite.

(Ready Hockum)

The gallery recently relocated to this fantastic new space within spitting distance of the High Line. It is capacious and manned by the industrious and charming Hilary. The pieces were thoughtfully displayed, and of course the drinks were flowing freely.

The Duchess recommends a visit to the Ameringer gallery, and the work of Oliver Arms.

525 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10011
Tel. 212.445.0051

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday through Saturday
10 am - 6 pm

The Duchess Dines . . .

BG @ Bergdorf Goodman, 21 Club, Bar Americain

(BG at Bergdorf Goodman)

Yesterday the Duchess completed an eating marathon. It all started with a post-shoe-and-fur-shopping nosh with the Empress at BG @ Bergdorf Goodman. Deviled eggs, roasted mushroom tart, champagne. It's lucky for the Duchess that the champagne came after the shopping spree (during which she was surprisingly restrained) and not after (still lusting after those Silvia Fiorentina shoes that she passed over).

BG, on Bergdorf's 7th floor, was decorated by the one of the queens of the Los Angeles decorating scene, Kelly Wearstler. It has a more glamorous vibe and a more restrained color palette than Ms. Wearstler-designed California-based restaurants (a la Whist at The Viceroy in Santa Monica).

(Entrance to 21 Club)

After a frolic and detour with the Empress down to Chelsea (see today's "The Duchess Observes"), the Duchess headed back uptown to grab dinner with an old friend at Bar Americain. En route she was distracted by 21 Club, and popped in for a sip or two.

(The Barroom at 21 Club)

The Duchess finally braced herself for the bitter cold and made her way over to Bar Americain for a later dinner of Kentucky ham salad (nothing but the best for the Duchess!) and a bourbon praline profiterole for dessert. Very yummy.

(Bar Americain)

BG @ Bergdorf Goodman
754 5th Avenue
New York, New York 10019
Reservations online at www.opentable.com

21 Club
21 West 52nd Street
New York, New York 10019

Bar Americain
152 West 52nd Street
New York, New York 10019

28 January, 2010

The Duchess at Sport.

The game of croquet.

(Darryl Zanuck playing croquet, shot by Slim Aarons)

For centuries croquet has been the sport of choice for many the world over, though its popularity stateside has waned in recent years. The ancestral game of croquet was introduced to the British by the French during the reign of Charles II of England, then commonly known as paille maille or pall mall (deriving from the Latin for "ball and mallet"). The game of croquet involves hitting wooden balls through hoops embedded in the grass with a mallet, but do not let this simple description deceive you as to the game's complexity.

Although many are familiar with the relaxed match of croquet organized in someone's green summer backyard (in which a hoop is won by the first ball to go through each hoop, or golf croquet), association croquet (taught in Los Angeles by the renowned pro Xandra Kayden) is an advanced game, involving four balls teamed in pairs, with both balls going through every hoop for one pair to win. The game's distinguishing feature is the "croquet" shot: when certain balls hit other balls, extra shots are allowed. The six hoops (or wickets) are arranged three at each end of the court, with a center peg.

In association croquet one side takes the blue and black colors, and the other side plays the yellow and red. (In singles, one player plays both balls on a side, and in doubles, there are two players per side.) In "The Basics of Croquet" by Xandra Kayden, the object of the game is described thusly:

"The object of the game is to get your side's balls through the six wicket course twice (going clockwise the first way around, and counter-clockwise the second way round) and into the peg. Each wicket counts for one point, as does the peg, for a maximum 13 points per ball, or 26 points per side. In a timed match, the winner is the side which has scored the most number of wickets when time is called and each ball has had a last turn. The clips, which are placed on the wickets when the turn is over (on the top going the first way around and on the side for the second half of the course), signify which wicket the balls are for."

(Even Salvador Dali appreciates the sport. "The Queen's Croquet Ground," 1969)

As if that weren't enough, one has roquet shots, croquet shots, continuation shots -- one can deal in handicaps or "bisques." Croquet is the ideal college sport and there are also club teams across the United States -- even in Beverly Hills (the only two known public courts in Los Angeles are at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills and at Pasadena, but if one has to play on a public court the cause is sort of lost, now, isn't it?).

(Best domestic spot for croquet: Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley.)

The Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley promotes croquet play, even keeping a resident profession (Jerry Stark) on staff in order to instruct in the games of golf and association croquet (the latter with its United States and international vagaries).

(Meadowood's croquet pro, Jerry Stark)

(More Meadowood)

Croquet enjoys a reputation for being a throwback to a slightly more whimsical era, and it conjures up images of Oscar Wilde and cucumber sandwiches. In keeping with the ironically self-indulgent theme, Hendricks Gin each year sponsors a Croquet for Bartenders event.

(Hendricks Gin-sponsored Croquet for Bartenders Event)

(Half a mug of tonic, half a mug of Hendrick's. Top with ice, garnish with cucumber.)

And so the Duchess recommends a few games of croquet for the body and mind. One won't burn many calories on the lawn but one does stay away from the refrigerator as the matches are interminable.

(The other sport of kings.)

(And queens.)

The Duchess Dines . . .

Il Mulino

The Duchess awoke this morning to falling snow, and had a lovely but light breakfast in the hotel dining room with its floor-to-ceiling windows gazing over the blanketed park. Last night's dinner was a five hour marathon at Il Mulino.

The marathon began with a plate of freshly fried zucchini at the bar to accompany our prosecco and ended over zabaglione and grappa. The Duchess dined on artichokes and branzino, both of which were delectable. The dining room was rambunctuous, grand and lively.

Il Mulino
86 West 3rd Street (Greenwich Village, between Sullivan and Thompson)
New York, New York 10012
Tel. 212.673.3783

26 January, 2010

The Duchess Dines . . .

The Red Cat

Nice dinner tonight at The Red Cat in Chelsea. To start, the sauteed zucchini salad (julienned with almonds and blanketed with pecorino); entree, salmon with shaved brussels sprouts and carrot mash; side, tempura green beans; dessert, chocolate mousse. Drink (most importantly), an easy 2006 Chateauneuf du Pape. All quite delightful.

(Interior of The Red Cat)

Helmed by happening chef Jimmy Bradley, The Red Cat is a relaxed, welcoming environment with pleasant and enthusiastic service and diners. The crowd is overall on the young side, but the background music is decidedly VH1 Classic (a "name that tune" exercise included "Carry On My Wayward Son" (Boston, easy), "Heat of the Moment" (Asia, medium difficulty), and "Keep on Riding" by Eric Donaldson (basically impossible, even for the Duchess)).

(Exterior of The Red Cat, photo courtesy of Town & Country Travel)

The Duchess is traveling this week and thus updates may be slightly delayed, but she will endeavor as always to do her best and keep on posting. If you cannot get away to New York to dine at The Red Cat, take heart; cookbook available at amazon.com.

The Red Cat
227 10th Avenue
New York, New York 10011

24 January, 2010

The Duchess Observes . . .

Crazy Heart

Yesterday, post-Chinese foot massage (thanks N!), the Duchess took in a matinee showing of Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges. Mr. Bridges recently won a Golden Globes award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Movie - Drama, and just last night took home the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Male Actor in a movie.

In Crazy Heart, Mr. Bridges plays down-on-his-luck (is there any other kind?) country music singer Otis "Bad" Blake, who snakes his way across the American southwest as he leaps from barroom stool to barroom stool, trying to make a buck on the glory of songs that were successful long ago. His only friend appears to be a bottle of McClure's Kentucky Bourbon whiskey (a fictional label as we all know) and his old Fender guitar.

After a dusty, hard night in Pueblo, Colorado, Bad Blake heads for Santa Fe where he is set to perform in a downtown saloon for two nights. On the first night there, luckily, he meets local reporter Jean ("Jeanie") Craddock, an unimpeachable single mother who straddles that dramatic line between following her passion (old-timey country music, apparently) and caring for her family (responsible job at newspaper -- check!). And so the story goes, Bad and Jeanie fall madly for one another, a tumble that ultimately yields the heartbreak necessary for the perfect country and western song ("May the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by").

Now, readers, do not misperceive the Duchess -- she is a devoted Jeff Bridges fan, and this was a mighty fine performance. But could we do a little better than continuing with our one-dimensional portrayals of country singers, of single mothers, of alcoholics? Is that too much to ask?

Luckily Colin Farrell makes a welcome appearance as country star/eye candy Tommy Sweet. Indeed.

23 January, 2010

The Duchess Dines . . .

Craft Los Angeles

Every so often the Duchess migrates to her Century City office for work, and when she does, she is bereft of appetizing dining options. So close to Beverly Hills, she can easily zip home (or thereabouts) for her local comfort food courtesy of Spago or Dominick's.

Once before the Duchess joined a friend at the bar at Craft for a post-work libation (yes, it's true -- the Duchess works for a living). The Duchess was unimpressed by the viognier and found the bar menu's substance did not compensate for its style. The Duchess suspected the same of the surrounding bar patrons (in fairness this latter observation remained unconfirmed).

But last night, overcome with that old familiar Friday urge, the Duchess wandered across the rain-drenched lawn in the shadow of sparkling, glass-enrobed towers that are the hallmark of Century City to Craft for her usual poison. Finding the bar (again) chock-full of young, hip, ironic talent agents and lawyer-types (forgive the Duchess's self-loathing, dear readers), the Duchess and Duke requested a table, and were promptly seated.

Service was swift, pleasant, effortless. The staff and menu are both understated -- they do not have to announce their excellence. The Duchess's mouth watered over every single item on the menu; the classic American fare was right up the Duchess's alley. Starting with warm pumpernickel bread and a glass of Chardonnay, the Duchess and Duke negotiated seemingly endlessly over what to order. Finally settling on two salads (hearts of palm with avocado and baby beets), the beef short ribs (melt-in-your-mouth tender), several sides (sauteed broccoli with lemon, roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, and lightly buttered baby carrots), the duo struggled to save room for dessert. The Duchess believes the desserts at Craft, exemplified by their homemade, creative ice cream flavors (last night's menu boasted caramel, cacao chip, cinnamon, mexican vanilla, black walnut and huckleberry yoghurt), are among the top few, very best in the city. A belief shored by the warm, crispy and light huckleberry cobbler and toasted, nutty German chocolate trifle that soon arrived at table.

Craft succeeds because it doesn't attempt to be anything that it is not. It is unapologetically East Coast in its flavors and presentation, and it is also unpretentious. The waitstaff and bartends are not embarrassed to be friendly. It's the kind of place one can settle in for a nice, relaxing meal, to be pampered by people who appear to truly enjoy the art of dining, and to be restored by perfectly prepared "comfort food," in the best sense of the term.

Thus the Duchess dines, and recommends . . .

10100 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90067
Tel. 310.279.4180

The Duchess Observes . . .

Twin Peaks

The Duchess just couldn't do it, people. Inland Empire did not appeal as a potential salve for a hectic (but fun!) week of work, children, friends and family. So after a langorous dinner (post to follow) the Duchess simply put up her feet and indulged in an episode of the slightly less bizarre Twin Peaks.

22 January, 2010

The Duchess Slightly Fears . . .

Tonight's entertainment . . .

For years now, the Duchess has been meaning to watch Inland Empire by David Lynch. Perhaps somewhere deep inside she knew she did not have the strength, so it was subconsciously avoided. But curiosity finally defeated the Duchess during a trip to Book Soup, which carries a tidy Criterion Collection selection. Thus is the power of Lynch.


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