28 February, 2010

The Duchess Observes . . .

Kimberly Brooks, The Stylist Project, Taylor de Cordoba

Kimberly Brooks, Elizabeth Stewart

Perhaps, dear readers, many of you think it is all fun and games for the Duchess. Blogs about fabulous restaurants, cozy hotels, inspired art, and the occasional smutty novel. But of course, the Duchess, like anyone, suffers her fair share of indignities and comeuppances.

Take, for example, the events of this weekend. The Duchess made it safely alive out of Stormageddon and returned to the sunny, warm climes of Los Angeles. Sweet relief. Looking excitedly forward to her Friday night ritual with the Marchioness (reading the week's papers and supervising four little lords as they run roughshod over the Marchioness's entire manor), the Duchess was stunned by the devastating news -- lice infested the lords' school. Thus Friday night was devoted to an attempted complete de-lousing of all hair, bedding, clothing and available surfaces.

Saturday required a return trip to Target for restocking of lice combatants. Fully armed with new towels and blankets, lavender shampoo (the natural remedy) and RID, the Duchess and her progeny set off for the car, determined as they were to enjoy an evening out on the town. But they were confronted with another obstacle -- a completely flat right rear tire. Of course, one would normally have a spare on hand, but as the Duchess endured a flat tire only weeks ago, the spare was of course on the car itself. Not only need the Duchess-mobile be towed, it would remain deflated until Monday morning, when the tire will be replaced.

But these bumps in the road can't stop the Duchess. Following a swift pickup by Nanny, the foursome headed up La Cienega to the opening of Kimberly Brooks's show The Stylist Project at Taylor de Cordoba.

The glamourous portraits of Hollywood's leading stylists and fashion insiders, chronicled by Ovation reporters and anxiously awaited by all, created a welcome respite from the day's anxieties. The Duchess thought the portraits were very well-executed and captured the essence of each of the stylists that Brooks sought to paint. A who's who of LA notables were on hand to laud Brooks's work featuring Jessica Paster, genius Arianne Phillips, Andrea Lieberman, Jeanne Yang (one-half of the Holmes & Yang label, the other half obviously being Mrs. Tom Cruise), and the ubiquitous Rachel Zoe, retailers Rose Apodaca (of Venice and Silver Lake boutique A+R) and Cameron Silver (of Decades and Decades Two), "Mad Men" costume designer Janie Bryant, friend and fashion maven (and burlesque attire expert) Liz Goldwyn, and New York Times Magazine stylist Elizabeth Stewart (who was on-hand, even more gorgeous than her portrait suggests, and very complimentary of the lords' pyjamas).

Janie Bryant

Rose Apodaca

Thus the Duchess observes, and recommends:

Kimberly Brooks, The Stylist Project
now through April 3
Taylor de Cordoba
2660 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90034

Park at your own risk.

26 February, 2010

The Duchess Observes . . .

The Whitney Biennial

The Duchess's speedy departure from New York coincided with one very important event -- this year's Whitney Biennial, which opened on Thursday, February 25. This year's Biennial is the first in its history to represent artists, over half of whom are women. But the Biennial has no apparent socio-political agenda, and neither do its artists (those who happen to be women, that is, as opposed to the "women artists"). Their works are not dominated by a feminist or feminine message, and to the Duchess's eyes, one is not even intimated. Unlike the sexualized works of Marilyn Minter (whom the Duchess adores) that fetishize objects of female desire (such as jewelry) or hyperbolize the feminine ideal without fantasy or sentimentality (her photos of Pamela Anderson, unlike the popular portraits by John Currin), this year's Whitney works play less with interpretations of gendered identity and more with interpretations of the human experience writ large.

Aurel Schmidt, The Fall, 2010

Take, for example, art world hot shot Aurel Schmidt. She's everywhere these days, making the rounds of the downtown party circuit as well as the Madison Avenue art museum circuit. The British Columbian even made PAPERMAG's 2009 list of "Beautiful People." No doubt this year's Biennial inclusion will enhance her growing profile even further, and besides, her art is even good.

Maureen Gallace, Cape Cod, 2008

Maureen Gallace is New York-based but had a solo exhibition last year at the Michael Kohn Gallery on Beverly Boulevard (at Crescent Heights), by whom she is represented; it preceded the blockbuster exhibition of photographs by none other than -- David Lynch (did the Duchess see you there, readers?).

Pae White, Smoke Knows, 2009

Pae White is Pasadena-born and Los Angeles-based; she is steeped in Southern California, and it shows in her work. "Smoke Knows" is a tapestry, cotton and polyester, made by (apparently) superimposing a photographic image of smoke plumes onto the textile. Ms. White also exhibited at the Biennale (Venice) in 2009.

Lesley Vance, Untitled (12), 2009

Huge representation in the Biennial this year by artists living/working in Los Angeles, such as Lesley Vance. More than one of them have MFAs from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, a program discussed at length in "Seven Days in the Art World," that pre-recession chronicle of the excesses and glamour of the modern art world.

Kelly Nipper, Weather Center, 2009

Kelly Nipper is a Los Angeles multimedia artist, and her work included in the Biennial is video footage of a self-choreographed, self-performed dance.

Hannah Greely, Dual, 2005-2009

Love this piece by Los Angeles-based artist Hannah Greely. For the Duchess, it is evocative of refuse, memory and loss; its object base is completely quotidian but there is nothing ordinary about the work. Would love to see this en personne.

25 February, 2010

The Duchess Retreats . . .

Gramercy Park Hotel

The Lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel

A work marathon kept the Duchess in New York a bit longer than expected, so at the last minute (having checked out of her midtown crash pad The London) she took a room at the Gramercy Park Hotel. As soon as the taxi rounded the corner from 22nd Street onto Lexington Avenue (the GpH is located at 2 Lexington Avenue, right next to the private Gramercy Park), the Duchess whiffed the scent of romantic, opulent bohemia.

The Jade Bar, Gramercy Park Hotel

The former (permanent or temporary) home of Humphrey Bogart, Mary McCarthy, and Bob Dylan, to name a very few, the GpH was purchased in 2003 after the death of its long-time owner by Ian Schrager. Designed in collaboration with Julian Schnabel (the dream-like but primal vibes of his aesthetic haunt the halls), the GpH features a dizzying array of Twombly, Basquiat, Hirst, Schnabel and Warhol.

Guest Room, Gramercy Park Hotel

The rooms are intimate and well-appointed, with an appropriate dose of velvet and a nicely stocked minibar (although the Duchess couldn't find the soy crisps promised on the menu). What a far cry from the disappearing act her entire minibar made recently at a regrettably shabby midtown hovel that shall remain nameless (Waldorf Astoria, you know who you are!).

Rooftop Bar and Club, Gramercy Park Hotel

The Duchess scrambled to grab a quick breakfast on the roof before heading out for the airport. Panicked by the impending "Stormageddon" about to drop one foot or more of snow on New York this very day, she indelicately wolfed down some blueberries with yogurt and coffee (admittedly she also nibbled on the choicer bits of a pain au chocolat). Open at 6:30 am on the spot, the staff were pleasantly groggy and coddling. The retractable glass roof whistled with the sound of steady raindrops, and then the raindrops turned to snow . . . .

Maialino by Danny Meyer, Gramercy Park Hotel

So the Duchess is back where she belongs (hello, American Airlines, goodbye, GpH), but the next time she is in town she refuses to miss a meal at Maialino, the Meyer-driven powerhouse/Roman trattoria that is garnering rave reviews from all corners. The Duchess and her dinner party were refused a table, a bar seat, or even standing room at the dinner hour sans reservations, so the Duchess had to satisfy her appetite with a late-night order of torta della nonna (though the Duchess would have preferred the olive oil cake; dear waitress, why did you talk her out of it?) and a super-yummy vin santo.

If you're in the neighborhood, and are also viciously refused by the maitre d' at Maialino (in fact he was actually quite kind and sympathetic (though obviously not enough!)), scoot around the corner of Lex and 22nd to Novita (22nd Street between Park and Lex). Also recently hit with a rave, Novita is the choice alternative table to Maialino for Italian, and for Gramercy Park.

The Duchess Retreats, and Recommends:

Gramercy Park Hotel
2 Lexington Avenue
New York, New York 10010

Oh, and bring your wallet -- or better yet, bring someone else's.

22 February, 2010

The Duchess Anticipates . . .

Only two more days!

The Duchess Dines . . .

The Breslin, Freemans

Day 7 in New York. After a leisurely weekend day spent, ahem, working, the Duchess finally did retire for the evening meal. First stop: The Breslin at the Ace Hotel, 16 West 29th Street (btw Fifth Ave. and Broadway).

The Breslin is a relatively new restaurant inside/adjacent to the Ace Hotel (formerly the Hotel Breslin). The Ace Hotel on 29th Street is the only East Coast outpost of the shabby (un?)chic West Coast hospitality chain, headquartered in Portland, Oregon (with follow-ons in Seattle and Palm Springs). It's painfully hip but welcoming; it has a trendy but nouveau down-home menu (pork scratchings, scotch egg (yummer), doughnuts); and is decorated in Echo Park thrift store/Seven Grand style. Very Chavez Ravine-denizen LA hangout-worthy. Our waitress Ellen was adorable (fortunately since she forgot our order a couple of times) in suspenders and a fall, and the food really hit the spot.

Most of the Breslin's many diners were crowded around the bar or into nooks and crannies in its street-level space; we sat high above the fray on the upstairs dining balcony. Don't worry, dear readers -- the upstairs has its own bar!

We attempted to save room for dessert so limited ourselves to the following: sea salt and pepper chips; spiced almonds; scotch egg (again, yummer); beef and stilton pie; caesar salad with anchovy croutons; braised cabbage and bacon; and roasted fennel. The neighboring trio ordered what appeared to be a delicious pork belly and the lamb burger also made the Duchess salivate.

To visit the WC one must walk through the Breslin dining space, through the Ace Hotel lobby, and downstairs into the Ace Hotel's gym and lounge area. The Ace Hotel lobby was absolutely packed with all manner of imitation Oliver Peoples-wearing college kids hammering out research papers on the life and death of Jean Genet, swathed in copious yards of Pendleton tartans and army-navy surplus gear.

A borderline inappropriately attentive waiter attempted to take our (second? third?) drink order as we snuggled into secondhand, oversized plaid wing chairs. In truth we were just listening to "Boys Don't Cry" before hitting the street. Walking out the door, before us appeared a bizarre apparition: could it be? An Ace Hotel-appended branch of Opening Ceremony? Clearly the gentrification of West 29th Street is well underway.

The Duchess tried on this Peter Pilotto dress at OC (coming in at a modest $2300); we all know it would have fit better before dinner.

Taxi took us down to the Lower East Side, to Freemans for a nightcap and dessert. Located at the end of Freemans Alley, it could have been difficult to find but for the long line of cabs parked at the alley entrance on Rivington Street.

Standing outside were a handful of boy/girls in hoodies, smoking cigarettes and speaking English with unrecognizable accents (hybrid of a Boer dialect and Cuban public school?). We squeezed our way through the velvet curtain and on up to the host, who audaciously informed the Duchess it would be 45 minutes for a table! Every bar stool was taken, every table packed -- tout le monde was there.

Except, of course, the one person we would really have been delighted to see . . .

Julia Restoin-Roitfeld at Freemans for a party thrown by magazine/apparent event planners Purple in her honor, 2007. (Photo courtesy of Fashionista.com)

21 February, 2010

The Duchess Recommends . . .

Stuart Davis

Yesterday the Duchess trudged over 20 freezing blocks up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She hadn't been in years! And she'd forgotten what a treasure trove it is. Much ground was covered, and many artists were well-known, but the Duchess came across the arresting work of American Stuart Davis . . . and loved it.

Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style (1940)

The Paris Bit (1959)

Mr. Davis (1892-1964) was an early American modernist painter whose most notable works were Jazz-influenced, proto pop art paintings of the 1940s and 1950s. His work -- bold, brash and colorful -- naturally resonated with the Duchess.

Study for Bass Rocks I (1939)

Visa (1951)

The lengthy walk up to the Met (and Guggenheim) -- and back -- worked up a sufficient appetite to warrant a splurge at Quality Meats with some old friends (the Duchess recommends -- steak frites, porterhouse for two, corn creme brulee, and green tea and coconut ice cream). This, followed by a rousing session of kara-oke at Japas 55, capped off a wonderful New York day.

View from our table at Quality Meats (58th and 6th Ave.)

20 February, 2010

The Duchess Lauds . . .

60 years ago today a legend was born. Without him, the Duchess's life would be much quieter, and much, much less fun. Happy Birthday, Walter Becker.

19 February, 2010

The Duchess Recommends . . .

"Poor Little Bitch Girl" by Jackie Collins

Deliciously guilty pleasure read. Don't miss.

The Duchess Dines . . .

Solo, Bemelman's Bar, La Grenouille

The end of a very long week is in sight. The Duchess can almost feel the down comforter pull over her head, itself sunken into pillows, bringing sleep over her as if a blanket. Of course peaceful slumber will be the Duchess's only after tonight's culinary indulgence at La Grenouille . . .

to which she is very much looking forward. La Grenouille, of course, serves classic French cuisine (quennelles of pike lyonnaise, anyone?) in the sumptuous, classic French style.

But La Grenouille is not your taste? As the saying says, de gustibus non disputandum. For example, Solo, last night's dinner spot, would not have been the Duchess's first choice. What is Solo, you ask? Solo is a glatt kosher, Mediterranean/Asian eatery located off the Sony arcade (55th and Madison Ave.). In a half-hearted attempt to combat a week of indulgence, the Duchess opted for a dinner on the lighter side -- tuna tartare and a delicate green salad. Her gentlemen companions all ordered the cowboy steak with polenta fries (potato fries on the side!). In truth the food was well-prepared (the Duchess sampled some lamb meatballs and sliders brought as appetizers and a trio of "ice cream" sandwiches for dessert), with bold flavors and a clean approach.

Duo, the Duchess headed uptown to Bemelman's for a nightcap. Very crowded! Still very divine.

18 February, 2010

17 February, 2010

The Duchess Desperately Needs . . .


After last weekend's follicle debacle, the Duchess still looks too much like this:

and not enough like this:

So she is paying a visit to the venerable Kenneth. She will probably come out looking like this:

But anything is an improvement.

The Duchess Dines . . .

Casa Lever

Day two in New York, and dinner was at Casa Lever (Empress and Earl in tow). Located in the Lever Building at Park and 53rd, the creatively renamed Casa Lever set up residence in the former Lever House space, a honeycomb designed by Marc Newson. Casa Lever serves up Italian cafe fare derived from the menus at the proprietors' other restaurant empire, runaway success Sant Ambroeus.

The Duchess had turbot, an entree favorite that hearkens to a memorable dinner at The Salt House in St. John's Wood with the King and Queen about a decade ago. Do you remember, darlings? The Duchess does! The poached egg and prosciutto frisee salad was serviceable, and given the Duchess's intent to avoid gaining a stone during her New York tenure, no dessert was taken.

The Lever Building is owned by real estate maestro Aby Rosen (husband of the elegant Samantha Boardman); a multi-wall-sized collection of his Warhols encases the dining room. The crowd was midtown-fashionable, to the extent that is possible, and although the waitstaff was attractive, they could have been more attentive. There is a gleaming, rosy marble bar that doubles as an espresso counter, and an open back room that sits above the fray and allows for the best people-watching.

Overall the meal at Casa Lever was reasonably satisfying, but perhaps not satisfying enough to merit a trip to the gym at Bliss Spa in lieu of digestivo.

Casa Lever (formerly Lever House)
390 Park Avenue
New York, New York 10022

P.S. Casa Lever's most intriguing feature was a blissful, magnetic cover of "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles playing on the WC muzak; can anyone help the Duchess out with the relevant artist?

16 February, 2010

The Duchess Dines . . .

Monkey Bar

Despite the urgings of the Marquess and Marchioness to indulge at a number of different dining spots downtown, the Duchess finds it hard to wander beyond midtown.

Day One in New York, and after a long day of work, the Duchess, the Empress and the Earl of Manhattan all trudged through the snow to have dinner at Monkey Bar. As many of you know Monkey Bar recently was reincarnated by Vanity Fair editor-in-chief and budding restauranteur Graydon Carter, and the Duchess found the meal quite satisfying. Very la cuisine de bonne mere.

The Duchess had a jacket potato with a sprinkling of caviar and creme fraiche; the Empress had the Monday special, a fried chicken dinner with brussels sprouts and greens. All of us shared one or two salads ordered by the Earl, and nibbled on the Eton Mess for dessert (a berry and meringue crumble). All lovely.

Monkey Bar (in the Hotel Elysee)
60 East 54th Street (between Madison and Park Avenues)
New York, New York

14 February, 2010

The Duchess Retreats . . .

Cassis, Provence

From this . . .

to not quite this . . .
in a single day.

The Duchess is still acclimating to her new fringe, and while she does so, is decamping for the chilly East Coast for a couple of weeks, just long enough to get fully Seberg blonde. It is certain to be dreadfully cold for la californienne. Fortunately there is plenty of downtime en route, especially since the Duchess's traveling partner mysteriously obtained an upgrade between check-in and boarding. So the Duchess will close her eyes and slip away to a warmer, sunnier clime where the lavender grows and the drivers are even more homicidal than they are in Los Angeles.

Wherever could this be, you wonder? Why, France, bien sur!

(Garden View from the Duchess's hotel, Les Roches Blanches)

In May the Duchess managed a little getaway to the remote, charming fishing village of Cassis in Provence to visit the King and Queen. A leisurely taxi ride (and a handful of kilometers) away from the Marseille airport (M Jacques will gladly meet you there) sits Cassis, wedged into cliffs (or "calanques") high above the Mediterranean.

(Pool View at Les Roches Blanches)

Precious Monsieur Jacques delivered the Duchess safely to her welcoming hotel, Les Roches Blanches ("The White Rocks"). Les Roches Blanches serves a delicious breakfast each morning on its terrace, replete with confused filles de dejeuner and bemused garcons, not to mention plenty of chocolate croissants (calorically counterbalanced by copious amounts of Gitanes). The hotel staff are lovely and very accommodating should one need a midnight snack of warm cheese with butter or in the event of an ant infestation (common problem in the countryside).

(Interior Bar at Les Roches Blanches -- a necessity!)

Cassis is home to its very own provincial wineries that turn out quite delectable blends. Although sometimes mistaken as the home of creme de cassis, white wines predominate as the local libation. Very nice with one's daily dose of le poisson.

(Dining Terrace at Les Roches Blanches)

Friends come to visit for afternoon coffee on the terrace. Surely you've been sunning all midi on the white rocks overlooking the water and could use some rehydration?

(Views from Breakfast at Les Roches Blanches)

There is much to do in bustling Cassis. One may take a boat ride from the harbor . . .

(Views from a boat in the harbor at Cassis)

through the calanques.

One may sunbathe.

For variety, one may take a longer boat ride from the harbor . . .

through the calanques.

Should the calanques grow boring, one may always nap, read the International Herald Tribune (sold at not one but two newsstands in town!), or visit the market for cherries.

Quite refreshing. If only the Duchess had more time to spend with the King and Queen! That would be a right royal (re)treat.


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