Shocker! Is it just me or am I the last to know that the Ralph Lauren flagship store on 9th Street is closing in May? That’s what my spies tell me.
I am officially back on the ledge. Yes, I know that they would do about five times the biz out in Ridgedale or the Galleria, and no one drives downtown from Wayzata to shop on weekends. Saks and Nieman Marcus will probably go next . . . those stores are ghost towns on the weekends. And like the fine-dining restaurant closings of late, this tale reinforces the argument that we lack the ability to sustain so many stores like these (or a certain threshold number of food-forward eateries) in our town. I would like to think this one is all about location—you have to be where your customers are, period. This one, no matter which side of the argument you are on, is very sad. Our downtowns are in desperate need of becoming more vibrant for shopping, strolling, dining, and viewing the burgeoning arts scene(s). If it's true, Ralph’s exit will be a sad commentary on the state of our city. Fashion-forward or food-forward, no matter—why can’t we be moving forward?
This last week has been kind of crazy around the office, and I thought, rather than bore you to death with the minutiae of my last meal at Culver's, I would share a small bit of what I have been living through over the last week. With some native flava’ thrown in.
I had to take off a day earlier than anticipated and head down to Dallas for the Discovery Network's upfront presentations last week. I caught previews of most of my fave DCI shows from Man vs. Wild to Planet Earth, from No Reservations to a sneak peek at the new network DCI plans to unveil in 2008, Planet Green. These guys are amazing. If you are not watching a lot of Discovery Channel, BBC America, Travel Channel, and TLC—to name few of the channels—you are missing out, truly. That being said, I had a hard time Sunday with the Food Network Awards, Sopranos, Entourage, Planet Earth, and Sunday night baseball all on at once.
The FNAs are such a good idea, and yet the categories were shockingly weak (Best Food Combo?), and most of them sounded like one of those multiple choice questions you see in the back of Reader’s Digest. The FN on-air talent all seemed tired (Alton Brown seemed downright bored) and anxious to be somewhere else. And loathe as I am to admit it, the only guy who seemed to resonate any charisma was Bobby Flay. Let me say unequivocally, since I have tasted them both, that MooBella (Icy Innovations winner) can’t carry Izzy’s cone wrapper in terms of quality of product, and I am not just saying that because Izzy’s is my local fave either. The FNAs are a great idea, but last night’s version (recorded two months ago) was a huge, underwhelming dud . . . although I liked Mayor Rybak's and Lenny Russo’s star turns in the nomination video for the Most Delicious Destination category. We lost to Portland, Oregon, which is a shame, but the bigger crime was that Portland, Maine, the city that should have won the category, also lost. The food is better in P-Maine, and the sights, sounds, smells, and vacation-land atmosphere is way better than P-Oregon’s. In case you didn’t see the awards, you missed nothing, and if you don’t believe me, think of this factoid: The show was shot in South Beach in mid-February in front of a live audience of 900 people during the South Beach Food Fest, and NO ONE LEAKED ANYTHING in two months. Why? ‘Cuz nothing was worth talking about. In fairness, the show hit some high notes when SOS’s Bill Shore saluted Floyd Cardoz for his charitable work, and when they gave the tech award to the freezer plate people (can you tell I am tired right now?). But let’s state the obvious, it was a self-promotional, self-created award show, featuring all FN talent. Why not rope-in some non-FN talent to this show? Furthermore, an internal panel led by Food Network Kitchens selected the nominees for the awards. And the same panel, representing all departments at the network, chose the winners. There were five viewers' choice categories that were determined by votes on their website.
On a more positive note, Alton Brown won a Peabody Award for excellence in journalism last week for his show, Good Eats. Well-deserved. And a much better time was had by all at the Junior Gourmet Club at La Belle Vie last night. Look for more kid-focused events on the LBV website coming soon. We loved it. Great job, LBV.
But anyway, I digress. At the upfronts I met Animal Planet’s Philippe Cousteau (legendary uber-grandchild environmentalist terrible) and TLC’s Kirsten Kemp (bodacious super-fox house flipper). Philippe in real life is a wild man, a bon vivant of the highest order. On air, he maintains all the gravitas of his family's mission to help us understand our oceans and planet in the hopes that we don’t kill it first. Off-camera, he looks and acts like the guy at school you wanted to be best pals with but always kept an eye on because he would sleep with your girlfriend. Kemp comes off as the next major cable Oprah in training—part lifestyle guru, part spiritual guide, part personal finance shaman, but with the body of Raquel Welch. You heard it here first, this woman is going to be the NEXT BIG THING.
I stayed at the Crescent Court, a hotel I could live in full-time—it’s that good. I had another meal at Nobu—conveniently located right in the lobby—that was flawless. The uni shooter, the trio of tartars with caviar, the kushiyaki of washyu steak (they use number nine beef on the Japanese grading scale), the lobster salad, the botan ebi sashimi, the miso-glazed black cod, the mushroom soup with about $300 worth of Japeanse exotic mushrooms floating in the perfect dashi essence . . . amazing. Here’s the thing: There are about 200 items on the menu, and many of them are comprised of so many disparate elements that, despite brazen simplicity, it is mind-numbing to think about how hard this act is to pull off night after night. The cod alone is marinated for two days, then broiled; the ginger flower is pickled; the miso sauce is made; and the mountain peaches are pickled—four elements that take days to make. And in twenty different locations around the world, no less. I have eaten in many of those restaurants over the last few years, and each is as good as the other. The management team at the corporate level has achieved amazing things. And with such a big menu, you invariably want to come back for because every time you leave, you spot things walking out that you didn’t order, and each is more appealing than the last. I really think that a Nobu here could work. In the right spot, it could kill, simply for the fact that the food is sooooooooo engaging.
I spent a day shooting some promotional goodies for both TV and online for Bizarre Foods. We shot the stuff in the old stockyards neighborhood of Fort Worth with Tim Love, a great guy and one savvy cowboy. Besides being an accomplished culinarian (the food at Lonesome Dove was great), Tim sells product on HSN (four million dollars last year!), has a real estate holding company, does TV, has several restaurants, runs a catering company, owns a ranch . . . the whole shebang. He also has a wicked-cool grill pit outside his restaurant with plenty of hooks for hanging meat (a barbecue-pit ring needs plenty of space to hang meats to slow cook and smoke) and a slick Russell pocket chef’s knife (gotta get me one!), but mostly I wanted to see how he liked his caja china that I saw in his shed. He told me he loves it. Chefs all over the world use them, and I am shocked that more home cooks don’t have them. It uses very little fuel and is the legendary Chinese BBQ that American chefs have fallen in love with.
After thirty-six hours of nonstop work, Rishia and I flew to NYC for a night to celebrate my buddy Pete’s B-day and surprise everyone at the dinner party his wife Flavia threw him by showing up. The next morning I had to do Live! With Regis and Kelly. We left Dallas on a 3:45 p.m. flight on American, didn’t pull from the gate for an hour, sat on the runway for three hours waiting to get clearance to take off for La Guardia, landed, sat on the ground for an hour waiting for a gate, and then waited ninety minutes for our luggage, arriving at the Ritz Carlton at 1:30 am. But here’s the outrage: The 4:30 p.m. American flight out of Dallas for La Guardia actually arrived before us. How is this possible??? Our whole traveling world has gone to hell in a hand basket.
Anyway, after a short nap, we got up and met Marjorie (my Travel Channel PR goddess) and took off for the studio. Kevin Spacey, the other guest, is a muttering and oddly swaggering misanthrope, one of the great actors of his generation, but quite off-putting in real life. Pat Sajak, sitting in for the bionic and healing Regis, uses more makeup than I have ever seen on a human being, but was hysterically funny. Kelly Ripa is simply the greatest. This woman was kind, engaging, funny, smart, very real, had a kid or two in tow, is about five feet tall, and weighs as much as my arm. But I now get why she is so popular. She is a powerhouse. And a huge fan of Bizarre Foods, her whole family watches it on Mondays. Cool.
We left, headed back to the Ritz, which was under a security code-red because the Governator was in from California for the day, so we packed and piled back in the car, then shopped at FAO Schwartz (fun!) for Noah and at Cartier (expensive!) for Rishia. Noah is the recipient of some great intentions on our part at FAO, but my wife got a L-O-V-E bauble to match the one I wear. She gave it to me last February. I love it. We strolled Madison Avenue, window-shopped, met the driver at Eli Zabar’s E.A.T., and grabbed a chopped liver sandwich, some panzanella, a butterscotch pudding, and some endive-avocado salad. A great lunch in the car, out to the airport, and home. Gratefully home.