BlackBook Exclusive: Ethereal Songstress Linying’s Fave Spots in Singapore

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When one thinks of the so many reasons to love Singapore, pop music probably doesn’t come first to mind – especially as compared to, say, the scenes in Seoul or Tokyo.

But everything about artful songstress Linying seems to suggest she’s poised to even capture imaginations out here in the West – having already won praise from the likes of Billboard and NPR. She first caught attention as a featured vocalist on dance tracks by KRONO and Felix Jaehn; but now signed to Nettwerk, she has delivered a wistful but sultry new single, “Tall Order,” that we hope is a harbinger of more to come.

Indeed, with its gorgeously lush sonics, melancholy mood and Linying’s soulful, longing vocals, it distinctly recalls the likes of Pet Shop Boys and The Blue Nile. Lyrically, it’s a poignant meditation on self-doubt and motivation.

 

 

“‘Tall Order’ was me realizing that about myself,” she explains. “I wondered if I was struggling with the menial things, because it was all I’d been tasked with; that maybe if I was given a higher purpose, taller of an order, I’d be able to prove myself better. But of course, that’s just an excuse – I’m just throwing a tantrum.”

The accompanying video, which she co-directed with Tan Yan Long, was filmed at Singapore’s sexy Hotel Vagabond – and is shot full of poignant metaphor.

“With this video,” Linying says, “I tried to put into a visual language what it feels like to be deeply dissatisfied with yourself. All the nights out spent avoiding addressing the issue, obsessing over the plates at a party and throwing a fit just because one thing doesn’t go your way. At some point you just start seeing yourself acting like a child.”

As BlackBook is wont to do, we also asked her to take us around to her favorite spots in Singapore.

 

Linying’s Singapore Faves

 

The Projector

The Projector only started becoming a part of my life four years ago, but it’s already my favorite place to catch arthouse films that the big distributors don’t screen. It’s also been around since my parents’ time in the 70s, when it was called the Golden Theatre, and it was where they used to go on movie dates. They’ve obviously since renamed it and retained most of the interiors to exploit its rustic, hipster appeal, that goes hand-in-hand with its Instagram potential – but I’m a sucker for it, I think it’s cute. Plus they have a great selection of movies and pretty badass salted-egg fries.

 

 

Golden Mile Complex

Right next to The Projector is a building called Golden Mile Complex, which is also known as a sort of Thai enclave. I find it such an interesting spot because it’s an old mall that seems to have somehow escaped the wave of modernization that has hit everywhere outside of it. It’s a strange mix of Thai eateries, shops selling knick-knacks, and sleazy karaoke bars – where hostesses in fluffy occasion dresses hold their skirts up and stride down in monster heels, chatting wryly in a language I don’t understand, probably laughing at a desperate male clientele. It’s also where the best mookata (i.e. Thai barbecue) in the country can be found. No question.

 

 

Serangoon Gardens

I pretty much grew up in Serangoon Gardens. It’s largely residential and void of tall buildings, which is a rare sight in Singapore; and it’s full of little shops, ice cream parlors, and some of the best supper spots. RK Eating House is a popular, no-frills, 24-hour mamak – the term for an Indian Muslim eatery – and has some really great fried chicken and prata (kind of a savoury, doughy, crispy pancake eaten with curry. I don’t know how to explain it, just try it). Another place I love is La Petite Boutique, which is a French-owned charcuterie, boulangerie and fromagerie all in one. Every time I feel like I need a treat, I pop over and buy myself an indulgent wedge of truffle brie and some rosé. Also notable is Oblong ice cream.

 

 

City Music @ the Peace Centre

I know this is sounding a bit too much like a food guide, so I’m including Peace Centre as one of my favorite spots, because it’s where I bought my first midi keyboard and condenser mic – it’s got a special place in my heart. There’s a bunch of music gear and guitar shops scattered all over the first two floors, City Music is one of the best. There’s also a great Escape Room randomly situated in a corner.

 

 

Mustafa

There’s nowhere like Mustafa…ask any Singaporean. I don’t even really know how to begin to explain it, because it’s sort of a department store, but the departments tend to be rather fluid, to say the least; think, footwear section with shoes stuffed to the brim in shelves next to the toothpaste section, and counterfeit perfumes near electronics. Toys, jewelry, kitchen appliances, gardening tools can all be found here – Mustafa has everything.

 

 

Ann Siang Hill

The Ann Siang Hill area is a scenic shophouse stretch built around sloping, winding roads and is the best place to explore Singapore in a day. Great eateries: The Coconut Club for delicious nasi lemak, The Apiary for freshly-made artisanal ice cream in local, seasonal flavors, Tong Heng for the best egg tarts in town. Also fun bars:  Spiffy Dapper, my favorite rustic ‘20s-vibe cocktail bar, Parelum Wine Bistro, a cozy bar with a vending machine dispensing wine! And even great bookstores, like Littered with Books and Woods in the Books. I prefer being there at night to avoid the scorching sun (no air-conditioning).

 

 

The Esplanade

The Esplanade will always be a special place to me, because it’s where I did my very first gigs starting out. It’s one of Singapore’s biggest arts venues and has played an essential role in the careers of many Singaporean musicians who, before then, didn’t have many other places to play that had high quality light and sound systems. The stages are also of an international standard. They bring in a big variety of artists – everything from opera to shoegaze to Mongolian throat-singing. You name it.

 

 

 

Brooklyn’s DUMBO is Becoming a Destination Unto Itself

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DUMBO is at last becoming a thing.

Emerging as a new Brooklyn “it” neighborhood in the post-Millennium, it somehow managed to avoid the out-of-control development of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. But now no longer just a sleepy, formerly-industrial swath of land sitting under the Manhattan Bridge, DUMBO’s burgeoning dining, shopping and cultural scene has made it a destination unto itself. Much can be attributed to David and Jed Walentas’ Two Trees, which has seen to the slow and careful growth of the area – while also supporting the local creative communities.

Notably, those same creatives will surely be congregating at the newest outpost of Soho House, fittingly named DUMBO House, which will be opening thus summer. Expect a lot of hobnobbing around the rooftop pool.

 

Cecconi’s 

 

On the walkway along the East River between the Manhattan Bridge to the north, and the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to the south, is the Empire Stores – a beautifully restored brick warehouse and garden. The open air complex is home to West Elm, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and Cecconi’s, a fashionable Italian eatery imported from LA – with outdoor dining, spectacular views of Manhattan, and a creative selection of cicchetti, gourmet pizzas and pastas like agnolotti del plin with black truffle.

It’s also home to Lauren Bush’s FEED. Founded to provide sustainable livelihoods to underserved populations, each sale of the artisan-made totes, bags and accessories provide meals to the community. We love the Go-to Canvas bag and the burlap Beaded Kenya Bag – hand beaded and sewn by locals in Kenya.

For an exquisite collection of furnishings art and decor, including their own namesake line, Mark and Kristen Zeff’s 3000 square foot BLACKBARN (at 20 John Street) is a must stop. The candles and wicker baskets are particular faves.

 

BLACKBARN

 

Running parallel to the park is the quaint, cobblestoned Water Street. Pop into The Modern Chemist, a neighborhood pharmacy, for a selection of hard to find personal care and beauty products, or chat with one of their in-store wellness experts. We can’t resist a stop at the beloved Seamore’s, where you’ll instantly be transported to the beach. Replenish with a Hook, Line + Sinker cocktail, w/ Hendrick’s gin, strawberry, fresh lemon, mint and peach bitters, paired with an order of blackened shrimp Big Fish Tacos. Before heading off to gallery hopping, pick up a decadent handmade truffle or ice cream sandwich at Jacques Torres.

Round out your day at 16 Main Street, a former horse stable that is now home to DUMBO’s gallery scene. From the abstract works at Minus Space to contemporary fine art photography at Klompching Gallery and United Photo Industries, you’ll see thought-provoking works from emerging and mid-career artists.

For post-gallery-hopping happy hour, head back to Empire Stores and the Sugarcane raw bar grill – for oysters, sushi rolls and $7 mojitos and caipirinhas.

 

Minus Space 

 

 

Maastricht FASHIONCLASH 2018 Celebrates the Bleeding Edge of Avant Garde Style

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Positioned at the crossroads of The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, the surreptitiously sophisticated Dutch city of Maastricht obviously goes about its business without the corresponding fanfare of London or New York. But beyond hosting the world’s biggest art fair (TEFAF) each March, and perpetually acting as an incubator for contemporary culinary experimentation (check out all those Michelin stars), it also notably moves the avant-garde needle by producing the absolutely perception-altering annual FASHIONCLASH Festival.

Debuting in 2009, its mission was to present young designers to an international audience, including press and industry – which makes perfect sense, considering the talent regularly turned out by its prestigious Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts & Design (MAFAD).

 

 

But it has since become something of a marker for the bleeding-edge of fashion design, letting participants imaginations’ run wild – and then presenting it all in a fearlessly theatrical, thought-provoking manner. It now includes crossover collaborations with performance art, theatre, dance…all meant to forge a new cultural context and challenge the boundaries of our visual language.

With FASHIONCLASH 2018 just a month away (June 15-17), we caught up with Branko Popovic, co-founder and co-director (together with Nawie Kuiper and Laurens Hamacher), to discuss its ongoing mission. 

 

What would you say is the overall mission of FASHIONCLASH?

Overall, the mission is to contribute to a better world, firstly by providing a stage to a new generation of designers/artists and their new visions. Secondly, by placing fashion in the context of society; we strongly believe that the art of fashion can stimulate critical debate about controversial issues in our society. By researching and questioning “fashion,” we learn to understand the psychology of human behavior and its role in undermining stereotypes. The central question being asked, “How can we develop the fashion industry to improve well-being and equality?”

How has the festival evolved in the nine years since it launched?

It has evolved in many ways, not in scale, but in quality. First of all, we started in a small town in the south of the Netherlands, far away from opportunities for young designers. We started FASHIONCLASH to create a stage for experiment and to also show our own work. In the first editions we were building up a network and a format; later we started engaging with other disciplines such as theatre and dance. Since 2013 we started working with themes, and since 2016, we have a Forza Fashion House Project, a talent incubator to support designers’ entrepreneurship.

It is now international?

Over the years FC has grown from a single catwalk show into a renowned, full-service fashion showcase. We have developed and organized more than 200 projects in The Netherlands, and abroad in countries like China, Brazil, South Africa, Serbia, Portugal, etc. We are still a small team, working with low-budgets, but still just as passionate.

What can we expect that will be highlights of the 2018 festival?

We of course see all our participants as a highlight; it’s so amazing to welcome designers from all over the world. The 2018 edition format is quite a challenge, we have a program at 26 locations in Maastricht – we have named this ‘The Route’. This whole idea is a highlight and hopefully an inspiring experience for the visitors. Looking into detail, we have several projects we are proud of, such as “God is A Woman!?,” the Koorkappen – choir capes – project and the 10th edition of the CLASH Project that we have done since the beginning. This year we will have 15 performances, crossovers with theatre and dance. We are very excited about this.

 

(A sample of this year’s featured designers)

 

  • Maarten van Mulken
  • Dominika Kozáková
  • Filipe Augusto (photo by Ugo Camera)
  • SorteMaria
  • God is a Woman (photo by Fayle & Shayne)
  • Michaela Čapková
  • Mukashi Mukashi (photo by Fredrik Altinell)
  • Dana Jasinkevica
  • Amy Ollett (photo by Kenneth Lam)

Thought-Provoking New Photo Exhibition ‘A Shade of Pale’ Opens at London’s 180 Strand

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The music of Procol Harum set the stage for the extraordinary new photo exhibition at London’s 180 Strand, taking its paraphrased title – A Shade of Pale – from the name of their most iconic track. It’s curated by Carrie Scott, well recognized for her collaborations with Nick Knight at the SHOWstudio Shop, as well as her work developing collections of modern and contemporary art for notably high-profile clients.
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Presented by the store x and spanning two floors, with ten artists (Lorena Lohr, Tom Munro, John Pawson, Federico Pestilli, Marina Shacola, Ellie Tsatsou, Bindi Vora, Marco Walker and Walter & Zoniel) exhibiting over 470 photographs, Scott purposefully joined together those whose works have no specific relation to one another, inviting visitors to experience a new sort of journey – focusing on the broad collection of a photographer rather than an isolated image. It’s a show of individuals, individual pieces of work, and in effect, visitors are encouraged to build their own visual narrative.
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Best said by Scott herself, it’s “a grouping of groups, a gathering of creative visions, an assemblage of aesthetics.”
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the store x presents A Shade of Pale will run from May 16th – June 2nd at 180 Strand, London.

 

Post-Hurricane-Irma: Exclusive Tiki Bar Cocktail Recipes From the Newly Reopened Cheeca Lodge & Spa

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Last summer’s devastating Hurricane Irma did nearly $65 billion in damage – and was considered amongst the worst storms in American history.

Sadly, many are still picking up the pieces. But the plucky Cheeca Lodge & Spa in the Florida Keys has cleared away the destruction and at last reopened its doors to guests. The stylish Islamorada village getaway (just 90 minutes from Miami International Airport), with its chic, West Indies decor, lavish gardens and gorgeous vistas, is welcoming wellness aficionados with its luxurious spa, adults-only lap pool, oceanside massages and poolside cabanas. But we’re all about the on-site Tiki Bar, for its lush, tropical decor and handcrafted sips.

So to fete Cheeca’s rebirth, they’ve given BlackBook these exclusive Tiki cocktail recipes…perfect for cool, pre-summer sipping. Raise a glass to their determination.

 

 

Blackberry Margarita (pictured top)

INGREDIENTS:
Tequila Herradura Reposado: 1.5 oz
Agave Nectar: 1.0 oz
Lime: 1.0 oz
Triple Sec: 1.0 oz
Blackberries: 4 each
GARNISH:
Blackberry & Mint Leaf
TO MAKE:
1. In a pint glass
2. Add blackberries, muddle
3. Add ingredients, add ice
4. shake for 10 sec double strain
5. pour into martini glass
SERVICE: MARTINI GLASS

Ten Thyme Smash

INGREDIENTS:
Cucumber: 2 thin slices
whole thyme: 3 springs
tanquery te:n 1.5 oz
lime: 0.75 oz
simple syrup: 0.5 oz
white cranberry juice: 1 oz
GARNISH:
Thyme sprig
TO MAKE:
1. In a pint glass
2. Muddle cucumber and thyme
3. Add all ingredients
4. Add ice, shake
5. strain into martini glass
SERVICE: martini glass

 

 

Island Old Fashioned

INGREDIENTS:
Zaya 12 yr Rum: 2.0 oz
Turbinado Syrup: 0.5 oz
Club Soda: 1.5 oz
Orange: 1/8 (cut into a wedge)
GARNISH:
Luxardo Marachino Cherries 2 each
TO MAKE:
1. In a rocks glass add orange, sugar and bitters
2. Muddle
3. Add ice
4. Add rum and top with club soda
5. Garnish with Marachino Cherries
SERVICE: ROCKS GLASS

 

España in Springtime: Indulging the Art, Food + Flamenco of Madrid

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A massive sign high up on Madrid’s City Hall read “Refugees Welcome.” A cynic could take it as being a bit glib; but in truth, the statement was genuinely characteristic of Spain, whose citizens have actually held protests urging the government to accept even more immigrants. It was particularly poignant, as our time there coincided with the re-escalation back home of Donald Trump’s spiteful (nay, ridiculous) plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

All socio-political machinations aside, we were actually in the Spanish capital to check out the exceedingly cool new Only You Atocha hotel. The brand itself had launched in 2013 with a very different sort of property: the Only You Boutique hotel, in the trendy Chueca district, an aristocratic 19th mansion converted by star designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán into a surreal but drop-dead stunning maze of differently themed public areas and plush guest rooms. He was enlisted again for the Atocha, this time giving a distinctly Spanish context to the lobby-as-hip-playground concept familiar to denizens of hotels like The Ace.

And indeed, everywhere you might turn, there was something to grab your attention. To the right of the entrance, The Bakery by Mama Framboise, which serves decadent Tartaletas MF, a dozen flavors of macarons (goat-cheese-figs-pralines!), and Iberian ham toast all day. To the left was the Latin-Asian Trotamundos restaurant, with its buzzy corner cocktail bar. And just beyond, a dizzyingly dramatic atrium, where nouveau jazz happenings regularly bring in the city’s modern day hepcats.

 

 

But probably our favorite part of every day was shuffling off the hangovers while lingering over a lazy breakfast against spectacular views at the 7th floor Séptima – where in the evenings DJs soundtrack the Panoramic Drinks Sessions…thus perpetuating the hangover cycle.

Upstairs the rooms were a great deal more plush and stylish than those in typical hipsterrific hotels, with smartly patterned bedspreads, exposed brick walls and white tiled bathrooms. For a particular splurge, we can’t stress enough the fantabulousness of the sprawling Terrace Suite – whose outdoor space could easily accommodate 10-12 enthusiastically gyrating party people.

Madrid itself – sometimes mistakenly passed over for the more archly hip Barcelona – comes especially to life as winter passes into spring, with its scores of pavement cafes, its teeming plazas for sexy-people watching and its streets that buzz late into the night (really, more like 6am). The food is transcendent, the nightlife is some of the best on the Continent, and its grand boulevards / grandiloquent baroque architectural icons make it a city that gleams in the April-May sunshine.

Here’s what we did.

 

The PradoThe Reina Sofia

The thing about classical art in Spain…it’s just different. It’s a country that still has a king, after all. And so a great deal of la historia de España is still told in a place like The Prado. It’s indeed a very Spanish museum, and even if you’re a contemporary art geek, you’ll find yourself drawn in to the narrative as told through the dramatic works of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. The jaw-dropping collection also boasts Rubens, Titian and Hieronymous Bosch’s proto-surrealist masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights. Don’t kill too much time on the stiff royal portraits.
The Reina Sofia, just a short stroll from the hotel, is Spain’s most important museum of 20th Century art, with treasures by Miró, Juan Gris, Pablo Serrano, and, of course, Picasso – whose influence can be appreciated in the current exhibition Telefónica Collection: Cubism(s) and Experiences of Modernity. The museum also holds more contemporary works by the likes of Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Man Ray, Julian Schnabel and Richard Serra.

 

Prado Museum 2017

El Prado

 

Art Gallery Tour

It’s not Berlin, surely – but Madrid’s contemporary art scene has genuinely started to garner international attention, with its annual ARCO fair having become one of Europe’s most important. The Art Gallery Tour people are your best bet for getting an insider’s view, with tours of specific districts like the hip Letras and posh Salamanca. They will also curate private tours to suit your taste. You can add a wine drinking element, should you wish to pontificate on what you’ve seen over a glass or two of Ribera Del Duero.

Barrio de Las Letras

Also a short stroll from the hotel, Las Letras is just that sort of neighborhood that defines Madrid, with atmospheric streets where charming little bars and cool indie boutiques reign – and there’s not a chain outlet in sight. The outdoor cafes on Plaza de Santa Ana and the narrow streets around it are great for lingering and people watching.

 

calle-huertas-barrio-de-las-letras

 

Palacio de Cibeles Restaurant Terrace

Atop the spectacular municipal building on the Plaza de Cibeles is a hidden away 6th floor restaurant and terrace. There’s a full gourmand’s menu – but come for cocktails, views and to soak up the vivid afternoon Madrid sunshine.

YOUnique Restaurant at Only You Boutique Hotel

Just being in this gorgeous hotel is an indescribable aesthetic pleasure. Its signature restaurant is a particular delight for a long, lazy lunch (okay, there’s really no other kind in Madrid), with Valencian paella, oxtail cannelloni, and skipjack carpaccio all beautifully presented. Ask for a table in the verdant, art-adorned garden. Come back in the evening, as the YOUnique Lounge is a stunningly designed setting for fancy cocktails – and the surrounding neighborhood jumps at night.

 

02-younique-restaurante191

 

1862 Dry Bar

Spain’s is a wine-beer-sherry drinking culture. The cocktail thing, mercifully, did not sweep into its major cities and strap all of its bartenders into old-timey suspenders. 1862, for instance, is distinctly Spanish bar, not some awful Brooklyn imitation. A crowd of urbane Madrilenos come to sip updated takes on the classics (Gimlet, Sazerac, Manhattan) by drinks wizard Alberto Martinez. Spread over two floors, it’s one of the city’s buzziest scenes.

Corral de la Morería

Flamenco is way hotter than you might actually think – and five decades after opening, Corral de la Moreria is still one of the hottest tickets in Madrid. In a classical but sensual setting, with Arabic touches, watch some of Spain’s top names in the genre heat up the stage (and the audience) with their visceral, passionate performances. It’s actually quite an intense, even somewhat aphrodisiac experience.

 

Flamenco Madrid

Four Days, One Deadly Sin: Eight Gloriously Indulgent Moments From ‘Vegas Uncork’d’

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It’s true. In Vegas, there really is no such thing as too much or too many. Tourists, drinks, casinos, pools – the bigger, the biggerer.

In the last decade and a half, this philosophy has taken over the restaurant scene as well, and the concentration of celebrity chefs is borderline intoxicating: Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse, Wolfgang Puck, David Chang, Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, and pretty much everyone else you’ve ever heard of is setting tables on The Strip. And every year, Bon Appétit throws a really big party with them.

Indeed, this past weekend, Condé Nast’s epicurean bible hosted its 12th annual Vegas Uncork’d, a four-day festival that includes a plethora of food and wine events scattered over several of the higher-end resorts. Thousands came just for the occasion, including us, and left vowing not to eat again for at least a month.

But, of course, it was all an impossibly indulgent good time; and here are some of our favorite experiences, flavors, and run-ins from the big – no bigger – festival.

 

The Sheer Magnitude of Friday Night’s Grand Tasting Event

A massive gathering at a most appropriate venue, Caesar’s Garden of the Gods Oasis, 2,500 hungry fans assembled to worship at the altars of their favorite chefs. Marble statues gazed upon the palatial grounds as festival-goers elbowed their way to bite-sized tacos, meatballs, puff pastries, chicken lollipops, cheesecake, and so, so, so much more. Our favorites included Rao’s veal and pork meatballs, crispy crab tacos from Joe’s, and Beijing Noodle No. 9’s salt and pepper chicken. Over 50 top chefs participated, and over 100 wine and spirits were represented as well. Fit for an…emperor.

 

 

The American Wagyu Carpaccio from Gordon Ramsay Steak

Say what you will about the firm-but-fair star of Hell’s Kitchen. The fact that his team flawlessly executed hundreds – okay, thousands – of small plates of Wagyu beef carpaccio with deviled quail egg, aioli and peppery arugula speaks to his perfectionist, do-or-die attitude. Gordon Ramsay Steak is just one of six of his restaurants in Vegas. He also just opened Hell’s Kitchen at Caesar’s. $)(&$^)#^@!!!

Giada

She has a last name, but it’s totally unnecessary. Giada’s like the Cher of the culinary world, and notably just the third female chef to open a restaurant on The Strip, the eponymous Giada’s at the Commonwealth. Ceiling shattering aside, much like her celebrity chef brethren, she’s also quickly opened a second spot bearing her name this year, Pronto by Giada at Caesar’s. The former features the no-fail takes on Italian cuisine that made her cookbooks and TV show so ubiquitous…as well as those spectacular views of Bellagio’s fountains. The latter offers an impressive selection of Italian and Californian wines by the glass, bottle, and flight. We did all of it.

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

Chef Nobu made history in 2013 when he opened the first restaurant-turned-hotel located adjacent to Caesar’s Palace, aptly named Nobu Hotel. He now owns three eponymous restaurants in Vegas, one in Caesar’s, one at the Hard Rock, and a 12,775-square-footer at the Nobu Hotel. Naturally, his presence was everywhere this weekend. He even hosted a private dinner where he indulged guests in Nobu caviar, fresh-shucked oysters coupled with Dom Pérignon Champagne, and of course, a variety of sumptuous traditional sushi. Heaven.

 

 

The Midsummer Night’s Dream Vibes at Picnic at The Park

We followed the Grand Tasting with a flight of Italian wines at Pronto in Caesar’s, because when in an opulent, artificial replica of Rome…well, you know. So heading back into the festival decadence once more felt trying. That is until we arrived at MGM’s The Park (formerly the Monte Carlo). The sweaty tourists slapping the pavement in flip flops were but a distant memory as we were whisked into a neo-Elizabethan dream sequence. There were fresh florals, models in full body paint, and a dozen more small plates to sample. Chefs like Masaharu Morimoto, Shawn McClain, and Michael Mina, along with Ketel One, put together a beautiful lunch al fresco.

 

 

Meat, Meat, Meat

Picnic at The Park was a celebration for carnivores, undoubtedly. The wafting scents of short ribs, acorn-fed 100% Iberico de Bellota, lamb rib, octopus, prime rib, and smoked bone-in Wagyu brisket all being grilled, smoked, or cured on-premise made certain that Moby and Morrissey would be nowhere within ninety miles.

A Taste of New York at the Cosmopolitan

What’s great about staying at The Cosmopolitan, aside from their positively chic and fabulous rooms in the newly constructed Boulevard Tower, is that guests can get a taste of New York’s finest. From Blue Ribbon to Momofuku to STK to Beauty and Essex, outposts of some of NYC’s trendiest and tastiest can be found there. As we’re now based in LA, we eagerly indulged in some of our old Gotham faves, from the Blue Ribbon steak tartare, to David Chang’s pork belly buns and hamachi crudo.

 

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Phillip Park’s Wine Tasting

Phil Park ascended the chain at Caesar’s over the years, beginning as the head sommelier at Guy Savoy, and now holding court as the director of wine for all of the Palace. Bon Appétit’s wine editor Marissa Ross welcomed guests to the first-ever Sip of the Culinary Empire at Vista, and the two-hour tasting took guests on a drinking tour of Caesar’s famed restaurants. They started with glasses of Krug Grande Cuvée champagne, followed by Hokusetsu YK 35 sake out of cedar boxes (a la Nobu). But the absolute winner was a divine glass of 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus Vineyards in Napa – a wine that, much like the rest of this highly curated weekend, will make going back to Seamless and cheap reds feel like an absolute crime.

 

From Anchovies in Dubrovnik to Donuts in Zagreb: An Exquisite Culinary Whirl Through Croatia

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Panorama Restaurant & Bar, Dubrovnik

 

Carving out enchantment in Croatia isn’t difficult – but visits to this pearl of the Adriatic Sea should absolutely extend beyond the more obvious cities of Dubrovnik and Zagreb. Indeed, in this ethereal land known for its otherworldly sites – as vividly depicted in Game of Thrones – there’s so much more to see.

We took the Kompas Adriatic Cruise on M/S Stella Maris, the compact luxury ship that allows for unprecedented access to sights and delights of those lesser known gems. Beginning in Dubrovnik and sailing north towards its final port-of-call in Poreč, the ship’s gracious and knowledgeable staff complement unique personal touches like lively info sessions, surprise island detours, and Croatian language lessons.

 

M/S Stella Maris

 

We were admittedly on a gastronomic mission – and thankfully, there’s an ocean’s worth of culinary gems at every stop.

Croatian fare is something of a crossroads of diversity and regional specificity, perhaps most easily divided up by coastal and mainland/continental fare. The former utilizes a lot of fresh seafood (squid, shrimp, lobster, octopus) and plenty of their award-winning Croatian olive oil – which is enhanced by an ample dose of fresh herbs and spices (think oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, rosemary); you’ll also recognize quite a lot of Mediterranean influences and resemblances to Greek and Italian (Venetian) cuisines.

 

Hvar

 

The latter is heavily characterized by Slavic influences, as well as some Austrian, Hungarian, and Turkish (due to proximity and historical rule). You’ll see meat, fresh-water fish and vegetable dishes fortified by headier ingredients such as sweet paprika, roasted garlic and black pepper; and moreover, instead of olive oil, it’s sunflower oil and/or animal fats, such as pork lard for cooking and frying.

Highlights in the overall include cheese made from fresh sheep or goat’s milk from the Island of Pag, spicy sausages (kulen) from Slavonia, Dalmatian prosciutto, truffles from Istria…we could go on.

Here were some of the highlights.

 

Dubrovnik

Take the cable car up Srđ Hill and soak up sweeping panoramic views of the Old City of Dubrovnik, the island of Lokrum, the bay of Lapad, and the Elaphite Islands. Perched atop the hill is Panorama Restaurant and Bar; and considering your location along the Dalmatian coast – here, you must exercise your gustatory duty to eat freshly caught seafood. We recommend the Dalmatian Trilogy, a swimmingly delicious trio of octopus, marinated shrimps, and anchovies – best enjoyed with a glass of summer à la Grgić Pošip (2015).

 

Panorama Restaurant & Bar

 

Mljet

Take a stroll through Mljet National Park – this cherished green island oasis is situated on the Dalmatian south. It is the oldest national park along the Adriatic sea and hosts a wealth of flora and fauna, along with two unique features: the Great Lake and Small Lake. The latter on which you can take a small boat over to the Isle of St. Mary, where the 12th century Benedictine monastery awaits. The building is a bit of an anomaly; due to it being redesigned numerous times, architectural styles collide: Renaissance meets Romanesque meets Baroque. For a break from the history lesson, wander down to Restaurant Melita. With views overlooking the lake, enjoy a romantic meal on the terrace with local cheeses, black risotto and our favorite, grilled mljet lobster.

Korčula

Millenia-old winemaking traditions are revered here. So a visit and chat with Mr. Branimir Cebalo in his Lumbarda vineyard at Grk Cebalo is very much in order. Located about two miles from the Old Town of Korčula, they offer tours of the grounds and wine tasting: we recommend his Grk white wine, which offers reserved intensity and is gorgeously layered. Then make your way back to the shoreline to Lešić Dimitri Palace Restaurant – or more simply, LD Terrace. It recently entered the Michelin Guide and their Dalmatian fare with contemporary flourishes ideally complements the patio-perfect views of the Adriatic Sea. We recommend the gambero rosso & rose galić dish, which features local sweet, raw prawns, and a lush bisque that’s finished with a drizzle of herb-infused oil.

 

Lešić Dimitri Palace Restaurant 

 

Hvar

You probably know it as the island where international celebs and folks with fancy yachts congregate; but beyond the ritzy-glitz, there’s authenticity and charm waiting to be discovered. Wander the streets of this seaside town and make your way over to the Španjola, a Spanish fortress built in the 15th and 16th centuries. As you stand on historic antiquity, take in sunny views of the quaint town, the Adriatic and nearby the Pakleni Islands. Then head to the local Hvar Market for a basket of the freshest, sweetest strawberries you’ve ever tasted in your life. Sometimes life’s simple pleasures are just as sublime.

Split

Part of the Dalmatia region, this bustling city is the second-largest in Croatia and spread over a central peninsula. Head below ground for a brief respite from the crowds, explore the palatial rooms beneath the surface of a Roman Emperor’s namesake Diocletian’s Palace, deemed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Then, wander over to the chic and lively Bokeria Kitchen and Wine bar for stellar Croatian wines (we recommend a medium-bodied white Stina vugava, from Brač); pair with the smoked and charred octopus, made with sweet stewed chickpeas and tomatoes.

 

Bokeria Kitchen 

 

Primošten

Located in the northeast town of Sibenik, Krka National Park is accessible nature at its finest. It’s a natural karst phenomena and rich in endemic species, but allows for leisurely strolls due to the many wooden paths. There are 360°views of lush forestry, streams, and seven waterfalls to behold –  of which the most famous and stunningly beautiful is Skradinski buk. After a jaunty workout, grab a seat by the sheltered overwater patio at Konoba Toni. The mixed grill is a must and features locally caught orada (sea bass), brancin (sea bream), calamari, clams, and shrimp. Fresh, sweet and tender – all else that’s required is a drizzle of local Croatian olive oil, lemon and salt.

Zadar

Situated along the Dalmatian coast, the past and present greet one another with a cool connectedness. With over 3000 years of history, a wander through the Old City of Zadar and you’ll be face-to-face with Roman forum ruins. Then encounter the present/future with art installations by Nikola Bašić along the coastline, which feature his psychedelic solar-powered Greetings to the Sun and water-symphonic Sea Organ. Then, get an ample fill of people watching on the patio of Pet Bunara as you tuck into Croatian-Mediterranean fare such as stuffed calamari that’s filled to the gills with a mixture of barley, Dalmatian bacon, goat cheese, fish sauce, capers and chives. And remember to take a peek inside the restaurant itself; its digs are built upon the archaeological ruins of the Old City walls – which you can see through their glass floor.

 

Pet Bunara

 

Rovinj

It’s hard to resist the charms of this impossibly romantic town. Situated on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula, Rovinj’s Old City is a basket weave of narrow winding cobbled streets, stone archways, flower-dotted window sills, and a central harbor lined with little batanas. Wander up to the foot of the Church of St. Euphemia for inspired views, baroque architecture and insights into its famed namesake martyr; then snake down around the back (with swimsuit in tow) to the Plaža Baluota and its swimming nook. Enjoy the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea and views of neighboring Katarina and Banjol islands. Afterwards, head over to Gelateria Italia for baseball-sized scoops of gelato (two, if you please) – obvious winners are the pistachio and the Crema Siciliana (blood orange).

Zagreb

From that final port of call of Poreč, opt to venture into Zagreb, the capital – the three-hour drive meanders through majestic mountains and evergreen farmlands. Upon arrival, make your way over to St. Mark’s Church, and don’t be surprised to be surrounded by numerous wedding parties and a sea of brides in white waiting their turn outside in the courtyard to tie the knot at this historic 13th century gem. To this day, it is picture-perfect, even though a portion of the building was constructed in 1880; it still features the medieval coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, and the emblem of Zagreb. Ironically, the Museum of Broken Relationships happens to be situated a few feet away from all the “happily-ever-after” related going-ons. If the name isn’t enough of a giveaway, it showcases stories of heartbreak from all over the world. If you consider that the love of food is the most reliable form of affection, seek it out a block over and dine at local favorite Konoba Didov San, for Croatian comfort food. The restaurant inside is a tiny, cozy nook of a spot but in warm weather, seek out patio pleasures with charming views of the neighborhood and the Magdalenić-Drašković-Jelačić Palace. Try the Snails à la Dida – plump puževi sit in a rich gravy that includes roasted garlic and onion, and it’s served with crunchy polenta that’s riddled with crispy lardons. But true love will be found in the form of their fried fluffy donuts, served with their exquisite homemade cheese – the perfectly delicious ending to a delectable tour of culinary Croatia.

 

St. Mark’s Church

 

 

 

Whimsical Weekend: Whale Spotting, Art Walks and Toasted Grasshoppers at the Hilton Los Cabos

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When city stress hits the breaking point, something always seems to draw us back to Los Cabos – mostly the exquisite weather, the pristine ocean, and now even the epicurean offerings. And philosophically, we like to keep our borders and minds open, so Mexico also calls to us now in an ideological way.

We made our way this time to the Baja California peninsula, where the Hilton Los Cabos Resort recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. The gorgeous property boasts one of the only private – and in our opinion prettiest – beaches in the region; it’s also set just back from the sizable sandy stretch – making it tough to justify going anywhere else along Cabo’s typically rocky shore. With the new La Vista Club lounge, 65 club-level suites, and the plush Eforea Spa – 7,000 square feet of pampering, holistic-minded bliss highlighting native Mexican wellness rituals (we recommend a massage, followed by a cleansing ritual in the Zen Garden) – there is indeed little reason to leave the property. 

 

 

At the heart of the hotel, and inspired by Spanish haciendas, the Hilton’s open air lobby and palm-lined courtyard lead to a delectable lineup of eating and drinking establishments. Seriously, the food program is veritably unparalleled in the region, headed by internationally recognized Executive Chef Mauricio Lopez, who lords over three restaurants, two bars and coffee shop.

Infusing classic Latin fare with bold new flavors, he’s not only got a truly killer guacamole recipe, but has also created some impressively innovative dishes. Notably, Flora Farms supplies all of Chef Mauricio’s kitchens with its outstanding local produce, bringing a freshness to the menu offerings at Vela, El Meson and Madero Bar & Grill.

We started each day with the exceptional buffet-style breakfast on the Black Marlin Terrace, which includes traditional Mexican coffee – an ambrosial concoction of sweetness, with a jolt of caffeine that launched our mornings with gusto. The Terrace often provides a front row view to the whales that regularly pass through the Sea of Cortez; to be sure, the region’s waters are home to eight out of eleven of the world’s whale species. The hotel will even sort out your own whale watching adventure (plus scuba, snorkeling, sailing, etc). 

 

 

We enjoyed taking leisurely post-breakfast strolls, checking out on the sunlit walls of the resort, and its original hand-painted mural by contemporary urban artist Jet Martinez – inspired by the embroidered floral designs found on Mexican tapestries and textiles. Originally from the small beach town of Tuxpan, Veracruz, Martinez draws from his native culture’s rich traditions of craftsmen, who prioritize technical skill and embrace the imperfections of handmade pottery, weaving and embroidery. 

Martinez’ signature pointillistic murals at Hilton Los Cabos, in fact, were completed in just 2015. The rhythmic strokes with contrasted jewel-toned and pastel shades allow his floral patterns to perfectly pop off their solid backgrounds and mimic the tropical environment that surrounds the resort. The vibrant works celebrate contemporary reinterpretations of Mexico’s rich arts and crafts heritage; and in investigating various folk art techniques from different regions of Mexico, Martinez hopes to venerate Mexican traditions, while simultaneously acknowledging the universal elements of folk art forms from across the world. Beautiful stuff. 

 

 

To be sure, there is a certain artiness to Cabo – which we experienced at the San Jose Art Walk, taking place every Thursday evening from 5pm to 9pm, between the months of November and June. Established, promoted and organized by the Gallery District Association in the hopes of drawing art lovers and tourists away from the main square and into the color-filled back streets of downtown San Jose, one can sip wine and chat with locals, while flitting between the many art openings and new exhibitions. 

Between gallery hopping, a delicious break can be had at Acre’s natural cafe and shop in the neighborhood. But we took the very short drive to the Acre restaurant and organic farm in San Jose del Cabo (by Puerto Los Cabos Marina). Billed as “a taste of Baja’s bounty,” chef Kevin Luzande marries global influences and local ingredients that change with the seasons, and there’s also an innovative cocktail program.

 

 

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains, we wandered the grounds of Acre, reveling in its cosmopolitan yet down-to-earth vibe. We even fit in a Mezcal tasting before our sumptuous dinner, which set the mood for an exploratory evening of regional tastes.

But it was back to the resort for a nightcap. Azul, Hilton Los Cabos’ sexy, stylish new lobby venue, was designed as a “subzero tequila and mezcal bar.” Against breathtaking ocean views, we sipped tasty signature drinks, such as the Chihuahua Sour, Tepache Collins and Rosemary Paloma (our favorite), complemented by light bites – tempura tacos, slow roasted pork sopes and “chapulines,” which are local grasshoppers. We didn’t partake of the latter, but the hotel insists the “Grasshoppers are carefully washed and toasted on a traditional clay cooking tool called ‘comal,’ then seasoned with lime juice and spices.” And, apparently, they’re great for dipping in guacamole. 

Admittedly, we were content to just order up another Paloma, and then retreat one last time to the comforts of our lovely ocean view room.