BlackBook Interview: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Star Fiona Xie on Respect, Cultural Nuance & the Inimitable Charms of Singapore

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Images Courtesy of Warner Bros

 

It’s not hard to imagine why, with Hollywood in full ownership of the concept of “blockbuster” cinema, films spotlighting other cultures continue to find mainstream U.S. success fairly elusive. But the lead up to the release this weekend of the Singapore-based Crazy Rich Asians has all the buzz of a massive superhero sequel.

Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel about wedding-focused extravagance amongst the Singaporean one-percenters, it also happens to be coming at a particularly socio-politically charged moment – with journalist Sarah Jeong’s hiring at the New York Times setting off a heated debate on the context and boundaries of racism in America. Interestingly, the film actually kind of pokes fun at the strict class delineations in Singapore, something pretty much anyone anywhere can relate to. But perhaps most importantly, it features bold, memorable female characters.

But what you should really come to CRA with, is the anticipation of seeing a riotously funny film, through the exotic lens of Singaporean culture, with tradition butting up against contemporary life – as it tends to do. And much like so many English costume dramas, it also plays as something of a Singapore travelogue, showing off the city’s sultry, dynamic charms. (It’s currently on so many “hottest destination” lists.)

We caught up with one of those particularly awesome women, actress Fiona Xie, who plays social-climbing actress Kitty Pong – a character viewed with suspicion by her rich boyfriend’s family…providing some of the comic tension that is at the heart of the film’s universal appeal.

 

 

Asian stories are often told in film through Western perspectives here in the West. What do you think has been missing in that point of view?

Integrity and a diversity in terms of culture, as Asian and Western cultures alike are nuanced in many ways.

What attracted you to the film version of Crazy Rich Asians? Had you read the book?

I was actually introduced to Kevin Kwan’s New York Times bestseller by a CEO of a respectable watch company. I didn’t expect him to be reading something with that title. I was intrigued by everyone’s interest and the wide spectrum of audience that it actually reached. It was such a buzz, everyone loved and raved about it. I was [generally] not one for such trends. I did however, pick it up and to my surprise, devoured Kwan’s wicked humor gleefully, chuckling away at how close to home it was.  In the U.S. alone, there have been over 1.8 million copies in print. Genius.

Why do you think there is so much advance hype in the U.S. for this film in particular?

Goldrush. Everyone wants in on what’s good. For the Asian community, it’s also a movement to have a platform to share their real stories and to be heard equally. Ultimately, we are all humans that want to be understood, loved and accepted and to transcend all boundaries for great opportunities.

 

 

What will a Western audience take away from the film about the differences in our relationship issues and traditions?

Curiosity and respect. The same way you would want an Asian audience to appreciate and celebrate the Western culture.

How does Singapore as a place figure into the story in Crazy Rich Asians?

Location, location, location. The ultimate wedding of the year! Technicolor avatars like Super Trees at Gardens by the Bay, synchronized swimming atop the world’s only floating pool above the three-joined towers on the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands, and a glorious assortment of street food at the Newton Circus Hawker Centre.

Are there cultural references that are specific to Singapore?

The entire movie is interwoven with Singapore culture and you will also see a lot of cultural touch points referenced in the movie – and how multicultural Singaporeans live their life.

Ultimately, how do you think Western audiences will connect with the film version of Crazy Rich Asians?

With laughter, tears and a newfound interest in all stories that are ultimately well told.

 

The Real Singapore Locales Featured in Crazy Rich Asians

Images from top: Marina Bay Sands Skywalk; Newton Circus Hawker; Gardens by the Bay

 

Going Modern in the Ancient Metropolis: Hotel Perianth Opens in Athens

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Before the turning of the Millennium, most travelers to Greece touched down in Athens, and then headed straight for the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, and the like. But the Greek capital has been undergoing a transformation over the last decade and a half – especially in regards to its vibrant street art scene – making it more than just a place to stop and gawk at the Parthenon for a couple of hours.

It’s also at last getting better hotels – to wit, the Perianth, which just opened in the non-touristy area of Monastiraki, known for its historic architecture and lively flea market. It’s actually specifically located on the comely Agia Eirini square, with its buzzy pavement tables and beautiful Byzantine-style church.

 

 

A member of Design Hotels, the Perianth is indeed something of a stylistic masterpiece (interiors by K-STUDIO), with its striking, almost museum-quality modernist public spaces, and its 38 clean-lined, but warmly turned out rooms. Local artworks by the likes of Antonakis, Yiannis Varelas, and Margarita Myrogianni appear throughout the hotel.

There’s also a comely, light-flooded Italian restaurant, Il Baretto, whose bar is a scene for early evening aperitivo. And the Zen Center, for meditation, yoga and martial arts, is located in the same building.

A recent Euro Zone report also shows Greece to have finally left its financial crisis behind – so the mood is much better amongst the people these days.

 

The Many Reasons to Love the Newly Redesigned Andaz London Hotel

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We must admit to being particularly excited when we were invited a few weeks back to a press conference at the Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel, to interview legendary designer Sir Terence Conran. It was for the launch of the hotel’s stunning new (RED) Suite – a partnership supporting the AIDS charity of the same name founded by Bono.

But Conran + Partners had also just recently given the hotel a swish makeover, revisiting Sir Terence’s previous revitalization in 2000 of the rickety old Great Eastern Hotel – which was its name until it became the inaugural Andaz in 2008. We were indeed absolutely thrilled to be back, as we’d had some rather monumental times at the former GEH; and despite a few pangs of nostalgia, were enthused to take in the hotel’s latest incarnation.

With his unmistakable stylistic stamp visible throughout, Sir Terence himself said of his firm’s new design, “This is the way I like to live.” As it turned out, so did we.

The Andaz, as happens, notably sits at the border between The City and Shoreditch – meaning its public spaces are uniquely replete with bankers and stylistas alike. Here’s what we loved about the hotel, and its unique surrounds.

 

The Rooms

Considering the claustrophobic proportions of the rooms of most trendy London hotels, the rather generous space here does not go unappreciated. Some have murals reflecting the local street art scene, and newer ones on the higher floors have cool porthole windows with dramatic views across the East London rooftops. Bathrooms are fabulous.

 

 

Eastway Brasserie

Precisely the sort of spot we gravitate to for a buzzy lunchtime stop, the hotel’s cool brasserie flaunts a stylish, high-energy room, and a menu of trend-aware dishes like roasted baby beets, leek & cheddar risotto and grilled tuna with quinoa. The bar is aces for early evening classic cocktails.

The Masonic Temple

Seriously, the Andaz has its own Masonic Temple. Furtively hidden away, it’s not only the current site of actual Mason meetings, but is also used for regular yoga sessions…and Lady Gaga even did a photo shoot here recently. It’s done up in the flamboyant Greek Revival style, so it’s all masculine opulence, with a striking zodiac ceiling. Amazing.

 

 

Brick Lane Market

The most sprawling flea market in East London, it draws gawkers and hipsters in equal measure. Make a point to pop in for a to-die-for curry at one of the local houses – they’re all pretty much great.

Browns East

In late 2017, the exalted British concept shop Browns opened this impressive Shoreditch outpost. Stocking the bleeding edge of men’s and women’s fashions – everything from cult labels Off White and Rejina Pyo to Balenciaga and Yamamoto – it’s like a one stop edification on current international style. Exceedingly “on trend,” there’s even an Immersive Experience Room, for heady meditation sessions.

 

 

Ivy City Garden

When the storied Covent Garden celeb-magnet The Ivy took to coming down from its high perch a bit in 2014, the result was this more approachable, if still quite fabulous edition of itself. Just a short walk from the Andaz, the Ivy City Garden has the breezy chic of a Provençal bistro, with a people-watching breakfast scene, and a menu that runs the gamut from duck liver pâté to beef wellington to afternoon tea. Super cute staff is a bonus.

 

 

Shoreditch Galleries

If you’d prefer a guide, the Go East Walking Art Tour takes you to key destinations in the area, including notable street art. But for independent gallery hoppers, make a point to pop in to the likes of Kate McGarry, Hoxton Arches, Parasol Unit, Pure Evil Gallery (for something a little cheekier), and the legendary Whitechapel Gallery.

Rake’s Cafe Bar

With a distinctly duel personality, the Andaz’s newest hotspot Rake’s (a reference to the Hogarth famous triptych A Rake’s Progress) is a stylish casual cafe – albeit one with a sort of gazebo covered in hanging vines – serving chicken liver pâté, devon crab tagliatelle, and homemade ice cream. In the evenings, the Parlour room becomes one of the sexiest spots in the neighborhood, with DJs manning the opulent space, and a cool wait staff serving provocative signature cocktails like The Orgy and The Mad House.

 

 

1901 Wine Lounge

This is a distinctly intimate and refined spot in the Andaz for a well-chosen glass of vino (from a Euro-leaning list) by day, and a sophisticated tipple by night- with its neo-classical archways and theatrical chandeliers.

Nuala

Our new fave Shoreditch restaurant is actually hipping up Irish cuisine, if you can imagine. It presents a starkly minimalist menu – meaning no pompously elaborate descriptions of the dishes, something we have come to appreciate in the age of pretentiously over-elaborate chefs. And the smoked eel croquettes, beef tartare and woodfire chicken are all life-altering. Interiors have a sort of sleek woodsiness about them – we even noticed a pile of firewood. Which is not as hipster as it sounds.

 

 

 

 

 

First Images: The Wick Hotel Opens in Hudson

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Although climate change has wreaked a bit of havoc on our sacred notion of autumn in the Northeast, it doesn’t mean we have to stop trying. And so it is that another September approaches, and we start planning our fall season escapes from perpetually stressful Gotham.

On your list this year should absolutely be the historic town of Hudson (its charter dating to 1785), most especially with the opening of the stylish new Wick Hotel – a member of the Tribute Portfolio. Indeed, fitted into a 1860s former candle factory, it feels both intimate and architecturally dramatic at once. Behind a striking white brick facade, the 55 rooms (some with clawfoot tubs) are chicly stark and unfussy, with stately color schemes and Nineteenth-Century Hudson River School landscape paintings by Thomas Cole.

 

 

Surprising for an Upstate hotel, there’s actually a full fitness center on the property. But for those seeking more epicureans pleasures, the in-house restaurant and bar is elegantly done up with patterned tiled flooring, beamed ceilings, and generous windows framing views of the charming neighborhood surrounds.

Plan to make a weekend of it September 14 -16, when Basilica Soundscape takes over the town, with a lineup including such indie stalwarts as Boy Harsher, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori, and Haxan Cloak featuring Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The town’s busy Warren Street is rife with antiques, design shops, galleries and bookstores.

 

 

 

 

 

First Images: The Striking New Bank Hotel Stockholm

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With Southern Europe suffering under climate-changed temps of up to 115 degrees Farenheit, Scandinavia has emerged as a destination-of-the-moment for yet another very good reason.

Now, Stockholm itself has always lured with its matter-of-fact sense of style and design. And that is sublimely exhibited in the new Bank Hotel, opening late August, from the prolific Stureplansgruppen restaurant/nightlife group. Naturally, food plays a major role in its allure, with the unassumingly named signature eatery Bonnie’s fitted into a dramatically renovated banking hall (thus, the hotel’s name), flaunting sexy, emerald green booths, stylish, black-and-white checked tile flooring, and a kitchen lorded over by award-winning chef Magnus Persson. The influence in both food and wine tends toward France and Northern Italy.

 

Image by Mathias Nordgren

 

Characteristic of its parent company, aesthetics figure significantly throughout this rather swish new hotel, its striking 1910 building graced by both modern Renaissance design influences. Swedish interior stylists Ida Lauga and Lo Biurlf have infused the rooms with a contemporary classicism, with eight signature suites culminating in the quite spectacular, 185 square meter Bank Extreme Terrace Suite, featuring a full-length balcony and arguably life-altering views (considering the city’s breathtaking beauty.)

Social life comes by way of the casual Sophie’s lounge, and the more elegant Papillon Bar. But make sure to smooth talk your way to the 9th floor, where the secretive Chambre Separé caters to just 12 very privileged guests at a time.

The Bank Hotel is located on Nybroviken Quay, just a short stroll from the old world charms of the Gamla Stan – which is just another bridge away from the hipster paradise of Sodermalm…should that be your inclination.

 

Above images by Johan Nilson (1) and Mathias Nordgren (2,3).

 

Old City Chic: The Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown Opens

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It’s no secret, our ongoing love affair with Philadelphia. And for a city that constantly seems to have so much new happening, it’s also perpetually, gloriously impervious to all that hopeless contemporary trend-chasing.

It’s exactly that attitude that the Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown hotel – which just opened in what is arguably the most enviable position in all of town, smack in the center of the Old City, facing Independence Park – seems to have been imbued with. Eminently, it employs no cloyingly obvious “millennial” signifiers; but rather, is simply focused on good design and epicurean pleasure, those things which always top our list of hotel exigencies.

We also love that the check-in desk is hidden away in a corner – allowing guests to enter right into the buzz of the hotel’s lobby lounge, bar and restaurant…and thus keeping the buzz going.

 

 

Notably, the rather fabulous opening bash featured local hero OddKidOut – a Skrillex prodigy – on the decks, and whose Northern Liberties based Boom Room Studios we got to spend an afternoon in. But we were also taken with the provocative original artworks by Alloyius McIlwaine adorning the party space – palpable evidence of the hotel’s artistic soul.

During our visit, it’s no surprise we couldn’t resist a visit to Reading Terminal (the Philly food market that predated all those hyper-trendy food markets). But we mostly spent a few days specifically kicking around the Old City. Here’s what we loved.

 

The Rooms

Understatedly chic (Philly is not a show-off town), with low, moody lighting, clever artworks and absolutely glorious bathrooms. It goes without saying (but we’ll say it): request one with a view of the park.

 

 

Radical History

Philadelphia is obviously the cradle of American civilization. And at a time when certain basic rights seem worryingly under attack here, it was fascinating to take an art and history tour of the Old City, via Mural Arts Philadelphia. We learned how the City of Brotherly Love was also a city of sisterly action: indeed, in 1852 Quaker women organized one of the country’s first women’s rights conventions. The tour also takes in many of the city’s awe-inspiring murals (each has a story), from historical to contemporary – including Steve Powers’ 2016 Old City masterpiece, simply titled Philadelphia.

The Center for Art in Wood

A genuinely ideological gallery, The Center for Art in Wood is, as it says, focuses on a very specific medium. But it explores it from a multitude of aesthetic and ideological viewpoints. Currently not to be missed is Connie Mississippi’s Circle of Time, on view through July 21 (N.B. the artworks are for sale).

 

 

Sonny’s Famous Steaks

Sometimes, a city’s storied signature food is a banal disappointment. But, just around the corner from the hotel on Market Street, you’d be remiss to not spend a lunchtime at Sonny’s, pulling up at a communal table and making new friends over sloppily decadent cheesesteaks. There have been some developments – you can now order one with applewood smoked bacon, and a gluten-free roll. Still, don’t come here with any Gwyneth-y pretensions.

Old City Shops

For all its history, what has always held for us the greatest allure is the Old City’s keen cultivation of independent shops and boutiques – where you could easily while away a couple of afternoons. Pop in to Never Too Spoiled or The Geisha House for fashions from boho-chic to trend-aware-elegant; the eccentric Sioux Zanne Messix for unique vintage finds; Art in the Age (brilliantly, the name is a reference to Walter Benjamin’s radical 1936 cultural studies text) for small batch spirits and artfully crafted bar supplies and books; Minima for bold, contemporary furnishings; the preeningly hipster Bloke’s Barbershop & Gentleman’s Emporium for an of-the-moment cut and shave; and Bonejour, for a special gift to bring home for Fluffy or Fido. Post-shopping, reward yourself with a Hot Waffle Sundae at Fezziwig’s Sweet Shop.

 

Minima

 

Vista Peru

The effortlessly sexy Vista Peru is one of the chicest new restaurants in town – with sleek, clean-lined style, but a sultry, exotic menu of ceviches, specialty arroz dishes, mouthwatering steamed mussels and the best pisco sours anywhere in the city. The Peruvian risottos are also an absolute must. Take a date, if you can.

Jose Garces Joints

The city’s most exalted chef, two of his ten Philadelphia restaurants are located in the Old City. The still buzzy Amada was actually his first, and yet reigns for an evening of Espana-inspired decadence. Amidst the Euro-chic surrounds, order up plates of chorizo blanco, manchego pasamontes, piquillos rellenos and croquetas de jamon – chased with a couple of bottles of particularly dry cava – and share generously with your dining companions, for full effect. His newer Olde Bar is just a couple of blocks away, for continuing the evening over mezcal-based Smoke on the Water cocktails or the signature Fish House Punch.

 

Chez Ben & M. Brown’s Bar

The Renaissance Philadelphia Downtown’s stylish French restaurant Chez Ben is themed around – you guessed it – Ben Franklin, who, like Jefferson, was famously Francophilic. And the space, a cool approximation of a Left Bank bistro (brasserie lamps, counter seating), is actually also peppered with references to the exalted Founding Father. Chef Paras Shah is actually from New York, but is noted for stints doing Japanese (Momofuku) and Spanish (Philly’s Barcelona Wine Bar). Order up the full Parisian or a Philly omelette for breakfast; then dinner choices veritably bring apoplexy, from frisee aux lardon to mussels Breton to steak tartare and an excellent raw bar. No matter where else you’ve been, end the night at the hotel’s cool M. Brown’s Bar, with its seductive interiors and impressive selection of specialty ryes, bourbons and Japanese whiskeys.

 

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

 

 

 

First Images: The New LINE Austin Hotel

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After opening in 2014 and quickly becoming the absolute hipster galvanizing force in LA’s Koreatown, the LINE Hotel brand expediently began its expansion plans, debuting in D.C. in early 2018…and now arriving in the city that SXSW made: of course, Austin.

Now, despite a tech boom and one of the country’s most vibrant music scenes, Bat City has remained a little light on boutique hotel production. But the LINE Austin should ideally suit the town’s perpetually bohemian soul – though this is certainly no intimate affair, sporting as it does a total of 428 rooms. It’s actually housed in a historic, 1965 modernist building, right at the edge of Town Lake. And yes, that means lots of stunning views – most especially from the lakeside Arlo Grey restaurant, where Top Chef Kristen Kish helms the kitchen.

There’s also an infinity pool, with poolside cocktails; and the Alfred coffee bar in the lobby will surely be abuzz all morning and afternoon.

Here’s what it looks like…

 

 

 

D.C. Power Stay: The Storied Willard Intercontinental Gets a Swish Makeover

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What do the Dalai Lama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln all have in common? Aside from the notably obvious fact that they were/are all unparalleled visionaries and history-changing leaders, they have all stayed at the legendary Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C. – a hotel which has left its own significant mark on history. More recently, it has been the choice of the likes of Tom Cruise and George Clooney.

Now, despite the perpetually contentious political environment we’re embroiled in (with our over-tweeting, 3D-gun-blueprint-endorsing president ever looming over Pennsylvania Avenue) we unequivocally believe that this is as good a time as ever to visit our nation’s capitol. And the Willard offers charm, charisma and the best opportunity for real historic immersion.

Actually located right in the heart of all the political machinations, the luxury hotel with its Beaux-Arts style atmosphere has also affectionately earned the title “Residence of Presidents” – as it has hosted nearly every American POTUS since Franklin Pierce in 1853. But its cultural proximity is also impressive, so near as it is to the Renwick Gallery, Ford’s Theatre, Spy Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

 

International Spy Museum

 

This year, there’s even more cause for celebration, as The Willard is throwing its own 200th birthday fête throughout 2018. In honor of its storied bicentennial, it was recently given a 6-month, $18 million dollar renovation. 335 guestrooms and suites, along with their respective corridors, have been refreshed by Parker-Torres Design – and we loved how the look is transitional, straddling the line between contemporary and classic…which was intentional. Miriam Torres, Principal at the design and interior architectural firm notes that “our most important objective was to respect the history of this Grand Dame hotel.”

And indeed, upgrades are aplenty, while it is apparent that they preserved the soul and integrity of the spaces. Classic guest rooms exhibit sophistication with peacock blue tones, gold, and ivory; meanwhile, the sprawling suites utilize warm creams, beiges and chocolate browns. Opulence comes by way of luxe drapery, textured wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and marble showers. Rooms are also amongst the largest in the city, with sizes ranging from a comfortable 375 sq.ft. to a palatial 3000 sq.ft.

 

 

Of the pied-à-terre styled guestrooms, our favorites would have to be the Oval and Jenny Lind suites. The former’s curvaceous sitting room is accented with regal red and offers sweeping views of Pennsylvania Avenue; the latter is a frequently requested room for brides-to-be (and was recently featured in the film The Greatest Showman); graced with robin’s egg blue tones, it’s decorated with more feminine flourishes, including a cushy canopy bed that’s situated under a domed cupola, and a serenity-inducing sunken jacuzzi.

If you’re able to tear yourself away from the plush rooms and their views of Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the US Capitol building, then wander down to the main lobby for teatime in Peacock Alley. Posh but unstuffy and with notably friendly service, it offers bespoke brews from J’enwey Tea Co.’s owner Lisa Marie. And of course, there’s the famous meltingly-tender scones that are best smeared with cloud-like clotted cream and zippy housemade lemon curd.

Or for a culinary détente with our great ally France, there’s the recently renovated Café du Parc. Decor hallmarks include orb lighting, French-brasserie style tables, and navy blue banquettes – while on the menu, crafted by Chef Guy Ododi, stand-out delicacies include gloriously gooey french onion soup, seared scallops, decadent beef bourguignon and lobster + lamb (a refined take on surf and turf, in our humble opinion). Cafe du Parc also features a popular outdoor patio, with ice cream and crepe cart.

 

 

The adjacent Occidental Grill is considered a DC dining institution, and its illustrious history dates back over 110 years – evidenced by walls that are lined with portraits of famous faces. The menu and food philosophy was conceived by chef Jake Addeo, who’s cooked alongside greats such as Fortunato Nicotra and Lidia Bastianich. Obvious staples include their popular Roseda Farm dry-aged NY Strip Steak; but it’s the intermingling of the flavors of Italia and America that defines the experience, with favorites such as the sinfully unctuous burrata and pan-seared ricotta gnocchi with white asparagus cream.

Finally, a stay at the Willard really should include a History Happy Hour visit to the Round Robin Bar. Held every month, it’s a hands-on mixology event lead by beloved barman Jim Hewes. We learned how the Mint Julep was introduced in the mid-1800s by statesman Henry Clay – and today it’s the Willard’s signature drink, successfully quenching the thirst of over 20,000 guests and visitors annually.

You can visit D.C., take in the culture, and forget our current troubles for a bit with a walk through the hotel’s historic on-site gallery and museum. Being face to face with wise and humble leaders who championed camaraderie and cooperation amongst one another for the good of the country actually gave us a bit of hope; and with any luck, the tides will turn and we’ll soon have a chance to return to those days of civility, respect, and honor – those qualities so perfectly embodied by the Willard.