Thomas Sires, NoLita’s Latest Fashion Outpost

When it comes to fashion, if it’s too tight, too tall, or too trendy, you’ll be cursing like a sailor and swearing bloody vengeance on your garment’s designer by day’s end. True fashionistas know, when you feel good, you look good – or, at least, happier than you would teetering around in four-inch, bunion-inducing stilettos. Elegantly comfortable clothes interlaced with unique details is the go-to style mantra for a certain set of sophisticated women, and it also happens to be the core philosophy behind NoLita’s latest and greatest fashion outpost, Thomas Sires. The propietrixes of the new Elizabeth Street boutique are Fiona Thomas and Allison Sires, who met working side by side at Loeffler Randall. Thomas was the PR Director and Sires helmed the design team. They bonded over a love of fashion, unique objects, and a desire to one day open their own boutiques. Over time and work-related globe trotting, they also discovered a shared admiration for the lifestyle boutiques they frequented in Japan and France. Early in 2010, the idea to curate their own store with a bit of everything they love in stock took shape, and Thomas Sires was born.

The shop’s sleek, minimalist space is peppered with clothes and products from around the world, each having their own whimsical twist. Think Scoop meets Kate’s Paperie meets the MoMA store and you’ll get the idea. Thomas Sires has designed an eponymous clothing line cut in comfortable chic silhouettes that, with a change of heel, shift seamlessly between work and play; their lingerie is as cute as it is sexy, and you’ll wish the gals had made their children’s sweaters and dresses in adult sizes. The shelves are also packed with oft-overlooked everyday items like undeniably chic dog collars and Bonpoint perfume, hilarious Japanese soap-on-a rope fish, and the ephemeral, like Pieter Stockman’s colorful porcelain candle holders. As Thomas explained about the duo’s buying choices, “Functional items like a notebook don’t have to be so standard. If it’s well designed or has interesting details, it can be so much more fun.”

And speaking of fun, the launch party Thomas Sires threw last night spilled out into the streets in the arctic night, attracting the kind of uptown/ downtown crowd the store and its owners’ aesthetic exude: casual chic, understated sophistication, global minimalism, West Coast whimsy with an East Coast heart. While fur-lined hunting hat fashion types dominated the scene, cultural tastemakers, from restaurants and art to media and nightlife, tippled and talked amongst themselves, and to me, about the fact that Thomas Sires is filling a void New York never knew it was missing.

Bonnie Morrison, who, with her Wildean wit and Saville-sexy style represents one of fashion’s coolest dames, was lending a helping hand, passing out champagne to designers Sam Shipley and Jeff Halmos, who were standing near David Lipke of Women’s Wear Daily. Lipke couldn’t get enough of the “charming store that’s incredibly inviting and has an amazing collection of pieces from all over the world.” Nearby, General Manager/ Wine Director of Craftbar, Hayden Felice, one of the most fashionable (and eligible) men in the food service industry, was canoodling with Victoria Birch, an editor at Taschen, and Elizabeth Kohn, of Kohn & Schumacher interior design fame. To this trifecta’s right was a well-heeled group that included the heralded designer Thakoon Panichgul, who loved the stores novelty items and felt like he was “walking into Tokyu Hands, a department store I love in Japan.”

Guests marveled how Thomas and Sires were able to effortlessly bring so many cultures, eclectic pieces, and exciting people together under one roof. It probably had something to do with the fact that there was a keg in the changing room, but that’s another story entirely.

As a whole, the collection, like the hot pink neon Thomas Sires sign that hangs vertically in their window, is really, well, a lot of fun. And while “fun” isn’t a word normally associated with NoLita high fashion, it’s a relief to walk into a boutique that isn’t incredibly self-serious about its fashionable form as much as it’s serious about its cultural function. As purveyors of relaxed style, elegant design, humor, and functionality with flair, Thomas Sires is a classic store for modern times.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding from Craft’s Stephen Collucci

Top-quality ingredients, presented without undue complication, are Craft’s stock in trade. The commitment carries over to the dessert department. Craft and TOM: Tuesday Dinner pastry chef Stephen Collucci takes simple elements and puts them together with an expert’s touch. The results may be haute, but Craft makes a point of not showing off. (It’s probably no coincidence that Collucci, like Tom Colicchio, hails from Jersey.) In honor of late October, Collucci passes along his recipe for pumpkin bread pudding. It’s straightforward, easy to follow, and delicious — although your guests only need to know the latter part.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Pumpkin Bread (This pumpkin bread is also a great snack, muffin, or dessert on its own.) ● 3 eggs ● 3 ¼ cups sugar ● 1 cup vegetable oil ● 1 tsp nutmeg ● 1 tsp cinnamon ● 1 1/2 tsp salt ● 1 cup pumpkin purée (can be store-bought for ease of preparation) ● 2/3 cup water ● 2 tsp baking soda ● 3 cups all-purpose flour In a mixer or by hand, mix eggs, sugar, and oil until completely combined. Add the pumpkin purée and water and stir into the egg mixture. Finally, add the dry ingredients and mix. Bake at 350˚ in a greased oven-safe baking dish (for bread pudding), or a muffin pan if desired, until the cake springs back to the touch.

Bread Pudding Base ● 1 qt heavy cream ● 1 qt milk ● 1 1/2 cups sugar ● 1 tbl vanilla extract ● 1/2 tsp salt ● 7 whole eggs ● 8 egg yolks In a pot, boil heavy cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Gradually pour the boiled milk mixture into a bowl containing the eggs and yolks, stirring constantly so as to not scramble the eggs. Strain and cool the bread pudding base.

To make bread pudding, cut cooled pumpkin bread into large cubes and place in an oven-safe dish (I like to use a large crème brûlée ramekin, which looks great for parties). Pour bread pudding base over the pumpkin bread cubes. Pour enough base so that the cubes of pumpkin bread are nice and moist, but not so much that they are swimming in bread pudding base (about 3 cups to one quart of base). Let this sit for a minute or two so that the pumpkin bread can absorb the bread pudding base. Bake at 300˚ until the bread pudding base is set and no longer liquid (I would say check about every 10 minutes or so). Make sure the center of the bread pudding is set as well. The very center of the dish will be the last part of the bread pudding to bake.

To serve (I enjoy serving it hot) you can dust with powdered sugar, and I recommend serving alongside a hot cup of apple cider topped with cinnamon and whipped cream or even a hot toddy. Serves 6-8.

Industry Insiders: Katie Grieco, Crafty VP

As vice president of operations and new business development of Craft Restaurant Group, Katie Grieco works shoulder-to-shoulder with famed chef and Bravo’s most recognizable Top Chef personality, Tom Colicchio. Overseeing the Craft, Craftbar, Craftsteak and ‘wichcraft locations nationwide (New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Las Vegas) Grieco often has her hands full. She gets the job done one restaurant at a time.

Describe a typical day on the job. After the last five years being in this growth mode at Craft, opening on average a restaurant a year, a regular day for me would be normal office daytime hours. My job is dealing with developing new projects. If we’re opening a restaurant in Atlanta, then I’m working with the architect on the design, choosing materials, figuring out table layout, working on hiring managers for particular locations or working with the graphic designer. On any given day, I’m confronted with human resource issues. Someone needs to be hired or fired or counseled. I get involved with that when it takes place at the management level. I’m in constant communication with Tom. When he’s in town, it’s about sitting in his office and keeping him up to speed on everything that’s going on and asking his advice on certain decisions.

It sounds like you’re never out of things to do. No, never. It’s fun that way, and I appreciate the lack of routine because I think it keeps me inspired to continue learning.

Did Tom’s involvement in Top Chef change the dynamic of the company? The only way it changed the dynamic of the company is that it brings a group of people into the restaurant who might not have otherwise come. The show has an enormous fan base, and Tom has an enormous fan base. He gets all sorts of letters of praise, and people who watch the show and know Tom think, “Oh I should go and see what it is that he really does and understand how he is as a chef and why it makes him a good judge.” That’s certainly the main reason why he wanted to do that show in the beginning. He thought, “People know me in New York, but they don’t know who I am in Dallas, and so, if I can do this show it can get the word out about Craft.” It had nothing to do with wanting fame or notoriety in the celebrity sense. His involvement in the show has really achieved the goals that he set out to meet. It’s been a welcome addition to the Craft world.

Are you a Top Chef fanatic? I watch the show religiously because of Tom but partly just because I love it. If I had no involvement in the restaurant business, it would completely turn me off from being a chef. Many years ago, I had visions of being a chef which is sort of why I got into this business.

You started off as Tom’s personal assistant? I got my masters at Cornell in hospitality management, and when I got out, I wanted a management position somewhere. I had no service experience and was not ready to be a manager but signed on to be Tom’s assistant. I thought Gramercy Tavern seemed to be the place I wanted to work. It was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. It got me a career that I love, and I met my husband ant Gramercy Tavern. Tom has given me so much autonomy well before I even deserved it.

Where do you eat and drink outside of Craft? One of my favorites is Lupa. I also like Boqueria. My husband, Paul Grieco, is also in the restaurant business so we go to his restaurants, Hearth, Terroir and Insieme.

Since both of you are in the restaurant business, are you competitive? I suppose some people on any given night are thinking, “Should I go to Hearth or should I go to Craft?” But not really. I think we target different parts of the market, and we’re in different enough neighborhoods.

Has Craft’s emphasis on using local foods wavered at all recently? It hasn’t changed at all. We still have the same priorities as far as using local ingredients and the highest quality ingredients we can find. The recession has made us think of different ways to use the ingredients. For example, we use fava beans for a different use at Frugal Fridays than when we use them at Craft. We can never change the focus of seasonal, high quality ingredients. We could go out of business if we ever did because that’s really what Craft is all about.

Recent positive trends in the industry? When the downturn first happened, I was sitting in management meetings and saying, “Lets not look at this as punishment, let’s look at this as an opportunity to do something great and different and new.” The restaurant business is never easy. It used to be like, if you opened your doors you could makes some money or be trendy enough for a little while. Now things need a shake. There are just too many, and having this opportunity to let the good people rise to the occasion and do some new things has been a lot of fun.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? My guiltiest pleasure is watching America’s Next Top Model. It’s horribly embarrassing.

What’s your dream spot for a Craft location? I’d have to say London. We’ve talked a lot about it, and we’ve always thought that London would be such a perfect city for a Craft.