New York Fashion Week

For me, New York Fashion Week is something of a paradox. The shows are supposed to be about looking forward—defining what we'll be seeing in magazines, on store windows, and on stylish bodies in seasons to come. But for me, fashion week always feels like looking back—on a life that I used to know.
It's been four years since I turned my back on a career in fashion. I'd spent a big chunk of my life dedicated to it: buying trips disguised as vacations to help out with the family business, a couple of years churning out fashion pages for a magazine, a short stint creating and selling my own line of accessories, a year immersed in fashion school, and yet another toiling away at New York fashion internships in everything from forecasting to PR. At the end of it all, I threw in the Hermès scarf and bowed out, realizing that I would be far happier as an appreciative consumer of fashion rather than a slave to it.

But fashion week always sucks me back into the vortex, as publications that I once worked for tap me to cover a show or two on their behalf. It brings me back to a past life where work trips consisted of jetting off to Singapore or Hong Kong to attend fashion shows and store openings. While my life is a lot less glamorous these days, I quite prefer being able to just dabble in the fashion circus. I feel that I'm able to appreciate the experience much more when my mind's not working overtime to wring out as many stories and editorials from each collection as possible. I get to enjoy the show as it unfolds, and marvel in the designer's talent and vision.

As exciting as it was to be in the thick of things with all the celebrities, models, and fashion cognoscenti, when the runway cleared and the crowd started to filter out, I found myself saying quite happily, "That was great! Now back to my real life." 

Greenwich Polo

No matter what your level of knowledge of the game, it is difficult not be entertained by polo. Dubbed the sport of kings, it is a breathtaking thing to behold: these strapping men wielding mallets with such skill and aplomb, all the while maneuvering such powerful, splendid beasts.

But if I'm truthful about why I really love watching polo matches, I'll give you the unvarnished truth: It's a picnic with live entertainment! What's not to love?

The sheer majesty of polo aside, these events are replete with eye-candy, from adorable little children dressed to match their preppy parents to the young fillies sauntering on the polo field bedecked in fascinators and Lilly Pulitzer prints. Our Sunday afternoon at the Greenwich Polo Field did not want for constant visual stimulation, with a picnic beside us that seemed torn right out of a magazine and cute dogs that appeared to be just as fascinated as we were with how many layers of pastel-colored clothes some men could use in one outfit.
It's difficult not to think, "Ah, this is how the 1% lives" while at these shindigs. Polo matches, after all, seem to also be a great excuse to show off some massive horsepower. While we were gawking at a line of sports cars parked by the field, I overheard a man say to his date, "I wouldn't get an open-top convertible. People spit in those." Ah. The 99% gets their street justice, after all.
Economic inequality notwithstanding, polo afternoons are loads of fun. The emcee at the Greenwich Polo Club always has me in his stitches when he accompanies a surge to the goal with a heavily accented, "Tiki, tiki, tiki!" (I still have no idea what that means) And who doesn't love channeling Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when it's time to stomp the divots? Or, if you're like me, bringing divot-stomping to 2012 with a bit of Gangnam Style (that video did not start in a stable for nothing).
The match that we watched between White Birch and Heathcote appeared to be the last of the season. But I highly encourage adding this to next summer's to-do list! Make sure to come in your flowered summery best, and don't be shy about whipping out your favorite straw hat. 

'Til next year ... tiki, tiki, tiki!  

Sheer Indulgence at Per Se

For someone who derives tremendous joy from the partaking of delicious food, indulging in the chef's tasting menu at Per Se is ... well, it's quite assuredly living happily ever after. I must have done something really wonderful in another life because I was lucky enough to be treated to this dinner to celebrate my longtime friend Avery's birthday. When she asked me if I was free for dinner at the East Coast gastronomic wonder that Thomas Keller built, my reply was an incredulous, "What kind of ridiculous question is that?" If I wasn't free, I would make myself free.

Our meal began with some delightful amuse-bouches: a tiny gougére with a melted gruyere center that felt like a loving little hug to eat, and Keller's signature cornets—sesame seed-sprinkled little tuile cones filled with sweet red onion crème fraîche and a tartare made out of salmon belly minced to an astonishingly fine consistency. Then came our first course: Keller's famed oysters and pearls—a pair of perfect little Island Creek oysters alongside a generous lump of sterling white sturgeon caviar, all swimming in a pool of sabayon that emphasized the sauce's bubbly quality with the tiniest of tapioca pearls. The textures are sexy and seductive, and the interplay of brine and cream an utter delight. If you're feeling particularly overindulgent, a serving of Tsar Imperial Osetra caviar with blini de crustacés, English cucumbers, dill coulis and horseradish crème fraîche can also be had for a $75 supplement.
For the next course, I was very tempted to order the moulard duck foie gras since Per Se is now the only Keller restaurant able to serve the good stuff. But we had just been talking about how many Brooklynites apparently had fig trees in their backyards, brought over by Italian and Greek immigrants, and after all that talk, I just had to have them. So out came a salad of black mission figs with Belgian endive, young fennel, toasted almonds and red amaranth, drizzled with aged Balsamic vinegar. I like figs, even unaccompanied, but in this salad that perfectly balanced bitter, sweet and sour flavors, as well as crunchy, crispy and tender textures, they were sublime. In the end, I did get to have the foie gras anyway as I had the incredible luck of being seated next to a light eater. I could hardly believe it when he handed over a third of untouched foie gras terrine but I did not give him any time to change his mind. Dig in, I did, and shivered from the spine-tingling richness of foie gras, getting only a tiny bit of respite with the pickled corn kernels, celery branch and bing cherry (there was a cornbread madeleine, too, but that was devoured before the plate changed hands).

Next came a perfectly sautéed fillet of Atlantic cod, with a beautiful golden crust on top and tender flakes of meat inside. The ragoût of summer pole beans and tomato concassé made the dish more hearty, and I appreciated the crunch lent by the garlic melba and beans on top. My absolute favorite dish of the entire meal, however, was the succulent butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, which was served with pearl onions, petite turnips, and as if I wasn't already enthralled, sweetbreads, too! I would do bad, bad things for a plate of this (or maybe just very willingly fork over $40 and change at the Per Se Salon).
The next few meat dishes seemed anticlimactic after the delightful seafood. I didn't think I could ever be opposed to bacon, but the huge chunk of applewood smoked bacon we were served was overwhelming, and there was no refuge to be found elsewhere on the plate. The cuisse de poularde à la Forestière, chanterelle mushrooms, braised collard greens, and sauce Périgourdine were all rich and earthy, but quite the same in texture and flavor profile, so after a few bites I couldn't have any more. The herb-roasted lamb served with a golden polenta, ratatouille-stuffed zucchini flower, and globe artichoke in lamb jus was not at fault for my not falling in love with it. I shot myself in the foot by having some of the 100-day dry-aged American Wagyu ordered by one of my dining companions. This Wagyu was incredibly tender and flavorful on its own, without need for much fanfare. After a taste of that, you might as well go vegetarian because nothing else will compare. 
Per Se is one of those places that explain, to an almost absurd degree, the provenance of each and every thing on the table—right down to the salt and butter. By the time we got to the cheese course, I suppose I had gulped down the Kool-Aid and needed to know everything. The cheese specialist introduced the cheese served as Meadowcreek Dairy’s "Mountaineer", and said that because the farm is located at a high altitude, the cheese tastes more fresh.  I couldn't let it go as I dug into the dish, which also included a cauliflower gratin, Medjool dates, broccolini florettes, crispy red onion rings and burgundy mustard. Why would high altitudes cause a more fresh taste? It seemed like a thinner atmosphere would cater to hardier plants and animals, and maybe a more concentrated (not necessarily fresh) taste? I was so confounded that they had to bring back the cheese specialist to say that perhaps fresh wasn't the right adjective to use; grassy would've been more accurate but was not necessarily something people like to hear. Curiosity placated, I finished my cheese course and moved on to the finale.

I'm not much of a sweet tooth but I enjoyed all the desserts that landed on our table. I prefer desserts that don't hit you over the head with sweetness, and these fit the bill.  I picked the "Junior Mint", with a fluffy chocolate Bavarois, juniper ganache, and refreshing peppermint ice cream. I was tickled pink with the "Ants on a Log", which elevated the flavors of this childhood snack with Per Se raisins, salted peanuts, lime-celery soda and concord grape sherbet. We all agreed, however, that the best dessert was the birthday cake that they brought over for Avery. Apparently, they've been told repeatedly that the birthday cake ought to be on the dessert menu but they're keeping it special.
The meal ended with a generous amount of mignardises to go with our espressos and Grand Marniers. There were lovely macarons, rolled truffles, salted caramels, and a selection of exotic chocolates with flavors like matcha, madras curry, and mojito. And when we walked out at the end of the night, more treats awaited by that cornflower blue door: shortcake and even more chocolates. I went home in a daze—part food coma, part sheer incredulity at the meal that had transpired. Thank you, Ajay, for the very generous treat—and thank you, Avery for taking me along on an amazing experience! If that night was any indication, you've got one heck of a year to come!

Just Another Day at the Electric Zoo

In case you were wondering, Electric Zoo is still hella fun.

I spent another day at the Zoo this year, and it was every bit as awesome as the last. I find Electric Zoo endlessly entertaining: equal parts ragefest and anthropology exercise. While I personally can't summon up the chutzpah to party all day in a neon tutu, furry boots and wig, I do appreciate the unfailing devotion these party animals have to their day-glo looks. It wouldn't be a Zoo without these crazy kids. 
I came to the Zoo with a merry menagerie this year so I didn't worry too much about the lineup and just went with the flow. We caught some pretty good music even without stressing over running from one tent to another. We danced our little hearts out to Nervo then enjoyed Bingo Players with food, beer and sunshine on the lawn. Somehow, Bingo Players hadn't been on my radar before but I'm definitely adding them to my music stalk list. Yesterday's mash-up of Ni**as in Paris and Walking on a Dream was just too sweet, and the ever-infectious Cry (Just a Little) never gets old (I am a child of the 80s, after all).

The only DJ I was dead set on seeing was Rusko so we braved the steaming hot Hilltop Arena tent for his set. I know dubstep isn't for everyone and lately there's practically a backlash on it but I can't help it I just love raging to those dirty beats! When I think about shimmying to David Guetta in glamazon heels versus getting sweaty as b*lls while rocking out to Rusko, I just get so much more satisfaction out of doing the latter. I suspect I'm just a mosh pit-loving teenage boy at heart.
As much as I would've loved to see Steve Aioki's set, the Riverside Dim Mak tent was packed to bursting.  We had to content ourselves with listening to his tunes and watching him jump like a maniac onstage from our spot on the lawn—though I couldn't help but rush the tent when he started up his mix of The Bloody Beetroots' Warp. I am inexplicably addicted to this song.

My favorite set of the day ended up being Axwell's. His mix of Coldplay's Every Teardrop is a Waterfall and Resurrection was both spine-tingling and mind-blowing, and that mash-up of Sweet Disposition and Beating of my Heart had us jumping like mad. Also heaps of fun: we had some extremely tall and beefy boys in our crew who thought nothing of putting me on their shoulders for extended periods of time. As much as I generally like being my compact little self, I have to say I did enjoy the view of that sea of party animals from high up above.

And so the sun sets on another epic Electric Zoo weekend—and also on this crazy, fun summer. I'm not worried; New York never runs out of surprises, no matter what season it may be.

Dim Sum Sundays

Is there anything better than a no-holds-barred dim sum feast on a Sunday afternoon? If there is, I haven't come across it. 

I love everything about dim sum, from the steaming little parcels cradling all manners of culinary treasures to the aggressive little old ladies that throng around the carts, battling for the best stuff. That I am able to cure nasty Sunday hangovers with massive doses of har gow and chicken feet is a blessing from the Chinatown gods, and I have been wholeheartedly grateful on more than one occasion.

I've been told that it's just as good to give than to receive so I'm going share my favorites for others out there who share my penchant for medicating hangovers with dumplings. It would be great if you could share your favorite spots, too—particularly the New Yorkers who may know the boroughs better than I do. Because nobody wants to spelunk through the boroughs for food when you're already saddled with a hangover.

Some say that Dim Sum Go Go is too Westernized and pricier compared to other dim sum spots. But I like it. When you're having one of those mornings when you just want to plow through piles of shrimp dumplings without having to elbow a little old lady at the dim sum cart, this is the place to go. The biggest hurdle is getting seated as this is a popular spot, but once you're in, it's smooth sailing. Just tick your orders off on a paper menu, sip your jasmine tea, and appreciate how clean and modern the interiors are compared to some truly dodgy spots in Chinatown. In good time, a feast similar to the carnage displayed above will be delivered and you will enjoy it. I would recommend this as an entry point for those without too much dim sum knowledge—and to those who prefer their dumplings without the drama.

The Golden Unicorn is located at 5 East Broadway between Bowery and Catherine Street.

If you want dim sum just the way they have it in the Far East, the Golden Unicorn is your spot. This means stumbling upon odd Chinese medication promising "hard ten days" at an adjacent store while waiting for your table; getting chummy with complete strangers you'll have to share a table with if you're a party of 4 or less; and chasing the dim sum cart to get your share of har gow (that would be the lovely specimens of shrimp dumpling perfection pictured above right—and they are absolutely worth the chase). My last outing there was unfortunate as we were seated at the table farthest from the kitchen door. You don't want to be too far from the kitchen because by the time the dim sum cart gets to you, all the good stuff will be gone. As a result, we ended up getting just decently full and not I'm-so-stuffed-I-want-to-die full (which is obviously the goal). But what we did get to eat was absolutely delicious, and I intend to come back ready for dim sum cart battle the next time around.

The Golden Unicorn is located at 18 East Broadway (at Catherine Street).

I like to think of Royal Seafood Restaurant as one of those truly authentic dim sum spots in the city. So authentic that I once arrived to find my group of non-Chinese friends relegated to the basement floor, where one dourly remarked "they put the white folks." This didn't turn out to be such a bad thing as our very capable waiter delivered our har gow, siomai and salted fish fried rice in an expedient and beneficent manner. On another visit, a friend and I sat with the locals who, at first, were indifferent towards us. But when our order of a large steamed fish arrived, smiles erupted all around. Two tiny girls who can dig into a dim sum feast and thereafter order and devour this huge hunk of fish, they will welcome into their fold.

Royal Seafood Restaurant is located at 103 Mott Street between Hester Street and Canal Street.

Ping's Seafood is another go-to spot where succulent dumplings can be had without the dim sum cart chase. The dumplings are solid, and their pork spareribs remind me of the ones served in Manila. On my last visit, I thought they were a tad heavy handed on the salt and oil, but that could've just been me fumbling with the soy sauce in a hungover daze. Plus points for proximity to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.

Ping's Seafood is located at 22 Mott Street (at Mosco Street).

For extra credit: Get a scoop or two at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. My favorite flavors are black sesame and taro, but there's a wide range of choices ranging from plain vanilla to ginger. Palate cleansing, refreshing, and plain old delicious.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is located at 65 Bayard Street between Mott Street and Bowery.