Monday, November 28, 2016

Buying for that someone who has everything!

Let's just say you have a cousin who has everything she wants.... well, maybe except that $81 million dollar Monet Haystack painting that was sold less than two weeks ago at Christie's auction house.  And clearly you don't have the budget that even come close to affording that insanely priced painting, what do you do?

If you have been following my blog for awhile, you know I love buying artist collabs utilitarian stuff. Here's a collection of art x stuff (much more affordable than the Monet Haystack) that you can afford to giveaway as Christmas gifts.  And who knows, they may go up in value 50 or 100 years from now!!  ;)

Flower Packable Tote Bag.  $26.  This is a tote bag by Herschel Supply co. and is a great bag on the go.  You can fold the tote bag to 6" x 8" and just stick it in your purse.  The bag is designed by Takahashi Murakami for Complexcon.  At $26, you can't really go wrong. 

Water Bottle.  $28. This water bottle is designed by Alex Katz for Art Production Fund.  It's a perfect water bottle for using at a gym.  Just because you are sweating doesn't mean you can't be stylish at the same time.

All You Need Is Love T-shirt.  $38.75.  This T-shirt, designed by Damien Hirst for RED few years ago, is still on point.  All profit from the sale of this t-shirt goes to RED that finances programs to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa.  Fashion never looked so good.

Come to think of it, this is a perfect outfit for your cousin's yoga class!  She can use the Murakami tote to carry her Katz water bottole and Hirst t-shirt to her gym.  Now if only I can find an artist designed yoga mat....


Monday, November 21, 2016

The best hotel in the world!

According to Conde Nast Traveler readers, Eden Rock in St Barths is the best hotel in the world.  Surely Pippa Middleton, whom had vacationed at ER, agrees as her in-laws to be are the ones who own the resort.  But just how good is Eden Rock?  I set to find out for myself.

The motto of the hotel is "Anything is possible".  And that's pretty much the attitude of the staff at Eden Rock I encountered.  Service is over the top and finishes of the rooms are either eclectic or luxurious.

After arriving from St. Martin via a propeller plane, the only way (besides boating) to reach St Barths island as the existing runway is short, you are whisked away by the staff of Eden Rock.  Bottle waters and cold towels were supplied in the one minute car ride to the resort.

My room wasn't ready but they provide me with a small temporary room that I can stash my stuff, take a nap, change to a swim trunk, or take a shower.  Very thoughtful.  I imagine these rooms are used quite often for people who arrive early or with super late checkouts.

The hotel is basically laid out in three sections.  In the middle section, you have the rock where there are several categories of rooms available.  The cheapest ones are called Legacy rooms where essentially you are facing away from ocean and to either garden or mountain views.  The most expensive ones are the ones facing ocean.  Christopher Columbus suite is the most expensive and newest.  It's essentially a huge one bedroom suite with insane views.  Above Christopher Columbus suite is Howard Hughes suite which is the second most expensive suite on the rock and is currently under renovation.  It is being made into a two bedroom suite.  I imagine it would be perfect for a family with kids or two couples.  Like Christopher Columbus suite, it also has fantastic views.  De Haenen Suite is below Christopher Columbus suite and has similar view as CC suite although the finishes is much more eclectic to reflect Mr. De Haenen's taste.  Mr. De Haenen was the original owner of Eden Rock resort.  Last but not least, Garbo Suite also has wonderful views of the ocean and cost about the same as De Haenen suite.  The difference is De Haenen suite has front and center view of the ocean but ceiling is lower hence feels less gracious where as Garbo suite view is not as good as De Haenen but ceiling is higher hence the room feels more spacious.  There are few other premuim suites on the rock such as Fregate and Harbour House.  They are currently under renovation so I didn't get to see them.  They have bay view and are cheaper than De Haenen and Garbo suites.

The right section is compose of Fontaine, Michaels, and James suites.  James being the largest of them all and have a private dipping pool and ocean/ bay view.  It's priced higher than De Haenen and Garbo suite.  If you are coming with family, Fontaine is a good option as it has two separate bedrooms (the master has view of the bay whereas the other room has minimal views) and an interior private pool.  Michael is basically a smaller version of James suites.  I would say the con to stay on this side would be it's literally next to Nikki Beach thus you will definitely get lots of noises during lunch time.  I believe Nikki Beach closes at 7PM.

The left section is composed of beach houses and two ultra luxurious villas.  If you are in the mood to spend money, Villa Nina or Villa Rockstar is definitely for you.  Both villas, next to each other, are huge with Villa Rockstar the biggest property at Eden Rock.  Finishes at both villas are insane and if you have a large entourage, you can even combine both villas as the wooden wall between both villas can slide open to create a gigantic villa.  Both villas also have parking space for your car rental.  I believe Villa Rockstar comes with it's own car.

If spending five figure daily rate is not in your budget and you have more than two people in your party, I would highly recommend Frangipani which is the villa I stayed in (although if you go during December through March, which is their high season, Frangipani is priced at five figure).  It's a three bedroom villa that comes with its own kitchen, two outdoor dining areas, a private pool (the most private at Eden Rock, even more private than the ones at Rockstar and Nina as no one can see in), a Jacuzzi, and a large rooftop balcony.  It's essentially two buildings connected by a shared garden.  One of the building has kitchen, living room, and powder room downstairs and a bedroom with bathroom upstairs.  The other building has basically one bedroom suite upstairs and one bedroom suite downstairs.  The design is quite smart as the way they layout the bedrooms, it can function as three separate cottages.  The only exception would be the rooftop terrace is shared unless they put up a removable wall which I think they should in case they can't rent out the whole Frangipani suite, they can break it up and rent the buildings individually.

I would say Beach House side (left section of the resort) is the quieter side of the resort and probably the most convenient as you are just steps away from the powder white sand beach but far enough away from restaurants where most of the noises will be coming from. 

The food at Eden rock is quite good.  I went to Sand Bar, their beach restaurant, to grab lunch and let's just say their truffle pizza is possibly the best tasting pizza I ever had.  It oozes truffle oil and is super fragrant and tasty.  Rock bar is nice.  They serve you nuts with truffle flavor and they are free!  I find it almost funny that even warm nuts are drenched in truffle.  Can it be more over the top than this???  It's just one of the luxurious details that made Eden Rock number one in the world.  I thought the food at On the Rocks was solid.  I was hoping for Jean George NYC level great but it definitely was not.  I thought L'Isola restaurant in Gustavia and the main restaurant at Le Toiny resort are a notch better than On the Rocks.  By the way, food prices at St Barts is not that expensive when you are used to NYC and SF prices.  It's on par with both cities.  However, if you live outside of those two places, prices may come as a shock to you.

I went to see the beach at Cheval Blanc resort as I heard they have a nice beach as well.  I have to say I thought Eden Rock's beach at St Jean bay is prettier.  The wave is also stronger at Cheval Blanc.  Since I'm not a good swimmer, I prefer Eden Rock's gentle waves.  There are turtles in the St Jean Bay.  I was lucky to saw couple and actually swam with one for a good twenty minutes.  Besides turtles, there doesn't seem to be a lot of fish....specially when compare to Hanauma Bay in Oahu.  Nonetheless, the water is so clean and color is absolutely gorgeous.  The ocean color is prettier than the ones I seen in Hawaii or Bali.  Eden Rock also assign you to same lounge chairs for the duration of your stay so you don't have to get up early to grab your seat which is nice.          

Overall, the service level is very high at Eden Rock.  I find all the staffs extremely friendly and helpful.  The hotel is centrally located and if you are into the "scene", it's an absolutely no brainer to stay here.  Sand Bar is one of those place that is great to people watch and being seen.  Because the resort only has 34 guest rooms and villas, it is routinely sold out especially during Christmas holiday.  Many of their guests come back year after year staying in the same room.  Depending on when you come, prices can sometimes double!  Would I return again?  Absolutely!  I thought the guests I met were all very nice and not snobby at all as one may have assumed.  The Eden Rock experience was worth the money.  At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.  Have I seen better finished resort rooms?  Yes.  But if you routinely travel, you know hardware is the easy part.  It's exceedingly hard to get the right service staff.  This hotel staff are all topnotch.  They are best of the best.  It is the combination of gorgeous beach, perfect staff, delectable French cuisine, and friendly guests that made this resort a must stop for every globetrotter.        

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Difference between Louis XIV and Louis XV style

Nothing irritates me more than some interior designers, whom clients rely on for their knowledge of interiors, confuse the style between Louis XIV and Louis XV.  Often times, even though they may know there are differences between Baroque and Rococo style, they fail to acquire the knowledge.  I see in magazines that a Rococo chair been described as Baroque style and on television Baroque interiors get confused as Rococo style.

Baroque style started in 1600s and probably the most famous building in Baroque style is the Palace of Versaille outside of Paris.  If you stand in front of the palace,  you will notice that architecturally, the building is stately, balanced, and formal.

Rococo style started around 1720s as people got tired of formality and desired more playfulness in their everyday living.  The most famous building in Rococo style is the Hermitage Museum/ Winter Palace.  Comparing it to Versaille, you will notice the outside is less formal and use of color is lighter and less stuffy if you will.      

So what is the biggest difference between both styles when it comes to interiors?  The biggest difference between both style is symmetry.  Baroque style is always symmetrical whereas rococo style tends to be asymmetrical.  In addition, Baroque furniture tends to be heavy visually.  In response to the heaviness, Rococo is usually very playful and light.

The easiest way is look at plaster on the wall when one is trying to identify if a room is Rococo or Baroque.  With a Rococo interior, which the word Rococo is derived from the French word Coquilles (seashell), you will often see seashells.  So whenever you see seashell plaster work on a wall, you are most likely looking at a Rococo interior.  

When it comes to furniture, it is actually pretty easy to identify which ones are Baroque and which ones are Rococo.  Case and point.  Here is a Boulle commode (chest of drawer) on the left hand side.  Andre-Charles Boulle is often associated with Baroque style.  The chest of drawer is ornate and heavy looking.  It looks like it will easily take an army of four guys to lift this chest up.  As you can see, the decoration is symmetrical.

On the right hand side, we have a BVRB commode.  BVRB, aka Bernard II Van Risemburgh, is often associated with Rococo style.  Here we have a chest of drawers that is covered in Japanese lacquer.  As you can see, the image on the lacquer is not symmetrical and the feet that commode stands on are much smaller compare to Baroque chest of drawers.  Even the gilt bronze decoration is much lighter and more delicate looking.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A stroll through the New SFMOMA

SFMOMA had not been opened for that long but it certainly had made plenty of headlines.  The new addition done by Snohetta, next to the iconic Mario Botta cylinder, is beautiful.  But how well does the new addition talks to the original building is whole another matter.

I visited the museum couple months ago.  I was very excited as I missed looking at modern art here in SF and was eager to have them back into my life.  Having another world class building in SF is equally exciting and I was looking forward to see how Snohetta gel the old space and new space together.  Furthermore, I was looking to see how the existing collection speaks to the Fisher collection.

As I approach the museum on 3rd street from Folsom street, I wasn't sure if I was suppose to into the building from the old entrance via Botta's building or there seem to be another entrance right on Howard Street.  I took a chance to walk into a gap on Howard Street hoping I do not have to backtrack to the original entrance by Botta on 3rd street.  As luck would have it, looks like there is an entrance on Howard street although I did have to climb few stairs up.

Right near the entrance there is a giant sculpture by Richard Serra that reminded me of the one I saw at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum.  I was happy to finally see one here in San Francisco.  Getting a ticket was easy and I got an audio headset to help me understand the collection better.  Off I go.

I took an elevator all the way to the top and start going from top to bottom.  The Fisher collection in the new building was impressive.  It basically has who's who of modern art.... from Alexander Calder to Gerhard Richter, from Chuck Close to Andy Warhol.  However, I'm not seeing any of the paintings that were in the old Botta building.  With the incredible collection from Fisher, SFMOMA's modern art collection will be elevated to second best Modern Art collection in the world but where are old paintings???

Finally I came down in the new building far enough that now it is connecting to the old building.  There is a stark difference between the old and new building.  I would think they minimally refreshed the old building to make it look more cohesive with the new one.  Well, maybe they ran out of money because nothing was done.  A good addition will make you feel the two buildings came together as one.  This one, unfortunately feels like two separate buildings that desperately want to get away from each other.  There is a stark contrast between new part and old part.  And the old SFMOMA collection are all hiding in the Botta building.  I came to realization that essentially the Snohetta building is the Fisher wing of SFMOMA.  There is no flow between the collection which begs one to wonder why doesn't Fisher just open their own museum and call it a day?  Why do they want to be under the SFMOMA moniker and then essentially want nothing to do with the existing collection?  Just seem so odd to me.

Once I got down to the first floor, I saw the old Botta atrium was gone and Snohetta had built a brand new stair right in the middle.  I was aghast to say the least.  Not that I was a big fan of the old Botta building but by building a giant stairwell in the middle of the atrium, Snohetta had essentially killed off the Botta building.  The essence of the old Botta building is that atrium.  Which made me wonder why didn't they just torn down the old Botta building and start anew?  To me that would make much more sense and make the whole museum feel more cohesive.  My guess is money.

I have to say I was happy to see the new addition but sad to see how separate it is.  SFMOMA right now is in a no men's land.  The experience of viewing the collection as a whole is disjointed and the experience of walking through the old and new space is odd too.  I guess that's what happen when you want a highly valuable collection to join the are at their mercy.  According to SF Chronicle, SFMOMA won't be owning the collection down the line either.  It's all on loan from the Fisher Art Foundation.  Although the loan is 100 years long and can be renewed at 25 year increment after, makes you wonder are all those art loans from Fisher family worth it for SFMOMA to bend forward and backwards for them?


Monday, October 17, 2016

Thais copied from us

There are few iconic places I feel should be on all traveler's bucket list: Versaille, Great Wall of China, Pyramids, and last but not least Angkor Wat.  AW is a temple located in the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia.  If you are looking to go there from US, your easiest bet is probably fly directly to Hong Kong, then take a nonstop flight on Dragonair to Siem Reap.

Before coming here, there are few things you need to know.  First there are two seasons, monsoon season which is basically May till November.  Dry season is December to April.  Best time to go is January or February because it is the coolest time of the year and are the none raining months on the calendar.  I went at the end of October.  There were some rain here and there but typically it rains hard for 30 minutes and rest of the time is either sunny or overcast (and humid!).  In terms of visa, you do need a visa to go to Cambodia.  I got mine in the US; it was an easy process.  Last but not least, even though the official currency is Cambodian Riel, in reality it is US Dollar.  You don't need to change your money to Riel before you come here as Dollar is pretty much accepted as the defacto currency.   

Khmer culture is an interesting one.  Before coming to Cambodia, I did very little research as my friend who lives part time in Siem Reap had asked her friend, who's a professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, to come and lead me to various temples.  Since he teaches history of these temples for living, I was thrilled to have him as my guide as he knows these temples better than just about anyone in the World.  After few days spending with him, two highlights I learned was: 1. These temples used to be Hindu temples and they are greatly influenced by Indian mythology. 2. Things that I associate with Thai style actually originated from Khmer culture.  The funny thing is I told him XYZ looks so Thai.  Did Cambodians copy Thai?  He replied, actually Kingdom of Cambodia came way before Thailand existed.  They copied us.  Me: oopsy..... #facepalm.  Few temples I love to highlight (despite I saw more than a dozen temples within few days... I lost count on how many): Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Neak Paon, Bayon, and Banteay Chhmar.      

Area around Angkor Wat was made even more famous by Hollywood hit film Tomb Raider starting Angelina Jolie that came out in 2001.  Most people associate the film with Angkor Wat.  But in reality, the film was shot at Ta Prohm temple which isn't too far from Angkor Wat.  This temple is best known for overgrown trees straddling temple walls and roof.  It's an absolute must for anyone visiting Siem Reap.  It is purposely not rebuilt so that it can have a neglected look which I much prefer when compare to Angkor Wat.  Because of the movie, there will be whores of people so go early.

Angkor Wat temple is a huge Khmer Palace built in 12th century.  The ground is big.... over 400 acres!  It was originally Hindu then turn Buddhist.  So you can see Hindu carving on walls and Buddha stand alone statues on the top floor.  On the bottom floor you will see bas-relief friezes along an open gallery.  The amazing carvings just go on and on and on.  You can spend all day just following the story on these carvings.  This temple had been cleaned up more so than any other temple around.  While it definitely doesn't look spanking new, I prefer the ones that look less pristine.  I was told usually there are tons of people standing in front of these friezes but on the day I was there, I could roll a bowling ball down the gallery blind folded and it would not hit anyone!  I was happy to finally see Angkor Wat, but it was not my favorite temple. 

Neak Paon (Holy Island) is a temple in the middle of a lake.  I was told when the temple was first created, it was in a lake.  However, the lake had slowly dried up centuries ago and people started to farm there.  The government of Cambodia decided fairly recently to flood the existing farmland and return the temple to its original state.  The only way to access the island would be to walk along wooden plank path from shore to the island.  Flooding of the farmland was controversial but I get why they did it.... the lake is just beautiful.  The temple itself is actually in the middle of another lake which you can't really get to but the sight of the exterior lake and the romance of walking on this long wooden path to reach this holy island made this excursion worth it.  Neak Paon is not the most popular temple in Siem Reap but I highly recommend it.

Bayon is one of those iconic temple that when I first saw it for the first time, I had a revelation... I saw that face on a wood carving at my local spa before!!  Now I know where that face came from.  Chances are you also saw that smiling Buddha face relief panel at your local spas as well.  Besides hundreds of smiling Buddha's all over the walls, there are also carvings of a naval battle among other mythology.  This temple is centrally located in the temple area and you will definitely pass it when you go see Angkor Wat.  I would say 100% worth your time to walk through this temple.

Last temple I like to highlight is actually not in Siem Reap.  It's actually about 2.5 hours of bump road ride outside of Siem Reap close to Thai border.  It's one of those temple that is so rundown that if you want to truly experience what it feels like when Angkor Wat was first discovered by an outsider, this temple definitely fit the bill.  Because it is so far from Siem Reap and the road to Banteay Chhmar isn't exactly all paved asphalt, few tourist ever made it to there.  In fact, the asphalt was laid just few years ago so it used to take even longer.  The fruits of the long ride is you pretty much get to tour the whole temple all by yourself.  It literally look like Tomb Raider/ Indiana Jones movie set... overgrown trees intertwined with falling apart temples.  You have to climb over rocks, well, more like what used to be temple pillars/ ceilings, to reach the inner sanctum.  This temple is best known for the thousand arm Buddha bas-relief.  I believe it's the only kind in existence in a Cambodian temple.  I was told the whole temple has two or three of this particular relief.  Because the temple is so close to Thai border, my understanding is smugglers would pop over from Thailand from time to time and chop up the temple to sell on the black market in Thailand/ Western world.  So if you get a chance, definitely go see it before all the reliefs get stolen.

On this trip, I didn't go to Phnom Penh so I can't say anything about it.  But I did left Siem Reap with great memories of the history and the people of this wonderful country.  I look forward to return to Cambodia someday.            

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Yummy German food!!!?

According to S. Pellegrino's the World's 50 Best restaurant list, Restaurant Tim Raue is ranked number 34 this year.  This restaurant in Berlin, Germany, is the highest ranking German restaurant on the list and recipient of two Michelin stars.  So when I had a chance to travel to Berlin, I knew I had to stop by.  And boy was I glad I did.

The decor of the restaurant is nice and simple.  Couple birdcages at the entrance to give an IndoChine vibe to the decor.  Menu was concise as well.  The tasting menu I had consists of 6 small dishes of chef's compliments.  Those were delicious... lots of Asian flavors one would associate with Southeast Asia.  The first dish was a carefully composed Imperial Caviar that looks like delicate macaroons.  Let's just say they melted in my mouth in a New York second.  The second dish was White Asparagus.  Tasted like spring to me!  After that was Hamachi.  Perfectly cooked.  Then came the prawn.  The tomato sauce was amazing.  I wanted to lick the plate.  The fifth dish was the suckling pig.  This was unfortunately a miss for me.  The pig was dried out.  Luckily the next dish, Dim Sum Duck, which was his version of deconstructed Cantonese soup dumpling, was brilliant.  I thought to myself all is well with this dinner.  I was a bit worry it was all going downhill after the pig.  Disaster averted!  Then came the super tender Shabu Shabu Wagyu dish.  The beef literally melted on my tongue!  Hands down the best dish of the night for me.  Then we had a green tea palate cleanser before the last dish which was a Calpico flavored dragon!  I love my Calpico.  I always drink it whenever I'm in Asia.  This was a perfect ending to a wonderful dinner.

This restaurant has to be on any foodie's list.  I know where I'm eating when I return to Berlin.  In the mean time, I'll just have to make due with his dessert dish at In Situ restaurant here in San Francisco.    

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hottest Fashion Brand right now!

Well, if you have been loosely following fashion news, you probably know that Gucci, Valentino, and Saint Laurent Paris are the "in" brands right now.  If you follow fashion closely, you would know that Hedi Slimane had left SLP in the spring which makes this FW2016 collection his last one.  And let's not forget the latest news at Valentino is that Maria Grazia Chiuri jumped ship to House of Dior and left Pierpaolo Piccioli at its helm as sole creative director.  Given the messiness of "divorces", the only steady ship within this trio is Alessandro Michele who took helm of Gucci just last year!  Whew, are your heads spinning yet?!        

This new Gucci is far from Frida Giannini's.  I felt she played safe and pretty much just rehashed what Tom Ford did.  But then again, it's hard to follow Tom Ford... after all, he did revived a pretty much dead brand that was heading the way of Pierre Cardin.  However, it's hard to recall such a quick resurgence of a brand within such short gap between its last revival.  Much credit to Alessandro that he was able to execute his vision flawlessly.  Regardless if you like the new Gucci look or not, at least it's not a rehash of Tom Ford's vision.

I'm not a big fan of some of his super exaggerated retro pieces but here are the ones I like:

Cotton Polo with Snake embroidery; I like the embroidery around the collar.

Viscose jersey sweatshirt with web; I don't wear that much sweatshirts but I thought putting webbing on a sweatshirt is interesting.  

Silk bomber jacket with embroideries; I love the new trend of souvenir jackets so bring on embroideries!