23 October 2010

Orderly Conduct

Here, we see that thoughtful operations execution goes a long way. Trucks in Tokyo that stock the plethora of drink machines throughout the city also remove emptied cans and bottles that are, also thoughtfully, disposed of in the accompanying trash receptacles beside each machine. Not only are drinks stocked to sell, the drink distributors get an immediate return on their recycling efforts - with one stop.

07 October 2010

Beyond the Coke machine

Hospital services are improving. This was my initial reaction to an emergency room that I saw in Tokyo. The newly-renovated hospital included some thoughtful meetings about patients' needs beyond medical attention. Just outside the ER waiting room, of quiet music and multiple television screens, were vending machines not only of the usual Japanese selection of Pocari Sweat, green tea and energy-infused waters, but also those selling the basic necessities that we often forget about when we're overwhelmed with why we're there in the first place. You might ask, what basic necessities could there be? Try cotton T-shirts, underwear, tank-tops and robes. Imagine if Hanes sponsored a machine in every hospital across the United States with simple-cost items for patients admitted to stay overnight. I'd bet that one would already start to feel better in having a fresh T-shirt to change into even within the first hour of waiting.

05 October 2010

A Thousand Words

Metro, Paris

"...No sail..."

29 September 2010

Neal's Yard Dairy, London

I'm not a wine drinker. Never have been and never will unless somebody invents a pill to fend off my allergy to alcohol. Instead, I decided long ago to set my sights on cheese. I am not an expert by any means, but I have fine tuned pretty reliable metrics: I like. I don't like.

So one can imagine how I spent over an hour at Neal's Yard Dairy in Borough Market. Typically, when one first enters a cheese shop, one smells cheese. But in this case, I felt cold before anything other sensation was registered. This homage to cheese keeps the temperature cool enough for the counter of cheeses to remain happy. A barrel catching a shower of cold water also kept the shop moist enough. Me? A scarf in summer.

With a history that began in 1979 with the making of fresh cheeses, Greek yoghurt and creme fraiche, Neal's Yard Dairy today supplies the curious types as myself, local connoisseurs, international addicts and local restaurants who credit them on their menus. So why so special? Available are only local cheeses from British farms. And the staff behind the counter are just as local and addicted.

Fitted with blue aprons and matching blue caps, each attendant takes his time to explain the provenance of each blue, creme, white and yellow colored blocks, offers tastings and educates those on the other side of the sometimes overwhelming threshold. There's nothing more captivating than being fully engaged with someone thoroughly educated about a specialty. The staff from the top down personally visits the farms, tastes the cheeses as they arrive and maintains a fluid and collaborative partnership with their cheese makers. This results in a fine selection and its variation.

After a long series of tastings, I wanted to buy a truck load. But alas, I had to do with a small selection. My favorite of that day? The Stinking Bishop. I had all intention to eat the soft cheese out of the bag, but my "instructor" warned against it. "There's a reason why it's called Stinking Bishop. Your fingers will smell of it for hours." Warning accepted. So back to the hotel I rushed. Bags in hand.

Neal's Yard Dairy Borough Market I 6 Park Street London SE1 9AB I +44 (0)20 7367 0799
Neal's Yard Dairy Covent Garden I 17 Shorts Gardens London WC2H 9AT I +44 (0)20 7240 5700

Covent Garden Shop

22 September 2010


Birkenstock shop, Amsterdam

"Hello, I'm calling to see if you're open."
"Yes." [silence]
"Are you open?"
"I wouldn't be answering the phone if we weren't, would I?"

21 September 2010

A Thousand Words

From a friend: Threats that work

I was with my cousin in Tokyo and her 4 year-old son hadn't yet grasped the possibility that he could ask for and own a puppy. She said it would be the end of her when he does.

08 September 2010


Flight Attendant, KLM Airlines

"Yes, please raise the window shades as we are beginning our descent.
If something happens, you can see what is going on outside."
(Reassuring? Not really.)

26 August 2010

New York I Hair Removal

How authentic is my position on service if I don't include encounters that also run deep on the personal front? So here it goes, as I reveal something about myself: I have come to realize that New York is the epicenter for hair removal. Nowhere else can removing hair by scissors, wax, threads and laser be taken more seriously with establishments on almost every street, at every level of experience. Here is a short list of people who have kept me groomed, and smooth, over the past decade. They also happen to be good people who have built healthy professions with a combined experience of 100+ years.

Almog, Hair Stylist
I've followed him through multiple salons and since he has established his own private space, it remains a pleasure to not be distracted by other clients and stylists rushing around us. Though there are two chairs, Almog has only once client in at a time. This experience is as personal and intimate as it can be. After all, getting locks trimmed, cut or colored can be a dramatic, or traumatic, moment. Best to have an understanding hand, eye and heart on hand.
Almog Hair I 25 Thompson Street at Grand Street I 212 941 8199 I www.almoghair.com

Maya, Eyebrows
A short, blond woman with a furiously fighting spirit, Maya manages to take her time to trim each hair and wax unwanted strays with surgical precision. What she does exceptionally well is to enhance the spirit and facial features of each client, reminding me what looks good for me alone, rather than applying a shape du jour on everyone. Surrender to her. She knows what she's doing.
Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas I 691 Fifth Avenue at 54th Street, 8th Floor I 212 546 0200 I www.reddoorspas.com

Jay, Upper Lip Threading
My first experience with threading was here, and where it will probably end if I move away. The Park Avenue South shop is at a bare minimum: several barber-like chairs are stationed in front of mirrors with jars of Purell and aloe vera atop an accompanying bureau. As soon as I sit back and recline, Jay picks up a spool of white thread with a long lead already in her mouth. She is deliberate and careful in the painless process. For a cleaner result, work with her and follow her instructions. Five minutes later, I'm out on the street feeling the wind on my shiny upper lip (aloe vera).
The Perfect Shape Threading Salon I 295 Park Avenue South at 22nd Street I 212 473 7400 I www.threadingsalon.net

Anna or Asia, Bikini Wax (any which way you like it)
Firstly, these ladies are experts at all grooming, plumping and detoxifying treatments at Bliss. That's just how good they are trained and how seriously they take their profession. As for removing hair down there, I think it's enough to share that their standard of expertise surpasses those of...Thomas Keller.
Bliss I 568 Broadway at Prince Street, 2nd Floor I 877 862 5477 I www.blissworld.com

I have not undergone laser hair removal though I can recommend my dermatologist's office if you so choose to try it. Reason being is that I simply don't have enough hair to do so. That is enough personal details disclosed for now.
Patricia Wexler Dermatology I 145 East 32nd Street at Lexington Avenue, 7th Floor I 212 684 2626

25 August 2010

A Thousand Words

Gap, Paris

No matter the amount of the discount, the windows should never look like the store is going out of business. Note dust on floor next to shoeless mannequins.

14 August 2010

Function as Service - Toilet Humor

My mother will not believe that I'm writing about this, but I hope that she will appreciate the function of the Shit Box. Stumbling upon this innovative temporary toilet in the well-curated East London men's shop, Present, was random yet strangely added a sense of community hygiene and convenience to the clothes, shoes and coffees they sell there. One can also purchase it directly from where else than: www.thebrowncorporation.com. Plastic bag included.

Function: To ease bathroom going while at outdoor concert festivals and other activities.

Design: A portable, foldable, packable, reusable and supportable cardboard toilet with a degradable "poo bag."

Benefit: No more leaning on trees or strengthening quads.

Placement: Anywhere, but still a need for bushes to hide behind.

Shit Box I www.thebrowncorporation.com
Present I 140 Shoreditch High Street I London I +44 (0)20 7033 0500

05 August 2010


Chop't Salad, New York City

04 August 2010


Hertz Rental Car, Los Angeles International Airport, California

"Hey, girlfriend!
I found the car for you. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't for another reservation."

(Hertz Gold Club agent to me)

30 July 2010

The Barn, Berlin

It was 35 degree celsius in Berlin. In fahrenheit, it's really hot. The influx of the Bread & Butter Berlin trade show exhibitors were holed up at the Brandenberg airport setting up their stands while Berlin Fashion Week attendees trickled into this bohemian city, an aspect not found with such pride in any other German city.

My mission was to feed 17 staff in 1 1/2 hours. The food concessions within the show grounds were not yet opened, so I found myself looking up lunch places nearby in the Mitte neighborhood. Within 1 hour, I was able to secure 17 lunch bags from a small, cool-looking cafe called The Barn. Each 10,00 euro brown bag was filled with a ham sandwich, apple, imported fruit juice and a dessert. My blessing was not wholly due to the find, but mainly due to Ralf RĂ¼ller, the owner and founder of this recently-opened gathering hole. He was friendly, kind and more than willing to prepare as quickly as possible without asking too much of his staff. Upon pick-up, my taxi waited for us to load 2 cases of lunch bags into its trunk. I felt like a first-class executive assistant - making things happen with a support of someone who understands (believe me, after a year in Europe, things don't always happen this efficiently).

Ralf lived in London for ten years where he saw both the coffee and quick lunch options developing. Living near Borough Market, in London, he learned to appreciate the Slow Food movement gaining traction in the UK. Based on this philosophy, he has applied the regional and local elements to The Barn. Before London, he grew up in the countryside outside Holland, learning to grow and cultivate fruits and vegetables on his family's garden while having large family meals together. Much of these experiences brought him to creating The Barn, and easy and "feel-good environment."

People who make their way to The Barn:
"I am very happy about the mix of people that come to The Barn. The neighbourhood is full of galleries, media agencies, tv companies, architect offices and shops with individual labels. At the same time there are some kindergartens and schools as well as a hospital. My customers are young families or also people living in the neighbourhood. Because we are so near to Hackescher Markt and some of the museums and Jewish Heritage, a lot of people visiting Berlin pass by The Barn as well. The modern and foreign world are also mixing with residentials that have remained in the area past the re-union of the two German Countries. Which adds to the nostalgic mix of differences that are all coming together for good food and coffee."

Berlin today:
"Berlin really has a lot to offer and attracts many people that have lived in metropolitan cities such as London, New York or Tokyo. There is so much change going on and it offers great opportunities to settle and start off a new chapter in life. The quality of life is high and cost of living reasonably low for what you get here. Also, the pace is much different from other places - it has a nice and slow rhythm. Berlin still has a lot of catching up to do though - there is a strong Bio / Organic development which can mainly be found in Organic Shops that pop up here and there. As far as The Barn is concerned I believe that the combination of homemade food, regional products and excellent coffee is still unique and should be pushed throughout the city."

The Barn I Augustrasse 58, 10119 Berlin I +49 (0)151 24105136 I www.thebarn.de

19 July 2010

A Thousand Words

Florence Airport, Italy

"Absolutely Made in Italy"

14 July 2010


Rite Aide convenient store, New York City

Delivery crates on the storefront

12 July 2010

Extra Perk

West Village, New York City

The ATM machine.

06 July 2010

Function as Service

New York City

Function: To provide comfortable 'stoop' seating outside a downtown nail salon.

Design: Cut off legs of chairs.

Benefit: Efficient use of odd step on sidewalk and inviting customers to wait.

Placement: Against the wall of the storefront window; facing the warm, West-setting sun.

01 July 2010


Canal Street, New York City

Product Diversification

22 June 2010


Soho Grand Hotel, New York City

"What room are you staying in?"
"Excuse me?"
"Oh, oh. Never mind."

(A hotel doorman speaking to me while in the elevator)

18 June 2010

A Thousand Words

Romany's Architecural Ironmongers, London

Still taking pride in craftsmanship...and window display

(Romany's, 51 Brewer Street, London W1F 9UQ; www.romanys.co.uk)

A Thousand Words

Departures lounge, London City Airport

16 June 2010


Trenitalia: From Venice to Florence, Italy

"Excuse me, where is the toilet?"
"The toilet is in the back, but the aisle is full of luggage blocking the entrance.
If there's a fire, they're all going to die. Haha."

(The ticket agent on the train)
(Translated from Italian to English)

09 June 2010

Keith McNally: People and Product

There has been a great deal of press coveraage lately about Keith McNally, the New York restauranteur of Balthazar fame and most recently, Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria. The most insightful, however, were not the food reviews, but his admission that people and product are his magic touch. And, he's right.

I have history with Keith McNally, and not the kind that you think. Mine began in 1995, as a college transfer to New York City. His Lucky Strike restaurant on Grand Street was my go-to eatery. It also served as the meeting place for a small Italian brand called Diesel, where the plan to take over America was hatched. While the grilled chicken and spinach side remained comfort food at Lucky Strike, Pravda was a cellar with a flavor for someplace else: Russia. It was, well, exotic and chic, to me.

Then, in 1996, a leather factory in Soho was being turned into what is now Balthazar Restaurant. There was still plenty of graffiti on its, and neighborhood store, doors, windows and building facades. But this "charm" came with being a pioneer. With a job in Tribeca, I found myself having business lunches at Odean and weekend brunches at Pastis in the Meatpacking District. Now, as one who seeks dependable over fashionable, I find myself taking turns between Balthazar and Minetta Tavern.

I did try Schillers Liquor Bar, but it was too loud for me. As were Morandi and Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria. The food at these outposts was just OK and the staff seemed a class different from those at his other marquee establishments. Maybe because they are skewed to a younger crowd? Or maybe two of them are Italian? Let's face it. McNally does French really well and should stick to it. As for the hip places, there is certainly a need and audience for them.

The reason for my returning to his restaurants comes down to exactly what Mr. McNally stands by. The staff is always attentive, acknowledges return clientele and just enjoys doing what they do - and being where they are. It's contagious. The food is consistent with previous meals. The decor is tasteful, casual and sophisticated. The energy is stimulating and fun, but this credit ultimately goes to McNally and his staff. When a business retains staff for more than ten years, and in the industry of food, it is a commendable accomplishment. A testament to good management and the engaged employee.

I've met Mr. McNally on several occasions and he was a gentleman each time. Humble, he clearly sees that his reputation is built on Everyman, not he chosen few. I have observed for years that every guest that passes through his doors is treated the same as the next.

The affair continues. One which doesn't disappoint, and one without obligations. I've learned that good people and good product eventually make all relationships work and last, including the cote de beouf for two at Minetta Tavern.

19 May 2010

Malia Mills

When I find something I like, I try to purchase multiples when I can. Pants. T-shirts. Gluten-free crackers. I arrived at this point the hard way, when, specific to fashion brands, I found that fits and quality of materials change every season. And there are two seasons per year, at least. So, imagine finding the perfect pant and 3 months later, poof! They're gone. Nowhere to be found ever again. This short-lasting affair is unfortunately how brands try to entice us to buy something new the next season. But I don't always want anything new. Can't I be rewarded old if old worked for me?

Enter my favorite swimsuit by Malia Mills. The bikini was no longer sold in their stores the following year, but I was reassured that they offer made-to-order pieces since the patterns still exist. In New York. At their design and production studio (it wasn't until later that I saw on their website, lovingly made in America). I was given the current season's color palate to select from and my thrill and satisfaction gave way to my adding another variation of a top. After all, they were going to make something especially for me. Just because they could produce locally for loyal customers, I walked out with 3 pieces rather than none.

Swimsuits fall into a category of its own. Admittedly, in this case, I change at least twice per year rather than the swimsuit. But Malia Mills was aware of this when two sisters founded the company in 1992. Love Thy Differences is their trade marked motto and mission. This was a fresh perspective of actually servicing all of us, the masses. I was actually taught that the suit should fit me, not the other way around. The website has a very real, plebeian feeling with confrontational images of each of us, taken low-tech and with a self-assuring attitude. They're not just selling suits here. They are selling something deeper.

Two weeks later, my ensemble was ready. There was a size discrepancy, however, and so I went to the studio with my old suit. The suit maker measured out my top, the new top and the pattern and made the adjustments accordingly. Apologies from their end were overflowing. In two days, the suits were packed and on a flight with me to the beach. And I did feel great in them.

Malia Mills, multiple locations; www.maliamills.com

09 May 2010

Function as Service

In my pursuit of reviewing service, I've come across compelling retail, hospitality and product design. What makes these design elements worth highlighting for SoS are its function, simplicity and ease of use.

From today, I am beginning a new category, "Function as Service," to present objects and elements that are thoughtfully designed into our needs and that of its surroundings rather than into those of high - and low - design aesthetes. I'm not asking for a lot here. Something that will hold trash, drain well (I'll get to you later, Philippe Stark) and easy on the eyes will do it for me.

To start off, here is a version of a trash receptacle on a beach in France:

Function: To collect trash from beach-goers.
Design: The container body is buried into the sand, with the cover and opening standing 1 foot from the ground; A rustic, wooden cover is consistent with the style of the restaurant, shop, beach walkway and chaise rental counter.
1) The low container has little to no wind resistance, preventing it from toppling it over from wind gusts and even in the rain.
2) A two-year old toddler can finally put his or her own trash where it belongs, without Mom or Dad picking up after them.
Placement: Discreet and unobtrusive, it is positioned near a bush along a walkway, against a brush.

03 May 2010


Tiffany & Company, Hong Kong

"What is this?"
(male customer, with blackberry hooked to his belt and Starbucks coffee in hand,
to female sales person)
"This is a necklace. For men."
"For men? For gay men, right?"

(shock and silence falls on store customers and staff)

26 April 2010


Hertz Rental Car, Venice Airport, Italy

"The two rearview mirrors are broken, but they work."
(from agent to customer)

24 April 2010

Service as Design

Gora-Kadan Ryokan, Kanagawa, Japan

If there are few experiences in my life that I'd like to put in a time capsule, one would be the single night spent at the traditional Japanese ryokan (inn), Gora-Kadan, in the mountains outside of Tokyo.

I never thought that seated on a wooden stool, in a communal bath house, scrubbing down with soap in a row with six other nude women would ever constitute as one of my life's spiritual moments. But it did. The very grandeur of the bath house with its soaring ceilings, dim lighting, individual vanities at the shower stations with mirror, soaps and sponges and the hushing sound of slowly running water in the indoor onsen (natural hot springs bath) transports one to another worldly state of being. There was a mother at the end of the vanities, washing the hair of her young daughter. There was something so intimate and loving, regardless of being amongst strangers. To add, there was also a stone, outdoor bath with waterfall surrounded by trees and bamboo. The changing room was warm to the bare feet with its fine wooden floors and carefully designed built-in shelves for water and tea dispensers, baskets for each guest's personal effects and neatly folded, multi-sized towels for various uses left no needs to address.

After soaking in the onsen, guests were escorted to a relaxation room with a breathtaking view of the mountains and valley. While sipping iced green tea, massage chairs were turned on to relax. Yes, more of that. A stroll around the property was brief, but the calm that the structure projected was in play. Blocked mobile phone service sent some guests into withdrawal while others were in a trance from over-relaxation. An exquisitely prepared ten-course dinner, famous in ryokans, was then served in each guest room. What we know as room service is put to shame here, especially with our butler bowing to the floor, every time he left our room serving a course. Serving breakfast the following morning was as attentive. In fact, he never left our sides during our stay.

I could go on about our room, futon beds, the shiatsu massage in my bed after dinner, but I will stop. One surrenders in many forms here. Leaving behind daily routines, a life of running. We were faced with ourselves and the peace within. It took some time to find it, but the tradition of insurmountable ryokan hospitality was designed to heal and restore the spirit. One hasn't experienced Japanese culture at its sensorial glory until surrendering to a traditional ryokan. Some nudity required.

Gora-Kadan Ryokan, 1300 Gora, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa, Japan; www.gorakadan.com

22 April 2010

Michael's Table

My Friend Michael recently went on the record coveting a metal top school table which reminded me of a similar table I had a a great time on last month. Not that kind of a great time, but the pizza I had at Pizza East was up there.

More than ever, we are seeing a convergence of interior design and food that pulls together multi-faceted elements explored before only in fine dining. Today, we can see that good design and good food can be experienced by many more people and at varying strata of cuisine, location, price and service. Pizza East delivers on all accounts with great food, served in by cool kids (who also know their menus and wines), in a cool neighborhood's former warehouse building with a down-home Italian kitchen.

In Levi's jeans and Converse kicks (the originally selected James Perse T-shirts were replaced), waiters and staff were warm and aesthetically matched the interior of the sometime raw and industrial space. It was clear that there was a great deal of planning, coordination and thought that went into the design, but somehow it didn't turn out looking contrived as it could have. I should also note that Pizza East is a recent child of the Soho House group. More reason to respect the differentiation that they've managed to carve out here from their other endeavors. Another interesting design note: the restrooms. Barn doors and all.

This convergence then begs the question, " Did the pizza taste better because of the environment?" Maybe. But the table and concrete walls looked a whole lot better with the lasagna and beet salad.

Pizza East, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ; T: +44 (0)207 729 1888

21 April 2010

Service or Disservice?

Outside the locker rooms, David Lloyd Gym, Amsterdam