(NB, Moveable Feast only deliver to the mainland US)
OK, I’m fresh off binging both seasons of The Bear. Several hours of watching a gourmet chef-lead drama has inspired me to unleash some unfettered creativity in the kitchen. There’s only one problem: I’m a gastronomic dunce.
Look, I’ve whipped up the odd curry, and blazed through a few of the staples that arrived via various meal delivery services. Over lockdown, I even went as far as to make a timpano, one of the most complicated Italian dishes ever invented, but these culinary heroics are minor blips on an otherwise limited life in the kitchen.
Despite my dearth of skills, though, I’m very suggestible and newly dead set on making a statement dinner. An intensive cookery course seems a bit much, and I should also add that I’m very lazy. Seems like a real pickle.
A friend put me onto Moveable Feast, a new company with a product called Dinner Party. Based in California, they deliver full menus from Michelin-starred and James Beard-recognized restaurants. This isn’t like a takeaway version of high-end food; the ingredients are delivered and you part-prepare the dishes yourself, which seems like the perfect compromise for my predicament.
I sign up for Octavia (Moveable Feast feature one restaurant per month), a San Francisco restaurant that, under chef Melissa Perello, won a Michelin star in 2019. Invites are issued, and the following Thursday (to ensure freshness, the service is only available on Thursdays), a huge box arrives with ice packs and a couple of dozen packets and tubs. Also included are detailed instructions, menus and links to a video that you can watch to get hints for preparation.
The box arrives at noon on the day, and everything goes into the refrigerator, with a few ingredients coming out to acclimatize a couple of hours before prep begins. I watch the video and it’s a lovely ten-minute highlights reel of the main techniques. These are mainly chopping, slicing and drizzling, all of which are well within my lowly wheelhouse.
Would you care to hear the specials? OK. For starters, we have marinated calamari with sungold tomatoes and zucchini, a creamy mozeralla with fig and salsa verde, and charred eggplant tapenade with feta and crispbread. For mains, we have a gem lettuce and stone fruit salad, king salmon in a chile-garlic butter and corn lasagne with shishito peppers. We finish on a blackberry trifle with passion fruit curd and coconut chiffon.
So, I would neither conceive of, nor think I could attempt anything on that list. The best part is that the food has been cooked or is a matter of constructing say, the trifle, from the ingredients provided. Everything is color-coded and so even idiots like me don’t end up dumping blackberry into the calamari and end up with some kind of misguided, avant-garde monstrosity.
I pre-prep the desserts and get the starters ready for my guests arriving (10-15 minutes), set out extra-fancy place settings (there’s a menu for each person, which is a simple but charming touch) and deem it acceptable to open some bubbles, just as a creative fuel, of course.
The instructions are also color-coded and just set out a simple timeline of when to put things in the oven, and what little extra equipment you might need (just six basic kitchen implements for this one). The main courses have 19 steps total and take 30 minutes, but mostly it’s just sliding things in and out of the oven, and so you can socialize freely as long as you remember to set timers.
Thanks to the video, I had a good idea of presentation. There’s a risk that unskilled hands could ruin the aesthetics, but two things make that difficult to do: the garnishes such as wild flowers and salsa verde elevate the look, and the very high quality of ingredients means that the dishes hold their shape, and even my clumsy mitts manage to approximate the plating of Chef Perello. I don’t think she’ll be headhunting me any time soon, but I don’t think I shamed her too deeply.
The system works. I prepare and serve a multi-element three-course dinner for four without any stress, mishaps or disasters. Once the prep is done, you can relax into the wine and gossip and before you know it, you’re stacking the dishwasher.
Did I feel like shouting “CHEF YES CHEF!” many times while piping passion fruit curd or sprinkling herb mix? Maybe. Did I feel a sneaky sense of accomplishment even though I told everyone that the food came from Moveable Feast? I did. Did everything get eaten and a good time was had by all? Absolutely.
At $385 (including shipping), I would say it’s maybe a special occasion affair. The ingredients and packaging are both notably very high quality, and so I felt that the value held up well, and given that you’re getting seven courses for four people from a Michelin-starred establishment, it’s not a bad deal. And the feeling for a schmuck like me of emulating a gourmet chef? Priceless. (PO)
See the Moveable Feast website for details.
Our friend Jody travels to Benin, where he finds friends who are making a dish that might look somewhat familiar if you're a fan of gumbo. We eat it a lot here in New Orleans, but it's interesting to see where the dish came from. Take a look at this video and subscribe to his channel Exit Strategy TV for more content like this.
One good sign that you're staying at a great hotel is not being able to stop taking photos of it. The design at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River is right up my aesthetic alley. Clean lines, dark reflecting pools, tasteful art, cavernous public spaces, and those river views all add up to a memorably beautiful property.
Mad Men Meets David Lynch
Review by Todd Perley
I am a connoisseur of non-franchised, cheap motels. The funkier and weirder, the better. This kind of kink often ends in disaster. Broken showers, slimy ice, mystery smells, bedbugs. I once saw two maids throwing down in the parking lot using amenities from their carts as projectiles.
If you want a less…harrowing experience on an American roadtrip, may I recommend the Koolwink Motel?
Remember 1962? Yah, me neither. Yet I have a nostalgia for an era for which I was not present. This retro gem is tucked away in the hills of eastern West Virginia, (somehow surrounded by Maryland on three sides), just two hours west of D.C.
The lobby plays sappy 1950s lounge music, as the staff greet you with smiles so genuine, it’s frankly alarming. There will be amiable chit chat as you check in, because they are actually interested in your travels, and what brought you to Koolwink. When I tell them we drink from their logo’ed glasses (available for cheap purchase at the front desk) at home in New Orleans, their eyes dance with delight. Family owned since 1936, that sense of family comes through...and includes you.
The rooms are non-ironically mid-century modern, and bafflingly immaculate. Deep pile shag wall to wall so clean you could drop your baby on it as you kick off your shoes and imagine Peggy Olson doing the same sixty years ago. There is a brook that babbles at you behind the motel as you fetch a bucket of ice for the whiskey you (hopefully?) brought, because sitting in the gazebo is going to require a Don Draper-like cocktail to complete the effect.
In any big city, the overall vibe would be hipster-kitsch, but out in sweet little Romney, it’s just honest vintage, and expertly-maintained by the Mauk family for ninety years. On your next mid-Atlantic road trip, venture off the ugly interstates a bit to visit the Koolwink and bask in a bygone era. But with WiFi.
The Koolwink Motel, 24350 Northwestern Turnpike, Romney, WV 26757.
Rooms from USD71, see their website here.
After a long morning reclaiming a newly-damaged suitcase that arrived at Bangkok Airport five days after I did, I splurge on a cab home. My driver, Chakan, has what I can only assume is a heroic hangover. He keeps asking me the destination in a whispered moan every half mile.
“Sukhumvit, Soi 12.”
Driving in Bangkok, it’s like surfing a glacier. The panoramic lines move almost imperceptibly. This is good news for Chakan as he can open his door every now and then to wretch chaotically onto the blistering tarmac. It’s a real greatest hits, a tour de force of expulsion - dry heaves, angry bile, full-throated vomit. I double mask, discreetly. If it’s not a hangover, I don’t want his norovirus, having exuberantly redecorated the bathroom of a very exclusive restaurant the last time I was in town. I’d get out, but we’re on a highway and I’m neither linguistically skilled nor geographically confident enough to know how to negotiate that situation.
“Sukhumvit, Soi 12.”
Bangkok built toll roads from the new airport to try and alleviate the vehicular pressure. It worked for a few years, but slowly people just bit the bullet and everyone started using them. These arterial roads are now awash with automobile cholesterol (carlesterol?).
The toll roads are brimming with lurching steel, drivers just using hard shoulders and the median strips as extra lanes. Their utility is gone, but you still have to pay to use them. It's a neat trick. The roads are now taking their toll on the drivers. Especially Chakan, who has taken to manically turning the radio on and off for a sliver of a song every twenty seconds. In his license photo, he looks like Colin Firth. In the glare of the front seat, swaddled in booze sweat and perma-fumes, he looks like Colin Firth wearing prosthetic makeup to play the main role in a biopic of Keith Richards.
Two hours later, I clamber out of his cab several blocks from my place, just to give him space to suffer. In any case, I can walk faster than he can drive, even with my junked suitcase. Back home, I look up Chakan's name. It means ‘healthy body’.
Over the course of my job, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited and reviewed dozens of spas and treatments. I’ve winced under hot pebbles, been exfoliated with stony fistfuls of mud and brutally whipped with branches by joyless, bare-chested Turkish men. If it can be done with essential oils to new age music, or by strapping sadists armed with bits of tree, I’ve likely tried it.
Thailand has become a regular destination for me, and I’ve experienced more and more Thai massage, from the heights of opulent hotel penthouses down to temple-adjacent blind monks, working elbow to elbow in rooms of forty or more tables. From shiny, high-end kneading joints to dusty, backstreet pummel factories, I’ve been around the Thai massage block.
If you’ve never had a Thai massage, it’s like getting roughed up by a yoga teacher. It’s not so much the gentle coaxing of tired muscles as it is electroshock therapy for your tendons. There’s no gentle kneading, it’s more a bracing interrogation of your body’s more vulnerable pressure points. I mean, if it’s done right.
I try to get in as many as possible when I go to Thailand. In the rarefied air of the five star salons, it’s like a ballet. In the prim day spas off the Sukhumvit Road, it’s like a choreographed wrestling match. These iterations are fine, but give me the rundown shacks around Pratunam market, where the masseuse is a 70-year old woman, five feet tall with thumbs like gnarled knots of oak. You just know she could easily withstand a vigorous rugby tackle. These sessions? These sessions are like a Buddhist street fight.
You pay your $6 for an hour and sit down while she washes your feet and sizes you up. Why is she frowning? I’m convinced that she can assess your frailties just from this simple ritual. She leads you to a curtained treatment room, and leaves you to change into the loose pajamas provided and lie face down on a thin mat on the wooden floor.
Even though she doesn’t speak much English, I can sense her judgment from the start. Oh great, I have to prod this pasty mound of European dough. Many times, she’s audibly displeased with my physical limitations. Lots of indignant sighs. At one point she stops and harangues me, saying, as far as I understand it, that if I want to come to her in the future, I have to get a deep tissue massage first so that there’s at least a modicum of suppleness to my limbs. She can’t work with this. It’s amateur hour. She does her best.
Her steely digits find previously undiscovered nooks, making jolting inroads in a bodily equivalent of first contact. You know in Alien when the Xenomorph opens its mouth and an extra set of teeth jut out? It’s like that, but with her thumbs. Two thirds of the way through, she stops and says to me, without any emotion: “I think there is something very wrong with your body.” The heft of the damningly brief prognosis hangs in the air. I manage a tepid “OK?” and we head into the home straight, nothing more said.
There’s always the big finish. The spine aligner. The snappy ending. They put you in a sort of wrestler’s half-nelson and then sway you once, twice, three times a lady, but on the third time your torso is twisted and wrenched away from your stationary hips, and there should be a 21-vertebrae salute, with cracks that can be heard around the royal temple.
As you catch your breath, there’s a ceremonial rap of little back pats to signal to you that the fight is over. She won. She always wins. I am dismissed. I crawl out of the shop, a broken man. I’m not in her league. I clearly need to raise my game. Now I really need a massage. The kind where it doesn’t feel like a punishment. Hey, I wonder what’s very wrong with my body? (PO)
Some impressive, lesser-spotted, in-room amenities at the beautiful Four Seasons Bangkok Chao Phraya River: A pool bag for your sunbathing whatnots, two types of umbrella (rainy and parasol styles), a button in the loo that activates the Do Not Disturb light on your room door, and a pair of scissors for opening the milk carton without an unforeseen spillage.
With over 60 hotels worldwide (and growing), you’ve probably seen a Moxy, a ‘millennial’ brand launched by Marriott a few years ago. The regular Moxy hotels are a little stripped down, with minimalist rooms, check in at the lobby bar, grab-and-go food menus and the like. At these regular Moxy hotels, if you’re a 22 year old in town for a concert who wants to spend around $100 or less on a room, snap some cute photos for the ‘gram but you don’t care about fine dining, then it’s an ideal choice. This old warhorse felt a little out of place, but I can see the appeal as a starter hotel.
There is another kind of Moxy Hotel, though: Lightstone's Moxy properties. Currently there are five in New York (Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Times Square, Chelsea, and the East Village), plus Los Angeles and South Beach outposts. Though technically part of the Moxy brand, these particular Moxy hotels are’t like the other girls.
Mitchell Hochberg is the president of Lightstone, and he’s threading the needle of being brand-adjacent while remaining absolutely distinctive. I recently spent time with him on a group media tour of the new properties in the LES and Williamsburg, and let me tell you, buddy, he’s as New York as it gets. He’s excited for you to try his favorite bagel and lox, he talks baseball as a dyed-in-the-wool fan and if you x-rayed him, I’m pretty sure you’d find the I HEART NY logo running through his body like rings of a tree.
He’s worked with hotel industry legends like Ian Schrager, and though the mischief that those two may have enjoyed at Studio 54 back in the day remains very much a frivolous daydream of mine, I’m sure he might have some stories after a suitable amount of stiff drinks.
I’ve had a hundred dinners with a hundred company presidents and their (mostly understandably) bored-looking partners, but Mitchell and his wife are down-to-earth, enthusiastic hosts. They’re urbane without airs, socially inclusive and ardent ambassadors for New York City, especially considering they must have to entertain schmos like me a lot.
You could imagine being as comfortable with them in an East Village diner as at a black tie gala. Most times I see Mitch, he’s in a ball cap and track suit. They talk about regular family stuff, they’re chatty and open. I realize that no-one cares about some dinner I had, but I'll mention it because it sets the tone for Lightstone's Moxy ethos.
We chow down at Sake No Hana at the Moxy LES, a good example of the distinction. It’s a strikingly-designed Japanese izakaya, upscale looks but running the social gamut of guests. Hip kids drinking Asahi at the bar, family groups celebrating birthdays, corporate credit cards being flashed…it’s a real New York mix. Yes, Tiesto swings by to say hi to Mitch, but there's no sense of exclusivity and there’s no velvet rope. The Moxy in New Orleans has a bar with pressed paninis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s just mark the difference.
Hochberg and Lightstone have collaborated with innovative design companies to elevate their hotels. Small details at the LES property, some almost subliminal, pay homage to the neighborhood’s history as a haven for circus and burlesque performers. There’s a large dancing bear sculpture in the lobby but also tiny trapeze artists in the chandeliers and cheekily carnal images in the meeting room curtains that you only see on second glance. It’s risqué. Kind of edgy, even.
I’ll review a couple of the properties in detail very soon, but they all boast aesthetically memorable public spaces. Rooftop bars with saucy mini golf courses, basement nightclubs with dazzlingly high-end sound systems, and expansive hotel restaurants that you’re not just settling for because they’re convenient.
The rooms, too, are thoughtfully designed, with the guest experience - as opposed to the mindless exploitation of space for profit - very much in mind. Impressive (and presumably costly) floor-to-ceiling windows for those NYC panoramas, luxuriously high ceilings (at the expense of a revenue-generating extra floor in some cases), top-of-the range beds and bathrooms. Like Mitch says, when you're in a New York hotel, you’re likely not hanging out in the room much. A great shower, a comfy night’s sleep and those city views making you feel like you’re really, like the song says, a part of it.
Leaving the room is one thing, leaving the hotel might be another. Lightstone's Moxy hotels produce live onsite events that might be a drag cabaret or a name DJ, or - as was the case when I stayed - a trending food pop up that has lines round the block. I got my mitts on a scallion pancake burrito that dozens of selfie-sticked influencers were queuing for with febrile excitement. Only in New York, baby, etc.
The ‘experiential’ concept gets tossed around a lot these days, but it’s not an afterthought at these places. It’s built into the designs. I feel like if any element of the hotels didn’t show off or reflect well on the city, it's something that Mitchell would take very personally. He really HEARTS NY. Yes, he’s a businessman, but I honestly think that, beyond the hotels, he sincerely wants you to HEART NY too. And Mitch, if you ever want to tie one on and chat about the late 1970s off the record, you’ve got my email address. (PO)
Moxy Lower East Side is located at 145 Bowery Street, between Grand Street and Broome Street.
Moxy Williamsburg is located at 353 Bedford Ave, between 4th Street and 5th Streets.
Read our full review of the Moxy LES
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