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There are several things that I feel an unnatural attachment to: dark chocolate, Moroccan hair oil, make-up remover wipes, the blackest of black eyeliner Perversion by Urban Decay, French roast coffee, my iPad, tweezers, and Chateau de Pampelonne Rosé wine. If you tried to take them away you would most definitely find your days cut short or physically injured in some way.
A couple of years ago my childhood friend Leslie and I went to New York, it was her first time in the city and my 100th, so I played tour guide and we crammed as much wine, cupcakes, museum hopping, and shopping as we could in five glorious spring days, so much so we came back bloated, hungover, and broke – but deliriously happy and suitcases packed with goodies dangerously teetering over the weight limit.
If you asked me to name the happiest place on earth, it would be Le Bernardin restaurant in New York City; I’ve been to eat at this spectacular place only twice in my lifetime – once with Leslie and once with an ex.
The time I went with Leslie was definitely the more memorable of the two.
If you go, have the prix-fixe lunch, it’s not lunch on a budget – but you will be dreaming about the food for days and you will gladly fork over every hard-earned dollar you have to eat there again.
I am hopelessly in love with and will always be in love with owner and uberchef Eric Ripert. Of the two times I went to Le Bernardin, I dressed up and prayed that I would catch a glimpse of the silver-haired fox.
We would lock eyes and in his ultra sexy French accent he would say to me, “Alexandra, show me how you make an omelet.” Just the thought of him saying the word ‘omelet’ would have me plotting like Moll Flanders to make him my second husband.
My alternate reality is that Eric and I who both have a strict no work on Sunday afternoons rule; spend it simply in the kitchen listening to Adele and cooking three different types of omelets – just because we can.
We sip Chateau de Pampelonne and laugh at how bad we feel for people who don’t know how to make a simple omelet or even how to finely dice shallots. Oh, the life we would have together, as food and wine snobs.
My first taste of Chateau de Pampelonne Cotes De Provence Rosé wine was at Le Bernardin with Leslie. I ordered the striped bass and monkfish. It was prix-fixe lunch time and what better way to start off lunch but with wine, I love red but she prefers white so we compromised and went with the rosé suggested by the sommelier.
Once you taste Chateau de Pampelonne Rosé, you’ll know why…
This ain’t your momma’s White Zinfandel with a strawberry stuck in it – to and I quote “make it sweeter,” but I digress.
I heart rosé wine, and I know some staunch wine enthusiasts turn up their noses at Rosé. They may feel its only place at the table is as the poor fake stepsister of red wine or equivalent to wine in boxes.
But Chateau de Pampelonne Rosé from Provence deserves a second and third glance.
This smooth dry wine is a crystal clear rose pink hue, it smells of wild summer roses, tastes of juicy tart currants, slight spice, crisp green apple and underneath is a slight mineral finish that will leave you wanting another bottle after you’ve only finished your first glass.
The memory of the wine and my dreamed of love affair with Ripert left me wanting more after I landed back into reality.
My only memento of my almost brush with the love of my life was the label the sommelier graciously gave me laminated to treasure always and to remind myself of it the next time I went to the wine store.
Sun, Sand, Beaches, and Rich Rappers
So a year later my partner in crime Leslie and I went on a spa vacation in South Beach, we had massages and laid poolside from the minute we woke up to the minute we fell asleep and let’s face it once you’re over thirty-five that’s all you really want from a vacation, well that and to eat dinner at a reasonable hour and go to bed by 10pm.
On day three of our pool-spa-room-service-drinks-sleep-pool-spa-drinks vacation we finally decided to leave the hotel and go “exploring” – on vacation exploring to myself and Leslie means either we are going to eat somewhere amazing or stare at pretty objects and that’s pretty much it.
We went to Bal Harbour in Miami Beach, it’s kind of like the Rodeo Drive of South Florida and if you don’t like designer fashion, and people pretending they’re rich and famous then this place isn’t for you.
This is South Beach my friend and inner beauty isn’t highly prized here. So after oohhhingg and ahhhinngg at perfume we couldn’t afford and torturing the sales clerk at Gucci to show me five different handbags each the equivalent of my mortgage payment, we opted to spend our dollars not on arm candy but on food and wine, shocker I know.
We ended up at this quaint French bistro, I perused the wine menu and of course being with Leslie meant we were going to split a bottle of either white or rosé wine. Then suddenly my heart be still, there it was- I stumbled upon my beloved Chateau de Pampelonne rosé.
I was immediately thrown back into dreaming of Ripert and running my hands through his thick silvery hair. I love calling men by their last name so formal yet a little bit naughty at the same time.
But Leslie jolted me back to reality; she told me if Ripert did appear I would have a fight on my hands, because she would make a play for him as well.
In that case, I told her our lifelong friendship would cease and I would indeed ‘take her down’. We both laughed, sort of – I’m keeping my eye on her. Saucy minx.
In this hot and humid land of privilege where Rolls Royce’s and Ferrari’s are as common as Camry’s and Honda’s, I noticed several men entering the restaurant that to me looked like rappers or musicians, I couldn’t tell, but they had an urban edge that intrigued me.
I had watched them all one by one as they pulled into the valet area each one in a car more fabulous than the next one: first a shiny candy apple red Hummer, then a metallic blue Land Rover, a sleek black Mercedes, a Mayboch, and then finally a silver Bentley…and when they entered the restaurant and I was entranced. Chateau de Pampelonne, yes, but Eric who?
The men sat down next to us and I could not stop trying to listen to their conversations about spoiled pain in their asses rap artists, bitchy managers, demented groupies, and on one particularly large fascinating music producer named “K” kept his sunglasses on the entire lunch even though we were eating inside.
Clearly the alpha of the group he made his colleagues try the pate and kept insisting they have the Croque Madame sandwich which happens to be my absolute favorite. It’s a rich next level ham and cheese sandwich made with Mornay sauce, crusty bread, and topped with a fried egg. Get in my belly now.
When I heard his enthusiasm about the Croque Madame sandwich my eyes lit up, Leslie knew what was going to happen next – she gave me her silent wild eyed look that said, “Please do not engage them.” I looked at her and responded with my equally stealth reply, a smirk and mouthed, “Too late.”
I was off, I answered K as if he asked me the question and said loudly in his direction, “That is my favorite sandwich, but you have to drink it with Chateau de Pampelonne,” and did my best to smile flirtatiously.
K was slightly taken aback. Did I overreach – thinking I could just interrupt their private conversation?
K turned to me and said “Is that from Provence?”
“Yes, it is and I’m having the Croque Madame as well.”
Leslie froze and I could see her wild eyes slowly changing into angry eyes. She did not want to go on an adventure today; she just wanted to have lunch. Well too late cupcake, buckle up because we are going on Mr. Toad’s wild French ride today. She glared.
K told the waiter, “We’ll have two bottles of the Chateau de Pampelonne and send those fine ladies a bottle as well,” and grinned gorgeous pearly whites back at me.
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”
He smiled again and said, “I know.” Checkmate.
We ate lunch companionably. We exchanged odd bits of conversation about how hot it was. How delicious the food was here and I told him about other restaurants I liked in the area.
Leslie after realizing the conversation wasn’t going to end, finally popped back in her normal resigned eyes like Mrs. Potato Head. She sighed heavily and teetered a delicate balance of resigned to this lunch for six uninvited guests and ready to lose her cool again.
I knew the scenario running in her head was along the lines of ‘Women disappear into Bentley on South Beach and found in rappers mansion forced to serve Croque Madames for eternity’. I could think of worse headlines than sitting in a mansion feeding “K” the best ham and cheese sandwich ever.
And it seemed like a good alternative to ‘Woman found asleep with remote and dog lapping up spilled wine at 9pm’.
K asked me how I liked my lunch, what I did for a living, when I told him I was a writer – he was immediately interested.
I could feel Leslie swapping out her now docile eyes for her angry eyes again, she was boring holes into my eyeballs, silent daggers each one begging me to wrap up the conversation.
But I couldn’t, I was drawn to K’s deep baritone voice, his blinding smile, the eyes I couldn’t see, the fact that he wore more diamonds on his person than I owned and that those were probably his ‘just playing’ diamonds.
As we both were finishing lunch K came over, he was impressive in stature and I had the sudden urge to climb him like a jungle gym. “You know, I don’t usually care for wine, my drink of choice is vodka on the rocks, but I have to say girl you know your wine.”
I stammered giddily, “Thanks, er …glad you liked it.”
“My friends and I are going to Hermes, would you like to come?”
I looked at Leslie, who was silently telling me “Hell, No!” and I turned back to K and said, “We would love too.”
K took care of our lunch bill, I refused twice, he insisted, Leslie was having a coronary and it was done, lunch on K, he pulled out my chair as I stood up.
Leslie seemed like a placid accomplice but she was fuming on the inside. I’ve known her for 20 years and she wanted no part of this diversion, but since I drove and had the valet ticket she was trapped.
The eight of us went into the Hermes store, and a frail young slightly scared sales associate stammered at the sight of six men not in the Palm Beach set entering the store with two ladies.
I think he almost wanted to ask us if we were being held hostage. It was the best day of my life. Leslie on the other hand, felt as if she was indeed being held hostage. K’s skinny and short friend named ‘John’ kept asking Leslie if he could take her out on his yacht, Leslie kept trying to refuse graciously.
Suddenly three more scared sales associates appeared out of nowhere now swarming about the store nervously as if there was going to be a showdown in an alternative West Side Story the sales associates versus the rich rappers.
They were milling about desperately wondering where to look, whom to address and how to get these men safely away from their merchandise. The men and I simply ignored them.
I wondered if I would be Maria in the musical and wanted to start singing “I Feel Pretty,” but instead I laughed on the inside as I reflected on the fact that these men made more in one week than these salespeople made in a year.
I blissfully ignored everyone including Leslie and found my favorite section in the Hermes store, the scarves.
Old School Jackie O Hermes Scarf Magic
When I was a small child my mother used to roller set her hair and tie it up in a beautiful silk scarf. She must have had 20 different scarves, none of them were real silk, but to me each one was magical.
My mother would sometimes go to the grocery store with her hair in rollers secured discreetly under her colorful scarf, always wearing lipstick and pressed jeans. She was so stylish.
I stood fingering one of the scarves staring dreamily at the perfect orange print when K walked up next to me, he asked “You like that scarf?”
I smiled and said, “It reminds me of my mom, she used wear scarves when I was little.”
He said to me, “Mine too, she’d put her hair in curlers and then would tie it up in a scarf.”
“That’s exactly what my mom did!” We laughed together and I caught sight of Leslie who was rolling her eyes at me, another second and she would implode.
“K, it was very nice to meet you but I have to go, my friend and I have plans.” I said breaking out of my visions of K and I summering in France. I’d wear huge Jackie O style sunglasses and have my very own assortment of Hermes scarves. He nodded and waved the scared sales associate over.
“Thank you for lunch, it was so nice of you.” I said happily.
He smiled and nodded again, the salesman came to us his hands were folded nervously as if he was almost praying that K wouldn’t talk to him again.
“Yes, sir – how can I help you?”
K pointed to the scarf in my hand, “My man, wrap this up for the lady.”
“Oh, no I couldn’t!”
I dropped the scarf and it fell to the floor the salesman dived for it, because I don’t think anything in Hermes is ever supposed to touch the floor.
“Yes, you can. You’re a nice girl and I like you.”
I smiled and the salesman was nervously working at aligning the ribbon straight on my gift box.
“But, really it’s too much, you bought us lunch and I can’t take this, I really can’t,” I was refusing but I just wanted to grab the box, kiss K on the mouth, and run like I stole it.
“That’s $450 sir,” the salesman stammered. K stared at me and pretended not to hear the pitiful clerk. He pulled out of his pocket the biggest wad of cash I’ve ever seen and peeled off five $100 bills and placed them on the counter. K didn’t even acknowledge the clerk, he just stared at me.
“Thank you sir, and enjoy your scarf ma’am,” the sales clerk waited until K realized he was holding the gift box and his change to give to him.
K nodded and presented me with the box and his business card, adding “Give me a call sometime, I come to South Beach often.”
I took the box and grinned, “Thank you so much for this; really I don’t know what to say.”
He took my hand in his and kissed it lightly. “No, thank you.” He returned my smile, we walked to the door and our entourage followed us, we said our goodbyes again and parted ways.
I looked back at him, but he didn’t turn around as Leslie physically hauled me along in the opposite direction.
“Seriously?” Leslie asked, “How do these things only happen to you?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. I truly don’t know.
But when I drink Chateau de Pampelonne, I don’t think of Ripert and omelets anymore, I think of K and I making delicious Croque Madames and my perfect orange Hermes scarf.