TRAVEL

LA DOUBLE J: JJ Martin, Milan's Patron Saint of Patterns

Welcome to the wonderful world of La Double J. Photo: Erica Firpo

Welcome to the wonderful world of La Double J. Photo: Erica Firpo

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It’s not easy being a saint, and JJ Martin does it in style. As the creative force behind La Double J, a Milan-based clothing and homewares company, JJ has maxed out whimsical maxi dresses to fabulous formal wear and epic casual looks. La Double J dresses, skirts, blouses and outwear have sashayed through every party and decorated every It girl. Laura Ashley, it’s not.

"I love waiters that never change….”

JJ is enthusiastically particular and particularly enthusiastic. You can tell from her prints and from any conversation with her. She is neck-deep in Milan and can get down about anything- from vintage dresses and vintage waiters to the city’s renaissance which is happening right now. She considers herself a home body yet she’s up and on top of La Double J, its collaborations and her friends, a collective of creatives. Attentive, dynamic and incredibly well researched, JJ does the work which is why she was able to transform a vintage clothing e-shop into an international label of her own designs. And it helps that she’s in Italy, where historic design and textile companies are still (fingers crossed) producing.

Even though I am innately overwhelmed by prints, I fell in love with La Double J dresses for the peculiarity of some of the designs (my favorite is the Bouncy Dress with rainbow doves flying all over it). and for the quality of the fabrics, another fascination of JJ’s.. She sources fabrics like Crepe de Chine, crispy cotton (a thick, almost started cotton), silk and Jacquard from Italy’s heritage textile companies, and works with Mantero, a four-century old print archive and silk company whose revolutionized to the 21st century, for her prints. For her homewares, she collaborates with Murano glass makers and Italian ceramic artists. The result is that every La Double J piece is entirely made in Italy. And you can feel it.

JJ’S Milan includes the historic Marchese Pasticceria, Caffè Cucchi, the garden Bar at Bulgari Hotel, The Botanical Club (the first Italian micro distillery), and Lu Bar for those fabulous Milan aperitivi.

MORE FROM THIS EPISODE

Want to know how JJ went from fashion journalist to fashion house? Why La Double J is all about Italy? Where JJ hangs out in Milan? And finally where can you find your next La Double J dress? Pull up a chair, press play on the player above and catch the conversation with JJ Martin of La Double J.

CIAO BELLA is An ongoing conservation with those creative minds who are redefining Italy. New episodes every Monday. If you want to be part of Ciao Bella, support the podcast by visiting my Patreon page for behind-the-scenes, and for-your-eyes-only content. Keep in touch with ideas and comments for more Ciao Bella episodes.

An Art Lover's Guide to 36 Hours in Milan

Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Fashion, food, finance and all-round fabulousness. Here’s how to spend an inspired 36 hours in Milan, Italy’s “It” city.

10am: Check in at Hotel Indigo Milan – Corso Monforte and you’ll find yourself in the centre of an art-focused crossroads, from Milan’s illustrious Baroque to its contemporary cultural kingpin vibe. Step into modern Milan of the 1930s at the Villa Necchi Campiglio, in park Villa Campiglio directly across the from the hotel.

Named for socialite sisters Gigina and Nedda Necchi and Gigina’s husband, Angelo Campiglio, the Villa Necchi Campiglio was the centre and centrepiece of Milan’s mid-twentieth century social scene. Architect Piero Portaluppi combined his unique rationalist flair of sleek lines and materials with Frank Lloyd Wright’s functional sensibilities (including custom pieces and built-ins). His 1930s design was innovative in details both inside and out. In 2000, Gigina bequeathed the property to FAI, Italy’s national trust, which opened the villa as a museum in 2008.

Photo credit: Villa Necchi Campiglio.

12pm: For lunch, the villa’s solarium doubles as a charming cafeteria and features favourite Milanese dishes including a green risotto and traditional veal cutlets. Wondering why the Villa Necchi Campiglio looks familiar? The iconic home was setting for the 2009 Italian movie I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton.

3pm: Make your way to Fondazione Prada. This 205,000-square-foot complex is home to an intense collection of contemporary art works by 20th and 21st-century Italian and international artists—from Giacomo Balla to Francesco Vezzuoli and Damien Hirst. Its 2015 Rem Koolhaas/OMA design includes a cinema.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

6pm: Stop for aperitivi at Fondazione Prada’s cocktail hub Bar Luce, the Art Deco–inspired bar designed by director Wes Anderson. And then make your way up the newly opened Torre, a nine-story modernist tower, with art galleries that eventually lead to the rooftop terrace bar.

8:30pm: After drinks, stay for dinner at Ristorante Torre, the Fondazione’s tower restaurant. The illuminated cityscape of Milan sprawls away beyond its floor to ceiling windows, and the views inside are equally good with art work including custom wall-hung plates and midcentury design pieces like Tulip tables, and executive chairs by Eero Saarinen. The menu features regular new tasting dishes created by a rotation of Michelin rising star chefs from the CARE’s Chef Under 30 project.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Day 2

8.30 am: Build up an appetite with a stroll through the historic Giardini Pubblici, established 1784 and considered the oldest city park in Milan. Then find a counter spot at Pasticceria Marchesi, the posh cafe on via Montenapoleone in Milan’s Fashion Quadrilateral. A city landmark, Marchesi is the perfect scene for morning coffee, and has a mouthwatering line up of pastries, traditional pralines and savoury treats. Take a look around the Fashion Quadrilateral, an oasis of haute couture. Via Montenapoleone and its side streets are lined with beautiful boutiques representing some of the world’s most admired fashion houses.

11.30 am: Milan’s designers all know that contemporary style comes from centuries of culture. Catch up on Milan’s history at the Galleria Arte Moderna, a late 18th century villa whose Baroque trappings are the backdrop to an enviable collection of Italian and European artwork from the 18th to the 20th century. The rise of modern Milan is shown through key work by Balla, Boccioni, Canova and Segantini, which sit side by side with Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne and Gaugin.

1pm: For lunch, head to LuBar, the galleria’s on site cafe for creative Sicilian street food in a whimsical fin-de-siècle setting.

 

3pm It’s time to go back to the future by visiting the Pirelli Hangar Biccocaa free-entry contemporary complex on the grounds of a former Pirelli tire factory. This is now one of Europe’s largest exhibition spaces, with three buildings covering 100,000 square feet. It’s dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions featuring works by Italian and international artists. Guides are on hand to help you navigate around the vast complex.

8pm By early evening, you’ll want to grab an outside table at Iuta BistrotHangar Bicohcca’s onsite gourmet restaurant where the city’s cognoscenti congregate for stylish conversation and aptly-mixed cocktail.

10pm Ready to head home to the hotel? Before you do, make a pit stop at Bar Basso, a cult classic popular with the fashion and design crowd, known for introducing the world to “aperitivi” hour and its own take on the negroni.

This article first appeared in Belong Magazine, June 2018.

Baglioni Hotel Carlton Milan Stands Out in the City That Never Stands Still

Montenapoleone Terrace Suite. All photos by Diego de Pol / Courtesy of Baglioni Hotel Carlton.

MILAN – Without a doubt, Milan is Italy’s It city, a fabulous melting pot of fashion, design, tech, finance, and art. The latest addition to its pantheon of awesomeness is the hotel scene. Whether beautiful boutiques or curated chains, Milan’s hotel vibe is evolving, much like the city itself.  

But the fact is Milan has always had amazing hotels. It is an old-school city with old-school institutions that have not only withstood the perils of time and trend, but also set the bar for all of the new entries.  
 
My monthly Milan visits from Rome are often a quick 24 hours of business and pleasure, which means my hotel has to be centrally located, preferably quiet, and near a park. My latest trip brought me to the Baglioni Hotel Carlton, which is the perfect address for a Gemini like me. It sits hidden in the busy historic center within walking or biking distance of everything from business to art and window shopping. The interiors are a celebration of its original 1960s rococo decor and its 21st-century incarnation as homage to the best of contemporary Italian design. The ultimate urban manse, Hotel Carlton is stylish and subtle, chic and private, the kind of place for a great weekend affair.

Terrace Suite.

Junior Suite.

Checking In

Location
The hotel is in San Babilia, on the border of Centro Storico and Palestro. A ten-minute walk from Milan’s Duomo, the hotel is located in the fashion district of the historic center. Eye candy and haute couture await at every step.

Hotel Style
A quiet and elegant mansion styled exactly as you would expect from Milan: Art Deco lines with antique furniture, brocade silks, Venetian chandeliers, and bathrooms with resplendent marble.

This Place Is Perfect For
An entourage, couples, families, business travelers, and solo travelers looking for white-glove service, elegance, and a discreet position that is also centrally located.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone trying to get papped. The Carlton is discreet, not showy.

What’s on Site
Spiga 8 Spa, with an entrance on via Spiga for external guests. Gym. Three meeting rooms (one large, two small) for business guests. Private indoor garage.

Food + Drink
Milan institution Il Baretto al Baglioni is the historic on-site restaurant, an intimate anachronism to yesteryear Milan where the table you’re given is as important as the meal you’re eating. The menu is light Milanese and Mediterranean dishes including local favorites cotoletta alla Milanese (veal cutlet) and, of course, risotto.

The lounge are Caffè Baglioni hosts breakfast, a multi-cultural buffet that will appease anyone with intolerances and is included in the room price, and lunch, where menu items include special dietary options (must maintain the line for those Milan fashions…). The space doubles as afternoon/evening lounge for aperitif hour. In warm months, Baglioni’s garden is a great hang out.

The dining room at Il Baretto al Baglioni

A Caffè Baglioni dining room overlooking the gardens.

Number of Rooms
87 rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities
All the Ortigia products you could dream of, from hair and beauty care to wondrous bath salts and creams. Sumptuous bathrobes and the spongiest, most comfortable hotel slippers I have ever tried. Fresh fruit, a bottle of prosecco, Nespresso machine, and the standard set up of mini-bar snacks, including artisanal dried fruits and salted nuts. WiFi is free and fast.

Drawbacks
I can’t think of a single one.

Standout Detail
Lino the concierge. His father was one of the first concierges on staff when the hotel opened in 1962. Lino grew up at the hotel. He knows everything.

Checking Out

Neighborhood
Centro Storico/Fashion Quadrangle

What to Do Nearby
The hotel has a back door onto via Spiga, the pedestrian shopping road lined with luxury labels, part of the network of fabulous fashion streets in the Montenapoleone area. Across from the hotel is Fornasetti, the flagship store and multi-floor museum dedicated to avant-garde artist and design Piero Fornasetti. Farther along the road is Villa Necchi Campiglio, the home you may have seen in the Tilda Swinton movie I Am Love — it's Milan’s glorious answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper class living. For a breath of fresh air, Milan's Giardini Pubblici and GAM-Gallera Arte Moderna are a five-minute walk, while ten minutes in the opposite direction will take you directly to the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Good to Know
Guests have access to a side door leading on via Spiga, which is great for quiet entrances in the late evening.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
The hotel is a 10-minute cab ride from Milano Centrale train station or an hour from Milano-Malpensa (MXP) airport.

Getting Around
Public transport options abound: bicycle, taxis, trams, bus, and metros. But (almost) everything you will want to do in Milan is just a walk from the hotel.

Book It

Rates from $415. Click here for reservations.

5 Places For An Unforgettable Aperitivo

When Forbes Travel (October 2017) asked me to find great Italian aperitivi around the world, here's where I found myself barside. . .

The St. Regis Bangkok’ s Jojo, Photo Credit: The St. Regis Bangkok

Everyone loves a good happy hour, but no one does it quite like the Italians. Meant to cleanse the palate before dinner, drinks like a Negroni (Campari, gin and sweet vermouth) or an Aperol Spritz are light, refreshing and popular worldwide for their simple, classic flavors. Here are five stops to make for your own global apertivo adventure.

Bangkok
The Mediterranean comes to Thailand with Aperol evenings at Jojo, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The St. Regis Bangkok’s elegant Italian restaurant. The eatery’s terrace location is the spot to enjoy the futuristic and ever-changing Bangkok cityscape while imbibing Italy’s best cocktail-hour export, the Aperol Spritz — prosecco, Aperol and soda water.

To accompany your signature sip, chef Stefano Merlo has created perfectly paired cicchetti (traditional Venetian aperitif snacks).

Milan
When in Milan, the fashion forward flock to Four-Star Hotel Principe di Savoia and its iconic Principe Bar. Come aperitif time, this sultry hangout comes alive with signature martini cocktails (try the Raspberry Filtering, a sweet sip made with raspberry-infused vodka, Chambord, pineapple juice and a splash of champagne), a DJ spinning Italian tunes and canapés, in case you start to feel peckish.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, Photo Credit: Four Seasons Hotel Firenze

Florence
Take the fast train to Florence and the Atrium Bar at Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, one of the prettiest places for an aperitivo. This elegant bar is old school — a Renaissance-era court with an enclosed skylight ceiling, whose design recalls vintage libraries and lounges of a bygone era.

Mixologist Edoardo Sandri expertly curates a cocktail menu that goes far beyond a quality aperitivo. Though you can’t go wrong with a classic Negroni Sbagliato (which swaps in sparkling wine for gin), a favorite sip here is the light and fresh cucumber martini.

New York City
Head to Four-Star Langham Place’s iconic Fifth Avenue address and walk up the grand marble staircase to Four-Star Ai Fiori’s bar for a little taste of Italy in Midtown Manhattan. Bar Fiori specializes in seasonal aperitivi, including a spicy twist on the Aperol Spritz — the Autumn Thistle features cardamom-infused Cynar (a bittersweet artichoke-based liqueur) and Cider du Vulcain Premiers Emois hard cider.

Chinotto Cobbler, Mattiussi Fizz and Americano in Paris all offer herbal and floral variations of their classic namesake sips, and each comes with a skillet of housemade popcorn.

Hotel Eden’s La Libreria, Photo Credit: Hotel Eden

Rome
When in Rome, it’s all about the view, and there is no other perch quite like the open-air terrace at Il Giardino atop Five-Star Hotel Eden. Take in a sweeping view of the Eternal City from the historic center toward Michelangelo’s Dome as barman Gabriele Rizzi creates signature, seasonal cocktails like his Grande Bellezza — a pink vermouth martini — accompanied by chef Fabio Ciervo’s artful hors d’oeuvres and cicchetti.

Here’s a secret: the ground-level gilded lobby lounge, La Libreria, has a hidden bar with a private barman. So, if you find yourself in need of an afternoon aperitivo, grab a spot on one of the velvet divans and wait to be served.

Trippa, Milan's Other Last Supper

Photo: Paolo Zuf

There are restaurants and then there are Restaurants, a food sanctuary that says Home, and from that very first bite convinces you to drop everything in your life just for an opportunity to bus tables so that you can hang out in the kitchen.  This is the kind of place that you keep secret for as long possible, making friends vow to never reveal any details and praying to yourself that you never mention the name in your sleep.  But I think it's time I let you in on my little secret since Italian food writers have been scribbling up a storm about it - -  Trippa, Milan's other Last Supper

Photo: Paolo Zuf

Familiar, nostalgic and beckoning, Trippa is designed like an old school trattoria, a single and clamorous room of vintage-inspired wooden tables and chairs, with authentic vintage lamps, fans, and posters.  The room is enveloped in a gorgeous mustard color that I later find out is "Milan tram yellow", as in the city's beautiful (and refurbished )1930s trams.  The vibe is chatterbox hang out.  Everyone knows everyone else, and are constantly playing table hopscotch, while owner and chef Diego Rossi holds the floor both conceptually and gastronomically.

Photo: Paolo Zuff

I stumbled across Trippa thanks to my friend Sara*, an intrepid food and travel writer.  Sara knows where to eat, so the table's always up to her which is probably why she is co-founder and bosslady ofSauce Milan, the site for Milan's food and restaurant scene.  Of course, Sara was spot on.  Trippa was perfect - for me and for the evening, which initially began with a viewing of the Last Supper.   Next thing I know, a kerchiefed Diego is bombarding me, Sara, Laura and Darius with vegetables-  crunchy white turnips (were they slightly breaded?), grilled raddichio with roe, a leek panella, fried artichoke and a trio platter where all I remember is the broccolo. And that was just the beginning.  We had a fabulous fassona tartar, a valorous vitello tonnato (perhaps the very best I have ever had), and a perfect grilled polpo.  It was almost as if I needed nothing more until the bone was brought out.

Marrow on the half bone.  I could write sonnets to this salty masterpiece that we spread over warm bread.

Beatific. Gastro-terrific.  Mind-blowing, belly showing.  A half-bone beat with a salty treat. Bone marrow, I'm yours.

Life Imitates Art.  That's the only thing I was thinking about it as I looked across the table at Sara (left), Diego and Laura, my culinary trinity, who brought me and Darius from enamoured to enlightened.  Trippa was a masterpiece, and then I noticed that they were too.  Just like Da Vinci's fresco.  Nothing is a coincidence.

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Via Giorgio Vasari 3

Reservations only 327 668 7908

The Factory: Milan's Pirelli Hangar Bicocca

Don't laugh, but Milan is my Breath of Fresh Air.  My Mind Clearer and my Get Back to Reality. As much as I love Rome and its ever-permeating chaos, every now and then,  I need to get of my head, literally and metaphysically, and I need Milan like some people need that morning meditation, coffee, workout, cigarette or shot.    Just 2 hours and 55 minutes on the FrecciaRossa and I've got my fix.

Grab your Milan map and head seven or so kilometers slight northeast of the Duomo.  Likely a lot of the city's outer-lying neighborhoods, Bicocca is a Vonnegut setting -  town build up up on the remains of Borgo Pirelli (Pirelli Town), Italy's early 20th century City of Industry. Back in the day, Bicocca was the headquarters and hub to some of Italy's top automotive and mass transit companies- tires, trains, engines, cars, war machines and more made the hamlet an industrial landscape of  factories, warehouses, and workers' housing.  80 years later, the landscape has evolved into Tetris of low, red brick building, midsize angular hangars to form a mini, gridform city of administrative and financial offices, factories, state university, shopping malls and Pirelli Hangar Bicocca.

Only in Milan would you find an incredible art foundation on the grounds of a tire factory, especially when it is one of the world's largest.   10,900 square metres of exhibition galleries with a  California campus vibe mixed with brick warehouses and concrete gardens, Hangar Bicocca is the Pirelli's love letter to site specific art installations.   Comprised of three buildings - the Shed (a series of connected, low brick buildings), the Navata (an amazing and huge hangar), and the Cubo, Hangar Bicocca is free-entry, interactive art space for permanent and temporary exhibitions.  All projects are large scale, and meant to be experienced not just looked at, aside from Efemero, a mural project by Brazilian artist Osgemeous on the external facade of the Cubo.  And Hangar Bicocca is a combination of interior and exterior spaces, whose enclosed garden is playground (on any day there are school visits),  social scene (the caffe has an outdoor seating area) and post-apocalyptic Instagram background - Fausto Melotti's enormous La Sequenza (1981) - a sequence of oxidized iron sheets 22 metres long, 7 metres high and 10 metres wide surrounded by tumbleweeds - is a permanent resident.  The other permanent resident is    Anselm Kiefer's The Seven Heavenly Palaces, an interior landscape within the Hangar landscape and a walk around Kiefer's pysche through seven fragile cement towers and five, large scale mixed-media paintings.

#ARTTOTHEPEOPLE

Appearing every now and then in the dark hued palette of greys, whites and black, are uniformed members of Hangar Bicocca's pit crew, young art monitors wearing Pirelli red jackets with the clever hashtag #arttothepeople, treading on trend as much on Borgo Pirelli's famous 1943 workers' strike.   Off to the side of the shed is Dopolavoro, a beautiful caffe restaurant with chalkboard walls and open seating that seemed as much the hip meet up as the perfect business lunch spot.  It is-- the menu is seasonal,  Italian regional and organically curated by chef Lorenzo Piccinelli.  So yeah, this is how I get my contemporary fix... Milan + art, with a glass of Arneis and tartar.

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Pirelli Hangar Bicocca

Via Chiesa 2 (+39) 02 66 11 15 73

Thursday through Sundays, 10 am to 10pm

Free entrance

The Last Supper, for the first time

There are a lot of things I've never done, but there are a few things I kick myself for never doing.  In all my travels to Milan, as frequent as once a month or as sparse as one as year, the one thing I 've never done that I kept saying I would ~ nope, it's not glamming it up for a photo shoot,  late night dancing with Giorgio Armani, running in Parco Sempione, hanging out at the top of the Duomo, nor visiting Milan's underground, I've done them all ~ my one thing never done is visit the Cenacolo -Leonardo da Vinci's incredible and impossible Last Supper, a painting that has survived bombings and bad restorations, and whose humble 21st century request is that you book your visit in advance.  And every time I come back from a visit to Milan, I feel guilty but obviously not enough to reserve my 15-minute slot.  That is until two months ago.

Backstory:  December 2016 and I'm sipping wine at Colbert, a special cocktail event hosted by Mastercard for its Priceless Cities subscribers.  The event and setting were lovely and piqued my curiosity as to what else Mastercard thought was Priceless in Italy.  Scrolling through Priceless,  I came across rooftop dinners, cooking courses, gala events, a historic walks, vabbè.... and there it was -  the Last Supper, an hour-long visit to see Leonardo's fresco and walk through the adjacent Chiesa di Santa Maria della Grazie.  22 euro and no navigating through the Cenacolo's website, it was about time to get back to Milan.

Pigrizia cenacolosa, Last Supper laziness, a close cousin of pigrizia sistiniana- living in Rome without having ever been to the Sistine Chapel.  That's what I quickly learned when chatting up the 20 some PricelessCities guests who were waiting with me in Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie.  All but one of them had never seen the Cenacolo, and most of them lived in Milan.  No biggie, and I totally I get it, I thought as we lined up single file to enter a hermetically sealed waiting space before the big reveal.  It's not always easy to visit the most important art historical site in your city, much less your country, especially when you live in the neighborhood.

We stepped inside and the 15 minute countdown began.  The room itself is plain, two frescos on both ends of what was once the convent's dining hall.   The Last Supper is incredible.... large ( 29 feet long by 15 feet high) and incredibly detailed.  I loved looking it at from the center of the room- the orthogonals pull you to the table, but the closest you can stand is about 8 feet away. For the first ten minutes, the base of the painting was crowded, everyone looking for Christ's feet and Mary Magdalene.  Me too, but I didn't join the rest as they looked at the second, non-Lenardo fresco, so I enjoyed five minutes of the Last Supper all to myself.   It blew my mind-  the movement, the figures, the details. I started to wonder if the models were his friends, and if so, who?

I walked out of the room kicking myself for not having been there before, every "before" that I've ever had in Milan, and headed to the Bramante-designed basilica and sacrestia, but I'll be honest, it was a beautiful blur since my mind was on the Last Supper.

To answer my three most asked questions:

  • Yes, you must reserve your visit - and I think via Priceless Cities is the best way to do so. Once you sign up (free!), all you have to do is reserve the event on the site, Priceless Cities takes.  PS- rrom what I understand, any Priceless subscriber (in any city) can sign up for events in other cities, so no, you don't have to live in Italy.
  • Yes, photos are permitted but without flash.
  • And yes, those fifteen minutes (plus train ride) were worth it.

Milan: Your eyes are bigger than your Bouecc

Te gh'ee l'oeucc pussee grand del boeucc

- Milanese dialect "Your eyes are bigger than your mouth"

For me, my boeucc and oeucc are a complimentary tag team in my spying out must-try restaurants.  This time, they took me to Boeucc, a tony and historic spot in Milan's Piazza Belgioso, the well-heeled neoclassical square near La Scala and the Galleria.  Boeucc ranks high in Italy for its history and tradition-  the restaurant is over three hundred years old, it is both a historically registered building as well as business- it has a beautiful neoclassical dining room with high ceilings, Murano glass chandeliers, hardwood floors and marble columns and Boeucc is known for its strict adhesion to Milanese dishes.

Up until a few weeks, I was not at all interested in stopping by because Boeucc seemed, well, predictable and maybe even a recipe for disappointment with its Duomo-adjacent address that suggested a price tag that might overshadow the meal- catering to finance's finest and trend-hungry tourists. But since, I couldn't resist taking a peek at the menu, and I'm glad I did or I would never have known about the bistrot, which from this day forward, I call the Best Of Boeucc.

I'm right.  The bistrot is the best.  Essentially, it's like dipping your toe in Boeucc'sthree-hundred year old history and tasting a few of its signature dishes, without worrying about the wallet or any stuffy attitude.  The bistrot menu is pared down from Boeucc's more serious dining tome,  in other words, a basic culinary idea, though my advice is to order by looking (and smelling) what the other guests are having.   I did just that: tortellini di carne with panna and prosciutto, and then a costellotta di vitello alla milanese, the typical breaded fried cutlet.  Did I mention Darius was with me? He chose a tuna tartare, followed by octopus in a red sauce with peas, but thought the pasta was the best.

Style wise, the Bistrot's dining room decor is same refined style as the main dining room- with its columns, chandeliers and charming waiters in ecru jackets, but the vibe is far more laid back-- more chatter and a eclectic collection of modern and contemporary art sketches, posters, vintage photos covering sections of the walls.   Yes, there were several business lunches going on, lots of fitted black and navy blue suits, but overall, it was light hearted and luminous, kind of like theperfect spot to start a very casual affair.

My take away:  Boeucc Bistrot is fun, affordable and flirty, with just a touch of gravitas to remind us we were in Milan.

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Piazza Belgioioso, 2 02 7602 0224

Talking Digital Italy with Tamu TV and All The Pretty Birds

There are a few things in life I can't say "no" to: gazpacho, a quick trip to Milan and a great conversation with a fabulous friend.   That's a trifecta rarely attained, if at all, until this past July when Tamu McPherson, the eye and voice behind All the Pretty Birds and Milan girl about town, invited me to her cafe to talk about Italy in the Digital Age.

Here's a little back story:  I've being following Tamu and All the Pretty Birds for years, from her beginning as a street style photographer and to her evolution into one of fashion's bestlifestyle blogs.  I've long loved Tamu's style- writing, behind the lense and her fresh look on fashion.  Most of all, I love how much she loves and lives Milan through art, culture and fasthion.  Tamu's Cafe is a food/lifestyle series that brings fashion, design and food luminaries to the table, so you can imagine how flattered I was when she invited to bring over a recipe.

Tune into Tamu TV for a little bit of gazpacho, Milan-with-a-view, a chat about Italy in the Digital Age with me!

Thank you, Fondazione Prada

Fondazione Prada, thank you.  I have been waiting for an arts complex like this to come to Italy for ten years.  An incredible fashion-based arts foundation with not just the big bucks but bigger balls to show off what seems like an entire contemporary art collection [nope, there's more in storage],  a temporary show bringing priceless antiquities from collections including the Vatican, debut its onsite cinema with a retrospective film on Roman Polanski, and hire aesthete auteur Wes Anderson to design its bar, all the meanwhile sitting pretty in a 19,000 sq m complex from mastermind starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

Koolhaas, an architect who is known for ability to transcend space with a good dose of ego,  transformed a former distillery in Milan's southwest into a 21st century artsy mall.  And of course, it balances the quintessential Prada vibe- sleek and cool-toned, with a slight hand at playful.  Gorgeous,  24 karat gold leafed covers the "Haunted House", a four+ level temporary exhibition area, the cinema is horizontal mirrored reflection of the "podium", Koolhaas' glass box where Prada's debut exhibition Serial Classic resides, a concrete cistern houses lets us get up front and above a Damien Hirst piece, and all is enclosed by perimeter walls housing more of Prada's never-ending collection.

More than anything, Fondazione Prada isn't just about the exhibition [though Serial Classic ranks as 'blockbuster', tens of sculptures exploring the multiples in antiquity, curated by archeologist Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola]- it's about the experience.  Like any museum or gallery space, you are meant to walk through halls of installations, sculpture and painting and more than anything you are meant to enjoy yourself in every single space- whether it be art car collection, the Robert Gober installations in the haunted, or an evening at the on site cinema.

Everyone seems to be talking about Bar Luce, the deliciously decor'd, ersatz vintage bar by filmmaker Wes Anderson. Anderson is a long time Prada collaborator who created and filmed the 2013 Prada short film Castello Calvacanti (starring my friend Giorgio along with Jason Schwartzman) which makes an appearance in one of the fully functioning pin ball machines in the bar's hall [the other is themed The Life Aquatic].  And I agree, it is charming- Anderson designed the wall paper, curated jukebox, and hand picked the food and beverages, as well as everything else. I just hope that aperitivi hour at Bar Luce doesn't overshadow the point of Fondazione Prada- art.

I'm just going to take a moment to add one more element to Fondazione Prada- it all about  repeat performance and the 5th wall.  In two months, I've visted Fondazione Prada in three different incarnations-- as intrepid art reporter- taking in the entire complex in a sugar-fueled afternoon,  as aperitivo aficionado sitting pretty at Bar Luce and as best daytime date ever when I took my husband Darius for a walk through Serial Classic so that he could see his favorite antiquities on, well,  repeat (mind you, I snuck in the Haunted House as well).  And I've already lined up a Friday night cinema date with my friend Laura.

Perhaps this is the new form of mall entertainment?

Bar Luce