My 5,000 mile March road trip proved to be a true whirlwind of joy, activity, and connection. I returned home only to leave a week later for Los Angeles. Then, after a brief pit stop at home to jump back into my "real life", I headed out on another 4,000-mile road trip in early May. All this to say that I am only now just catching my breath enough to sit down and write the next entries in my blog. So, with apologies for the unexpected hiatus, at long last. . .here goes!
In this entry, I hope to recapture the fast furious fun final stops of my March road trip--Chicago and St Louis.
Some of my friends on the coasts deride anything between Santa Fe and Philly as flyover states. But I love the Midwest for its wide open spaces and its friendly people. My father hailed from St Louis, Missouri--and I attribute much of his open-hearted approach to life to his Midwestern values and upbringing.
My great grandfather, Dr Vincent Clarence Price, moved from upstate New York to Chicago in the mid-19th century--heading West as a young man to seek his fame and fortune as an inventor and entrepreneur. There he created the companies that would make him a household name in as the inventor of baking powder, and the first person to patent and sell extract of vanilla, breakfast cereals, and many other food products. His generosity was legendary--each of his companies employed family members and friends throughout Illinois and Wisconsin. He was also the first Vincent Price to write a popular cookbook.
My plan had been to head home from Boston through Chicago with a stop for dinner at The Pump Room--the only restaurant from my parents' cookbook still left in the Windy City. I was joined by Christopher Garlington--the co-creator of Chicago's now famous Vincent Price dinners with Clandestino Dining's chef Efrain Cuevas--and his wife, Colleen--a patent attorney with a great sense of humour, and chef/mixologist Lauren Parton.
The Pump Room--long a landmark Chicago watering hole--now finds its home in Ian Schrager's Public Hotel. Although I grew up in Hollywood, my parents raised me to be a low-key, fly-under-the-radar type person. I am uncomfortable at parties, where I would vastly prefer to sit quietly in a corner and people watch rather than attract any attention to myself. As my godfather, Cleveland Amory, wrote in his introduction to the cookbook--although my parents made their living in Hollywood, they were not Hollywood people. And they certainly did not raise Hollywood children--my brother left for New Mexico when he was 18 and I have lived there myself for over twenty years. Despite all this, I genuinely appreciate visionaries like Ian Schrager, whose projects manage to capture all the glamour, glitz, and glory of American celebrity lifestyle at its glittering best. I have enjoyed my meals in Schrager watering holes such as San Francisco's elegant Clift Hotel, and have left feeling grateful that he has preserved some of the classic hotels, bars, and restaurants of America's past--ushering them into the 21st century, where they can be appreciated by a new audience.
In Chicago, Schrager teamed with celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to recreate the Public for a new audience of young hipsters, leggy supermodels, Mad Men-suited wheelers and dealers, and eager voyeurs such as myself. The room was elegant but subdued, as was the menu--filled with rich but beautifully prepared dishes. Black-and-white photos of the countless celebrities who have dined at the Pump Room line the foyer and downstairs lounge--reminding current visitors of the restaurant's celebrated history as host to politicians and presidents, movies stars and rock stars, Hollywood royalty, and New York intelligentsia. And the space itself has been designed as a modern incarnation with a decidedly Deco affect
Stavros, our affable waiter, guided us through our dining experience--recommending his favorites such as the Pretzel-Dusted Calamari and the Tuna Tartare. I am not raw meat or fish fan, but Stavros' insistence broke down my resistance, and I'm glad it did. It was one of the best dishes I have ever had--tender, spicy, really quite perfect.
Everyone threw themselves into the spirit of the meal--and we ate our entrees family style. The highlights of the evening were:
Lamb Chops with Mushroom Bolognese, Broccoli Rabe and Chili Oil--Organic lamb with an inspired Bolognese sauce and then the slight kick of the chili oil!
Fried Organic Chicken, Spinach, Buttery Hot Sauce--I had been dying to have "fried chickie" as my dad used to call it on the trip. I pictured it happening somewhere in the South. But this held its own--and is apparently one of Jean-Georges' signature dishes.
Soy Glazed Beef Short Ribs, Apple-Jalapeno Puree and Rosemary Crumbs--OK. I'm not particularly a short ribs person, but these were by far the dish of the evening. Lusciously good, they fell right off the bone. "Like buttah," was our assessment.
But as good as the food was, the company was better. One of the things I love best about traveling solo is the opportunity to meet new people--to begin as strangers and to come away friends. That's how I felt about my dinner companions
Chris, a thoroughly engaging and talented writer-entrepreneur, grew up the son of a plumber in Alabama. For reasons that are unclear even to Chris himself, his father brought home my parents' cookbook one day, and proceeded to cook from it for almost a year--introducing his family to fine dining and the world through the pages of the book. After that, the book would likely have just ended up gathering dust on the shelf had it not been for Chris, for whom the book became his personal talisman--his guide out of Alabama and into the life of his imaginings. He pored over the pages of that book in much the same way that my dad pored over the art book his older sister left behind--imagining leaving St Louis for a life in the arts. The design of the cover, the heft of the pages, the illustrations of our home, the menus to the restaurants--Chris would come to know them almost by heart. His heartfelt telling of this story brought tears to all of our eyes--and I know that my parents would have been so proud to feel that this book had that kind of effect on a boy's life.
Years later, after moving to Chicago and hearing about a successful self-taught young chef named Efrain Cuevas, who had created a roving supper club movement called Clandestino Dining, Chris approached Efrain about creating Vincent Price dinners in Chicago. The two joined forces, and created incredibly popular "performance food/art" events at off-beat sites such as an abandoned convent or a furniture factory. Until Efrain left to open a restaurant in Los Angeles two years ago, the Vincent Price dinners were their most popular events. Needless to say, we began planning our own collaborative event for the fall--to coincide with the launching of the new Vincent Price wine collection. We parted company as fast friends--and future collaborators.
After Chicago, I planned to head home to Santa Fe and my dogs. But my friend Jane Sauer had been reading my blog and urged me to come to St Louis. Jane is the Santa Fe gallerist I most respect, and though I was pleased for her when she sold her gallery and moved back to her hometown of St Louis, I knew I would miss her and her incredible eye! So, how could I resist adding one more day to my trip to visit my dad's birthplace to have dinner with a friend? I reached out to two more St Louis friends, and one of them, Jenni O'Dell, came up with the perfect place to eat--Herbie's Vintage 72 in St Louis' Central West End district--a restaurant with a wonderful local history.
After a short drive from Chicago, during which I was treated to five or six gorgeous starling murmurations above the still barren winter fields, I arrived at Joe Edwards' Moonrise Hotel, and checked into the Walk of Fame suite with which my friends Perry and Diana Johnson had surprised me for the Vincentennial in 2011.
Diana, who is the only person on the planet whose tardiness factor matches my own, had been adamant that I get to St. Louis (I was driving) by 2PM so that we could get to the hotel promptly at 3. I thought this was strange, but I did my best to comply. I arrived at her house, and the moment we got there, she began hustling me out the door to the hotel. Also strange. But I grew up in Hollywood; strange is good. And so when we checked in and everyone smirked, I just played along. They took me up to the sixth floor to a room with a star on the door that said VINCENT PRICE. Only then did the penny drop. I was escorted into a charming suite filled with very large, fun photographs of my dad--one of eight Walk of Fame suites dedicated to celebrities from St Louis--and, I was pleased to learn, the most requested room in the hotel. . .which was why Diana couldn't reserve it in advance.
It was the perfect place for me to kick off the Vincentennial! The only thing that was slightly disconcerting was having two photos of my dad with rather downcast eyes hung directly over the loo. But as my friend Pamela said, "Well, he's certainly seen it before."
Three years later, it seemed like the perfect place to spent my final night on this leg of the road trip.
My dad loved being from St Louis where my grandfather, the second Vincent Price, had moved his National Candy Company in 1902, in preparation for the Worlds Fair and Olympics to be held in St Louis in 1904. There he became one of the city's most successful and popular businessmen, and his generosity of spirit perhaps surpassed that of his own father. Elected to be the president of the National Candymaker's Association, my grandfather was widely regarded as the nicest man in his industry.
Kindness, generosity of spirit, and success were then passed down to the third and most famous Vincent Price--my father, who grew up in a St Louis that was then the fifth largest city in the United States--and a flourishing center of trade, culture, and cuisine.
Whenever my father met anyone from St Louis, his face would light up as they discussed their love for their hometown. I was always struck by this as a kid. Growing up in Los Angeles, you met a lot of people who had come there from other places. None of them seemed to hold the same affection for their hometowns as my father and his St Louis friends did for theirs.
After a brief rest and chat with my dad--and a moment taking in the famous Arch over the skyline, I drove the ten minutes to Herbie's Vintage 72, where I spent the perfect last evening on the road with friends--a girl's night out and St. Paddy's Day to boot.
Dining amidst classic French vintage posters, exposed brick walls, on delicious food ranging from the largest and most delicious pork chops I'd ever had to a delicious tuna tartare, I had the pleasure of introducing three interesting women to each other and engaging in wonderful conversation! Aside from the food and the company, the highlights of the evening were Sean's stories about my father, who had often eaten at Herbie's: his tales of Herbie and the restaurant's fabled history, and his tour of the establishment--the massive kitchen with its wonderful signage, the basement wine room (where we hope to do one of our Vincent Price Wine Dinners this fall), and the unbelievably cool cigar club--such a fabulous space that it went a long way to tempt me to take up smoking! All in all, it was an absolutely perfect last whistle stop for me!
The next day I headed for home--a long drive across the Midwest toward New Mexico. But as you have all figured out, I love to drive. . .to look out the window and let history, nature, and the future waltz together in my mind.
Next stop. . .next blog entry--Los Angeles. . . or Dining with Friends: Part Two.