Today on Tex and the City: Jon Paul realizes the influence luxury retailer Neiman Marcus has had on his world view, and Big Apple life. Tips on Dosa Garden restaurant, NYC Christmas lights, and Batali’s Eataly.
Growing up in the shopping Mecca of Dallas, I looked forward to early November with the same nervous anticipation that most kids reserve for Christmas morning. The reason was simple—Neiman Marcus’ Fortnight. For two splendid weeks, the luxury retailer transformed their downtown flagship store into a celebration of an exotic country with special displays, food, costumes, wares. Forget Santa’s lap, Sophia Loren was supposedly making an appearance for the 1975 Italian Fortnight. What little gay kid could resist that?
It’s hard to understate the importance of the annual event to Dallas. The concept of Fortnight was created in 1957 by the retailer’s mastermind founder Stanley Marcus as a way to combat the lagging pre-Christmas sales. That first year’s celebration of France landed in the pages of Time magazine detailing visits by Coco Chanel, and the landing of Dallas’ first international flight at Love Field—an Air France jet filled with Gallic dignitaries and press.
Over the years, I begged my mothers and sisters to take me multiple times to the downtown palace of wonders as I ate and shopped and gawked my way through countries like Japan, Brazil, Greece, Germany, Spain. It’s no wonder as a travel writer I often pre-judge destinations based upon a Fortnight reference point. In my mind, Ireland always seemed uninteresting to me based upon a flat 1976 Fortnight, but a quick trip as an adult to bustling Dublin corrected that notion. In 1986, the retailer hosted the final extravaganza—Australia, probably the beginnings of my Down Under love affair that has ended up indelibly inked on my arm.
Perhaps moving to New York City helped ease the sadness over the passing of Fortnight. After all, living in the Big Apple means there’s a different ethnic fortnight around each corner. This weekend, Chef popped my Staten Island Ferry cherry by escorting me to a neighborhood in the one borough I hadn’t visited in 14 years. Our destination? Little Sri Lanka. The Dosa Garden restaurant had recently been written up in the New York Times, and its Southern Indian food delivered on a large scale. Literally. The tasty rice-lentil crepe like dosa spilled over the cafeteria-style tray. Besides the delicious dal doughnuts dipped in spicy sauces, the standout for me was ennai katherikai, a baby eggplant pan-fried cooked in a tamarind and chili infused sauce that cleared my sinuses.
On our walk back to the ferry terminal, within a block we had left Southern India and passed quickly into Little Mexico. Chef’s eyes brightened at the number of South of the Border markets selling some of his favorite delicacies. I watched and smiled as he picked out some Mexican sweet bread known as conchas, and an addictive white Oaxacan cheese. I realized my life is turning out to be one big authentic international fortnight.
Yes, you can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take Neimans out of the girl.
Tex and the City Top of the Week Tips:
New York City may not have the organized glamour of Neiman Marcus’ fortnight, but for building that holiday shopping spirit and centralized international experience here are my Top of the Week Tips:
- Lord & Taylor unveils their Christmas windows Monday evening at 5:30pm with a performance by Kristin Chenoweth (Frida’s voice if she were an animated character). I’ve always had a soft spot for Lord & Taylor, mostly because in Dallas they were located in Northpark Mall right across from the Magic Pan restaurant. Oh how I miss watching the crepe pans travel around a conveyor belt.
- Eataly, Mario Batali’s shopping homage to all-things Italian, feels like a Fortnight done by a more mid-range retailer like Dillard’s. While it’s not my favorite because of the crowds, vegetarians are raving about its no-reservation restaurant Le Verdure, which as the name might suggest, serves only vegetables.