Slip A Sable Under the Tree


by James Tuttle

Gentle reader,

While Scott was out the other day, I changed the channel away from Oprah’s Life Class that had been playing on a loop and filling us with good energy and positive affirmations.  She frequently has some fascinating topics but I guess I needed a kind of improvement show with some improvements that I could actually see.  HGTV was no help because, as you’ve probably guessed, the dreaded and pointless House Hunters and House Hunters International shows were on for the next nine hours and it wasn’t really a good night for any of the real networks.  After scrolling all the way down to the Food Network, I noticed that one of PFC contributor Eric’s favorites called Restaurant: Impossible was on so I poured a glass of red and settled in.

Nick Ayler: No improvement needed. (Ph: Rick Day)

I think I lucked out because this particular episode tackled a Mexican restaurant and we all know that nachos and margaritas are quite close to my heart.  This place was in Strongsville, Ohio, though, and I’m not sure how well Mexican food is interpreted in places like that.  If this show is anything to go by, it doesn’t fare so well.

Let me begin by saying that Tacky Mexican Restaurant theme of black velvet paintings and lucha libre masks is a tried and true tradition here in L.A., with the colorful Casita del Campo and the more colorful El Conquistador in Silver Lake and Third Street’s excruciatingly loud El Carmen to name just a very successful few.  The Velvet Margarita within walking distance of me on Cahuenga possibly takes the Mexi-kitsch cake, with its black lights, old Mexican movies and animated Dia de los Muertos puppets performing at the end of the bar.  Even chef Rick Bayless’ Red O, our gourmet Mexican restaurant with the minimalist interiors and incredible food, has its own cheesy touch in a tequila-lined curvy corridor that leads to the lounge.

The Velvet Margarita Cantina in Hollywood.

Ohio’s Mad Cactus restaurant, on the other hand, is not cool like that.  With its wall-to-wall industrial carpet, pee-colored walls and the cactus cutout coat racks at each table, it looks like a Mexican-themed nursery school.  Why would you send your kids to a place like that when you already pay Mexican people to watch them at home?  It just doesn’t make economic sense.

Apparently, business at the Mad Cactus has fallen off dreadfully in the last few years because the sad-sack owner of twenty-five years has developed a bad case of what he repeatedly calls “Owner-itis,” which translates to being lazy and complacent while other restaurants are springing up around town and kicking your ass.  Our host and restaurant-improvement guru Chef Robert Irvine enters the picture to pull it all together and, if you haven’t seen the show, this guy is like a poor man’s Gordon Ramsay complete with the NQOCD English accent.  One would think that his enormous biceps might be able to compensate for his shabby wardrobe of jeans and faded polo shirts but they don’t.  Oh, yeah.  There’s that pesky complete lack of charisma to overcome, too.

The Mad Cactus before renovation. Yes, they really do victory signs in Ohio.

Personality aside, he does dig right into the makeover and just after instructing his designer to gut the place and remodel it in two days, he discovers that the cooks don’t actually cook any of the food.  How’s that for an original restaurant concept?  It reminds me of those Japanese Shabu-shabu places where they give you a plate of raw meat and you have to boil it yourself at your table, which is kind of disgusting when you think about it.  In this Ohio-Mexican variation, a prep cook comes in at 10 a.m. and makes all the food that the lunch and dinner cooks just combine to make burritos or enchiladas or whatever.  Well, that explains why the dinner food is not as popular as lunch.  As the remodel lumbers along in the front of the house, Chef Robert teaches them to cook a few easy dishes like a fruit salsa and an amazing seared rib-eye steak on dirty rice so that the guests will actually be able eat food that was prepared for them.

Robert Irvine unveils a stunning secret: even Mexican food needs to be prepared, not just reheated.

The “overnight” remodel involves demo on the entire site, ripping up the smelly carpets, installing wood floors throughout, painting all the walls, creating a mosaic wall and placing artwork, completing the construction projects and loading everything back in.  I start wondering how the designer and her two assistants are expected to accomplish this until the camera pulls back and we see the eighty-seven other people hard at work.  I also don’t know who decided to paint all the dining chairs bright blue and upholster them with brown croc print vinyl but that, along with making ugly pottery mosaic art for the new salsa bar, has put them even more behind schedule so they use a nail gun to stick the pictures to the walls.  They never did get around to addressing the margaritas and I think that may have had something to do with this restaurant’s decline in the first place.  After all, a Mexican restaurant without a great margarita is just a Taco Bell.

I was just about to segue effortlessly into the introduction of a new British designer who used Mexico’s Day of the Dead as a fun inspiration for his pre-Spring 2012 collection because I’m witty like that. (House of Holland. Google it.) But then I realized that Thanksgiving is just next week and we are way behind in thinking about what to wear to all these holiday events from now until January.

I’m not worried about me, mind you.  I have an amazing black velvet Armani blazer and shorter dark blue velvet one, skinny jeans in three shades and a few crisp white cotton shirts so I’m all set.  I was talking about you.  I mean, what the fuck are YOU going to wear to all the holiday parties, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve where you’ll probably see lots of the same people over and over?  Are you panicking yet?  Well, don’t worry; we’re about to pull it all together for you.

First of all, keep it simple.  That’s my motto for everything, of course, because complicated is never fun, chic or glamorous.  Start by going through what you have in your wardrobe and see which pieces will work for you this season.  Do you have a great fitting pair of velvet trousers or tuxedo pants?  What about a beautiful white jacket?  How would that black leather blazer work with a satin skirt?  If anything isn’t doing it for you now, either because it doesn’t fit well or you’ve worn it to death, it won’t be any good to you next year or the one after, so get rid of it.  No matter how much it cost when you bought it, you’ll still feel better.

Pascal Greggory keeps it simple in a dark blazer and white shirt. (Ph: P. Lindbergh)

Now let’s look at some current trends to see how to put these remaining pieces together and find out what you might want to pick up to refresh your wardrobe and, by extension, your whole damn life.  I see two opposing but equally fabulous options for you this holiday season:  jewel tones vs. black and white.

On the jewel tones side, we have amazing looks by Haider Ackermann, among others, but Ackermann did it by far the best.  Let his courageous mix of olive, mustard, blue and merlot silks inspire your choices and don’t forget that he mixed these luscious colors with black, gray and navy, too.  So, you may not have the perfect olive green silk satin pleated trouser but you probably have a pair of great black pants that you can wear with a cranberry silk blouse and deep blue jacket.  Or you could buy those gorgeous olive trousers and give yourself even more options.

Jewel tones: Haider Ackermann Fall 2011

Trend #2 is the classic black and white that includes some new takes on the women’s tuxedo.  I really liked Jason Wu’s fresh but appropriate interpretation and he had the most stellar white dinner jacket over black pants in his show.  Less likely to make an appearance at your country club’s holiday party are the stunning rock ’n roll angel looks at Ann Demeulemeester that remind us that you can go all black.  Just don’t pull out that tired old LBD that you’ve been wearing to holiday parties for the last five years.  On the flip side, congratulations on still fitting into it after five years of Christmas parties and dysfunctional family gatherings.

Black and White Holiday: Jason Wu (1 and 2), Balmain, Ann Demeulemeester

And here’s a bonus trend:  Red!  I kind of forgot about it because we had so many interesting colors in the Fall/Winter collections like lemon, orange and Curaçao, next to which red seems so predictable, but it was done in such fun new ways this season that it deserves another look.  You’ll have to experiment as to which shade of red looks best on you but there are so many that I’m sure you’ll find one if you want to.  On the other hand, if you’re like me, you won’t.  Don’t worry about it, though; it’s not the end of the world.

Holiday Red: Prado Ralph Rucci (1 and 2), Rodarte, Jason Wu

Finally, how about revving your holiday season up a bit by doing something a little unpredictable?  Be a bit daring and wear your tuxedo jacket with nothing under it, pile a mountain of jewelry over your trusty old black dress or turn up in a gorgeous vintage gown to an office cocktail party.  You can always say you stopped in on your way to something better.

Much love,


Comments: 10

  • Pure Film Creative November 17, 20117:25 am

    I’m still giggling about the Mexican nursery/nanny joke eighteen hours after reading it. I think it even might have triggered a lovely dream in which I signed a highly lucrative contract with Johnny Depp.

  • James Tuttle November 17, 20118:02 am

    I’m glad I could make you laugh and conjure dreams, even if they are about contracts. Are you sure you didn’t dream a little about Haider Ackermann olive silk trousers?

  • Tom Lamb November 17, 201112:24 pm

    Very funny and oh my …i have to defend Ohio ..just a bit…there is one great Mexican restaurant, Cuco’s Taqueria ( i won’t eat any where else ) right up the street from mi casa and if you and Scott ever get trapped in Columbus, OH ( for some some God awful reason ) I would be happy to take you there for dinner while we plan your escape.

    • James Tuttle November 17, 201110:57 pm

      I’d love to plan an escape at Cuco’s! It sounds like it might be one of those very unnecessarily super dark Mexican restaurant, perfect for strategizing over margaritas. Thanks for the invitation and thanks for reading!

  • oldancestor November 17, 20114:55 pm

    This review of Restaurant Impossible made me realize how much it’s like Hoarders. I must find it psychologically cleansing to see something disgusting become clean.

    Re: Nelson R and teh shaved pubes… I find out the hard way that women find that uncomfortable, especially day 2. It’s like a thousand micro-stab wounds.

    • Pure Film Creative November 17, 20116:01 pm

      I’m guessing from his name that Nelson Ribeiro is Brazilian. They are born without pubic hair. Or shame.

      Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

    • James Tuttle November 17, 201111:03 pm

      Hi, Eric! I haven’t been able to get through enough of an episode of Hoarders to see anything get cleaned. I always change the channel before the tour of the house is over.
      And I have to admit that I didn’t realize the picture of Mr. Ribeiro went that far south until it was already up. It seems wildly popular, though, so I’m not complaining.

  • Alice November 19, 20117:35 am

    My favorite line from this weeks episode: After all, a Mexican restaurant without a great margarita is just a Taco Bell.

    You are still the comedian.

    • Pure Film Creative November 19, 20117:43 am

      I completely agree, Alice. It might go down in history as one of the great quips of all time.

  • James Tuttle November 19, 201111:15 pm

    Thanks Alice! I’m glad you like! You’re quite a comedienne yourself, don’t forget.

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