A Dinner Date With Michael Stipe
Over a meal at one of his favorite restaurants in New York City, the former R.E.M. front man dishes on creativity, vulnerability, and his love of food.
From a special object to a delicious meal, a captivating place to an unforgettable experience — these are just a few things delighting our Departures editors this month.
VENTURING FURTHER OUT into the world recently feels equal parts wonderful and strange. In the movie “Encino Man,” which I’m sure I haven’t seen since it came out in the early ’90s, I vaguely remember a scene in which the thawed caveman is wandering the streets of Los Angeles, amazed and out of place. I felt a bit like that during a recent trip to the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. I pulled up my rental car behind a McLaren, one that seemed to impress even the valets (no small feat, I’m sure), and headed upstairs to the newly opened wellness floor. It occupies a full floor of the property, with redesigned rooms and suites, each featuring Alo yoga equipment, a library of guided meditation offerings by Deepak Chopra, and a Peloton, which the writer I was traveling with took full advantage of bright and early, pedaling away to bumping music before dawn. The floor also houses a spa, pool deck, private office space, and Cabana restaurant, which offers extensive plant-based options. I didn’t eat there but I did try Culina, which was excellent. The avocado toast alone, piled high and topped with pickled onions and microgreens, was enough to make the visit worthwhile.
I seem to be interested in wellness experiences right now, as a few upcoming yoga retreats are on my radar. Mays Al-Ali, who I profiled for our “Second Acts” series about her shift from advertising producer in London to nutritionist and yoga teacher in Ibiza, has two coming up, each offering a week of relaxation, yoga, and nutrition. Her spring recharge is taking place from May 21–27, and her autumn reset is planned for September 17–23. Also piquing my interest is a retreat happening in Amorgos, Greece, in early September. This one is being offered by Adesina Cash, founder of Oakland-based yoga studio Hot Spot, and, full disclosure, a very old friend. Since we live across the country from one another, I have not been able to attend her classes, but Nina Renata Aron, our senior editor, does live in Oakland and tells me they are “amazing” — undoubtedly worth a trip to Greece, as though you needed an excuse.
I RECENTLY WENT to the 70 Pine building for drinks and dinner. This architectural gem of art-deco grandeur houses three must-visits: ground-floor restaurant Crown Shy, 63rd-floor restaurant Saga, and 64th-floor bar Overstory. The lobby is a time machine: glossy multicolored marble in geometric inlays, tiers of steel accents, and the buzzing of chatter spilling out from behind the glass doors of warm, cavernous Crown Shy — where my dinner was booked. But first, Overstory for some premeal cocktails. The elevator welcomed me with its dizzying array of buttons (the building is also residential), and my ears popped on the way up to Saga’s 63rd floor, where I was then led through a door and up a snaking stairwell to Overstory. The journey to the top is all part of the fun. It was snowing that night, so when I finally arrived at the bar, the tall windows shimmered with a bluish white mist — a breathtaking contrast to the rosy glow of the space’s interiors. The views are unparalleled. The textures bring both comfort and awe: velvets, brass, and buffed leathers all soft and rounded — an echo of the room’s oval shape.
I sat down before my date arrived and a bartender with smiling eyes and an Australian accent, named Gian, whipped me up a martini. He asked me questions like an old friend, hands effortlessly mixing and shaking and applying bits of garnish with a tweezer all the while. In retrospect, he seemed like one of those mystical twinkle-in-the-eye New York characters who only exist in films. The type who show up when you’re in need of a pal, but have already disappeared as you glance back to say goodbye. The Gyokuro martini (vodka, Gyokuro green tea, vermouth), which I’m 100% sure was real, was light, aromatic, and a perfect way to start the weekend. When my date arrived, we tried a few more, two of which I’m still thinking about: the rich, round, and deep 212 (whiskey, vermouth, cocoa nib, amaro, black pear); and the tropics-in-a-glass Yucateco (mezcal, gin, banana, hoja santa, chile, lime). I met Harrison Ginsberg, the bar director of all three spots at 70 Pine, and we chatted about the drinks program, and drinking culture in general. Contrasting the big boozy beverages of the past, today’s appetite has grown more refined, more curious, and more interested in the taste of individual ingredients and their origins. To that end, I got to sample the “banana” in the Yucateco — a clear liquid the team had spent four days clarifying. The fragrance was heady, and the flavor lighter than expected with a hint of salinity. I tried the hoja santa leaf on its own as well. Bigger than my hand, it tasted like peppery anise and root beer.
Another recent source of delight for me has been the discovery of Serino, a clothing collection of premium knitwear essentials ideal for travel. The collection uses a flat-knitting technology versus cut-and-sew manufacturing, so there’s less waste in production. In cotton or wool, these pieces are gloriously simple. All garments are made from a knitwear fabric, so they don’t particularly wrinkle, hang in a deliciously wet hand feel, and are exceptionally comfortable. Their Wool Knit Jean Jacket provides a structured look with the movement of a far more casual piece. My favorite is their Fine Knit Shirt in Camel, which looks and feels, for lack of a better word, expensive. Their Flat Front Knit Pant is a relaxed pair I could sit crisscrossed in for hours on a plane, and then look put together in when going directly onward to a dinner party. And their Fine Knit Slip Dress is a sturdier upgrade from your typical slip. Its 100% two-ply Peruvian Pima cotton yarn and slightly longer length makes it not so much a layering piece, but a totally finished outfit on its own.
I AM A coffee addict, the sort of person who needs to make a first cup of hot coffee within a few minutes of opening my eyes. My morning then proceeds into imagining, brewing, or procuring two to three more varieties of the drink. Lately, I’ve added tea to the rotation in an attempt to punctuate long, undifferentiated pandemic workdays. It hasn’t taken long to realize my beverage consumption habits are getting out of hand. The thing I really want is energy, but bottomless drinks are not the answer. So I’ve added two new habits to my routine: a daily walk (what a novel idea!) and Ting, an energy powder from Moon Juice. The macho world of extreme energy drinks has never appealed to me, but Ting is more like a vitamin powder, and it comes in a small, unassuming brown-glass jar. It contains energy-boosting B vitamins and adaptogenic ginseng, as well as other ingredients that apparently benefit metabolism and mood. What I like is that it seems to be working. I dissolve half a teaspoon in about half a cup of water, drink it like a shot before going on my walk, and return to my desk feeling calm and motivated. Sweetened (a bit excessively) with monk fruit, Ting tastes like a combination of the ’80s chewable vitamins of my youth (a good thing, as far as I’m concerned; I always snuck an extra) and powdered “orange drink.” I think of it as hippie Tang and I’m grateful that it has introduced a welcome sense of balance — and replaced about three of my hot beverages.
Another product that’s made its way into my routine is Whipped Dream, a new moisturizer out this month from Isla Beauty. The company is dedicated to high-potency ingredients and transparent packaging, so you know which ingredients are inside, if they are naturally derived or synthetic, and what each of them do. Whipped Dream is a stellar addition to their small, no-fuss line of products. The thick snow-white cream has the look of high-gloss marshmallow fluff but a scent that’s light and fresh. And it feels ultrahydrating and clean on my skin. In the few weeks I’ve been using Whipped Dream, I’m also noticing my skin tone is looking more even — possibly thanks to the niacinamide (5%) in it, which is also derived from B vitamins. Maybe everything good this month can be chalked up to a vitamin B boost?
AFTER SPENDING WHAT feels like the better part of a decade safely ensconced in my Brooklyn apartment and working from home almost exclusively, I, like so many others, devoted much of my extra energy to optimizing our space. Said optimizations took the form of overpriced bath products and still-unused kitchen gadgets. But my primary work in progress has been my bed. Early in the pandemic we decided to upgrade from one of those bed-in-a-box memory foam mattresses to a slightly nicer version of a bed-in-a-box, which was followed by a pillow purge, duvet upgrade, and a rotating cast of bedding.
For weeks I’d cruise the internet for linen sheets, only to be overwhelmed by the glut of hip new bedding purveyors, all of whom offered complete bed sets of fine linen, most allayed in colors like “comforting mustard,” “sun-damaged coral,” or “emotional stone.” The sheets I ultimately ended up with came from Canadian company Flax Home, an outfit that offers ethically derived linen sheets in the requisite subdued tones within a variety of different bundles (also on offer are perfectly designed home goods). Because I’m an all-or-nothing type when it comes to these sorts of things, I opted for the full bundle — a sheet set (in Pebble) complete with duvet cover and extra pillowcases, which has transformed my sleep space into something out of a Sade video. While my expectation had been that these sheets might feel like my favorite linen shirt or give the experience of sleeping while wrapped in a gauzy curtain, I was pleasantly surprised — shocked, even — by how soft they were. Smooth and cool but also surprisingly weighty. Criticisms of linen sheets include: not soft enough, perpetually wrinkled, wear badly. But after a few washes, I can say that these not only feel softer, but also hold up perfectly. The sheets look rumpled in a way that feels intentional, and they provided just the upgrade I was looking for. After I make the bed, our poorly lit Brooklyn boudoir could almost pass for a boutique hotel room.
On the subject of upgrades, my other home obsession was, is, and forever will be wrapped up in the quest for the perfect candle. This is something we’ve discussed at length here at Departures, but the candle conundrum remains a riddle that can never be solved, a waxed horizon that I will never stop chasing. To that end, I recently stumbled across a beautiful new line of candles by Scott Alexander (a self-described wine expert, art collector, and global explorer) and my only regret is that I didn’t order more. Available in a variety of different sizes, these candles come in their own hand-poured bronze vessel, the vessels themselves also available in a variety of shapes and patterns. The classic Venn diagram of candles often proves them either looking great and smelling bad, or smelling amazing but looking cheap. These candles instead manage the trick of looking chic and smelling delicious. Plus, the bronze vessels feel special and substantial enough to merit endless reuse. The first one I used (I ordered a contemporary design called Maze) is now home to a cutting from a spider plant, which looks quite elevated as it peeks out of this little bronze piece of art on my windowsill.
WHEN IT COMES to fashion, I always choose comfort over everything else. I haven’t always been this way. There once was a time when I chose five-inch heels over a sensible flat. My feet have paid the price and now I’ve been exiled to wearing only shoes that pass an extreme comfort test. But I took my love of comfortable footwear to the next level during the pandemic. My Birkenstock collection grew to almost 15 pairs and I bought my first pair of Crocs. I live in the Bay Area up a monstrous mile-long hill, so if I’m not driving, my shoes better be prepared for a brisk urban hike.
I had a hunch that clogs would be the right footwear to handle the constant transitions our current world dictates as it reopens, closes, then reopens again. I didn’t have to look far because KHAITE’s Lucca clog had been on my mind since its debut with the brand’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection. Founded in 2016 by Catherine Holstein, womenswear brand KHAITE has expanded its line to include even more timeless shoes and bags. The Lucca is an elevated interpretation of the classic clog, available in black or white leather and adorned with brass studs. They are the perfect shoes for dressing up or down. You can pair them with your favorite trousers or vintage jeans and a T-shirt. And speaking of elevated, I’m 5-foot-1 and a half, so I always appreciate the lift when I can get it, especially when that lift is comfortable and gives me an additional 1.5 inches of height.
Aside from shoes, my collection of personal products has exploded over the last three years at what I like to call my personal spa, aka my bathroom. I look to brands with an ethos that I can align with. Evolvetogether’s products are stamped with a logo that stands as a reminder: “We’re all connected. No matter our race, gender, religion or where we live.” Known for their high-performing medical masks throughout the pandemic (seen on the likes of Serena William, Harry Styles, and Justin and Hailey Bieber), the brand has expanded their footprint with personal-care products.
Evolvetogether’s new line of personal products is filled with gender-inclusive items like moisturizer, deodorant, and hand sanitizer. The packaging is simple, modern, and reusable. I’m always on the hunt for natural deodorant and this one not only works, but its scent (of which there are many) is on par with some of my favorite perfumes. Another part of their brand ethos is sustainability. They partner with socially and environmentally responsible factories, making biodegradable, recyclable, or dissolvable products to minimize landfill waste.
WHILE EVERYONE ELSE was catching up on sleep over Presidents’ Day weekend, I skipped town for a flash to the Big Island of Hawaii for a stay at Mauna Lani, indulging in a prestigious Goop facial and eating my way into a self-induced seafood coma. From February 11–24, the fairly recently revamped Auberge Resort played host to Chef Taka Sakaeda and Lisa Limb of Nami Nori fame, touted as one of the best new restaurants in New York City in 2020. Sakaeda and Limb’s casual take on sophisticated sushi temaki hand rolls combined with regional seafood fare caught right off the Kohala Coast made for a delectable pop-up consisting of a three-course dinner experience as well as a hands-on temaki cooking class.
We learned how to source the best ingredients to make high-end restaurant-quality sushi at home. And when I say high-end, I legitimately mean the best of the best. Both Sakaeda and Limb met during their days working at Masa — the only 3-Michelin-star sushi restaurant in the United States, and one of the best in the world. After over a decade training under and serving as Chef Masa Takayama’s number two, Sakaeda, alongside Limb, took a chance. The two started their own venture, heavily inspired by a toro-and-caviar hand roll that was served at Masa toward the end of its iconic omakase meals. Now with two locations of Nami Nori under their belt, one in the West Village and one in Williamsburg, Sakaeda and Limb have successfully created a highly intimate and casual dining experience, where even the biggest sushi snobs (like myself) can feel right at home.
I won’t tell you how many hand rolls I ate during dinner, because frankly, that number scares me, but before I tapped out and said my goodbyes, I’d ordered a new set of chef’s knives, a shark-skin grater, and fresh wasabi root. Needless to say, Sakaeda and Limb were incredible teachers, and Nami Nori is not to be missed on your next trip to New York.
Although this pop-up was the primary focus of my brief trip to Hawaii, I’d be remiss not to mention the remarkable meal I had at Mauna Lani’s in-house restaurant, CanoeHouse. Executive Chef Matt Raso — another high-end sushi vet who served under the legendary Chef Nobu Matsuhisa for over a decade — and his wife Yuka Hinoda Raso have painstakingly created an exquisitely curated menu of uniquely paired traditional Japanese flavors with locally sourced ingredients from across Hawaii. His signature dishes are often created based on local offerings from nearby farms. CanoeHouse is not just a hotel restaurant, but a destination for people on the island to come together and share in a fine-dining experience embodying the spirit of aloha. Definitely get the radish salad with crispy salmon skin and wasabi mayo, the Kona Kampachi with ali’i mushrooms, and smoked pork belly with mustard miso if you ever make it to the Big Island!
Skye Parrott is the editor-in-chief of Departures. A magazine editor, photographer, writer, and creative consultant, she was previously a founder of the arts and culture journal Dossier, and editor-in-chief for the relaunch of Playgirl as a modern, feminist publication.
T. Cole Rachel is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media. He is currently an editor-at-large at Departures.
Nina Renata Aron is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Elissa Polls is the senior director of content production for Departures. A producer who typically stays behind the scenes, she has worked with creatives from around the world, helping bring their ideas to life. Elissa has over 15 years of production experience and lives in Berkeley, California.
Annette Lamothe-Ramos is the visuals director of Departures. A native New Yorker now based in Los Angeles, she is a multidisciplinary artist and creative consultant working in online media, print, and film. Formerly the creative director and fashion editor at Vice, she has also created original documentary shorts and series for several major streaming platforms.
Jess Rotter is a Los Angeles–based illustrator and artist. Rotter’s work has frequently featured in the Washington Post. Her clients range from Natalie Portman to Questlove.
Over a meal at one of his favorite restaurants in New York City, the former R.E.M. front man dishes on creativity, vulnerability, and his love of food.
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