Rome on My Mind
A writer reflects on the neighborhood restaurant he loved and lost in the Eternal City — and shares a few enduring local gems.
An idyllic Caribbean retreat, the perfect weekender bag, a divine Basque tavern — and other things delighting our editors this month.
THE NEW YEAR is fully upon us, and so far I’ve kept my only resolution: to not to have resolutions. Rather than reminding myself of what I need to stop doing, I’m devoting that energy to the pursuit of what I want to start doing — like trying new things, seeing new places, and giving the full force of my love and gratitude to things that make me happy. Here, we do just that by taking a moment to pay our respects to the things that have, so far, brought smiles to our faces in 2023 — whether it be zipping up a mountain in a beautiful car, slipping on a toasty parka, spending a restful night in a gorgeous hotel room, or simply relishing a bite of ice cream, even while it’s cold outside. — T. Cole Rachel
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It’s an understatement to say that The Shelbourne, Autograph Collection is the type of hotel I love most: a stately spot woven into its city’s fabric, with a ton of history and a sense of Old World panache. The Shelbourne, Autograph Collection epitomizes this genre, given that the constitution of Ireland was signed here a century ago, in Room 112, and there’s a barber in the basement. It feels as though the hotel has been there as long as the city and is a part of the landscape as much as its museums and state buildings. Entering its glittering lobby from St. Stephen’s Green is magical, thanks to gentle, live piano music and the charming hustle and bustle of the hotel’s cafes and restaurants — The Lord Mayor’s Lounge and The Horseshoe Bar, to name just a couple — which are full of smiling guests with big shopping bags. You can take an elevator to your guest room, of course, but there’s also a grand central staircase with stained-glass windows and brass handrails. Yet, even with all that gravitas, the hotel never feels stuffy or old-fashioned. The guest rooms themselves perfectly balance lived-in warmth with modern comfort; breakfast is bright and overflowing with goodies; and the indoor pool and spa are tranquil and inviting. The only issue? Even though there’s a dynamic city outside to explore, you won’t want to leave. — Alex Frank
The mood of any trip I take is often determined by my choice of accommodations. Do I look for traditional charm, sleek modern amenities, or a place that feels like home? My stay at The Quoin satisfied those competing desires and then some. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, the hotel (pronounced “coin”) is nestled in the former Security Trust & Safe Deposit Company building, originally designed by renowned Victorian-era architect Frank Furness. Today, the 24-room boutique property is thoughtfully curated by Method Co. — a Philadelphia-based hospitality firm, which has embraced many of the building’s historic details — and boasts three distinct dining experiences. The Rooftop at The Quoin, the city’s first rooftop bar, serves light bites alongside beautiful, sun-soaked views. The Quoin Restaurant offers tempting cuisine from Southern France and Northern Italy prepared in an open-concept kitchen complete with a wood-fired oven and binchotan grill. My husband and I eagerly dined there two nights in a row, making sure to save room for dessert. The most captivating space, however, is the hotel’s cocktail lounge, Simmer Down. Located in an old vault once known as “The Money Room,” it presents delicious libations in an evocative setting that captures the glamor and magic of a bygone era. — Lisa Lok
I have written exhaustively about my love for bags and my insatiable desire to find the one perfectly suited to any occasion — I will likely continue to do so until I exit the planet or someone takes away my laptop. I have, over the years, acquired and discarded enough canvas totes, duffels, and weekenders to create a set of canvas sails for an ancient schooner, but there is always a new one to pique my interest. The A-Frame Duffel from Utility Canvas appeals to me because of its size and proportion — it’s large enough to work as a great carry-on bag and roomy enough to get you through a weekend trip, but also lightweight enough to serve as your go-to gym and/or shopping bag. It’s worth noting that its maker, Utility, also offers great clothes and chic home goods for those who love all things minimal, functional, and well-designed. — T. Cole Rachel
I adore my winter coat. It keeps me toasty under tundra-level conditions. But it’s huge, like a tent. When I wear it, I resemble a sphere. At restaurants, it needs its own seat. It’s also only made for arctic weather; if it’s over 40 degrees outside, I begin to melt, which is why I needed a mid-level winter coat — something insulating but lighter, less rotund, and easier to carry. The Canada Goose Marlow Coat is just that. This lightweight parka punches above its weight. Compared to my deep-winter coat, it feels like a tissue. And it's made for easy outdoor-to-indoor transitions (those built-in Canada Goose backpack straps are really so handy). I wear mine without its hood because I love the dressier look of the shawl collar. — Sophie Mancini
My tennis dreams came true when I had the opportunity to participate in the third annual Baha Mar Tennis Cup in Nassau, Bahamas. For any tennis obsessive, the cup is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit balls alongside tennis legends such as Andy Roddick, Milos Raonic, James Blake, Mark Knowles, Victoria Azarenka, and Jessica Pegula in a ProAm fundraising event that benefits the Baha Mar Resort Foundation and the Mark Knowles Children's Tennis Initiative. Following the ProAm event, the professionals took to the court for some doubles matches with a special appearance by tennis great Lleyton Hewitt. We capped off the first night of the event with an incredible dinner at celebrity chef and fellow tennis enthusiast Marcus Samuelsson’s namesake restaurant at Baha Mar. On the final day of the event, the pros hosted a youth clinic for kids from the local community. When not at the court, I was lucky enough to stay at the beautiful Rosewood Baha Mar. With turquoise ocean views and lush vegetation everywhere you turn, the hotel is an idyllic location for relaxing after a full day of tennis thanks to its destination restaurant, Cafe Boulud, from renowned French chef Daniel Boulud; two pools; private beach; and outstanding spa, which boasts an extensive treatment menu. I particularly enjoyed the flamingo yoga experience, which allowed us to practice our vinyasas alongside live (and often posing and posturing) flamingos, the Bahamian national animal. — Elissa Polls
As a lifelong devotee of Cire Trudon’s exquisite candles, I’m not sure why it took me so long to finally explore the maison’s fragrance line. This year, I’ve finally sampled a few this year, and Mortel has emerged as my favorite. Featuring notes of black pepper, frankincense, benzoin resin, and pure cistus (a wild, musky plant), the fragrance manages the trick of smelling both classic and remarkably contemporary — equally suited to an aging aristocrat or the androgynous fashion model you cross paths with on the subway, the one you remember not only because they are so chic but also because they always smell exquisite. Also, like anything from Trudon, the bottle itself is a perfectly designed object guaranteed to elevate any space in which it is placed, such as the currently overstuffed “fragrance shelf” in my tiny Brooklyn bathroom. —T. Cole Rachel
I’ve always had pretty decent skin. Until this year, when it decided to become sensitive to nearly everything. During one of its particularly reactive periods, I found solace in a new wellness center, Sage + Sound, where I experienced an Absolute Purity Diamond Facial — isn’t the name just fabulous? The center’s interiors, awash in muted shades of sage, take a cue from its name. And while my treatment was for the face, Sage + Sounds offers a host of treatments for the body and mind — from acupuncture to lymphatic massage, eyebrow therapy to nail care. Additionally, classes such as meditation, breathwork, and tea ceremonies are offered in the Study, which looks like a darling cross between a living room and a library. I’d spend an entire day here if I could. For sustenance, Isle of Us next door purveys simple, wholesome, made-to-order fare; prepared foods; and pantry provisions. Their Chino Chile Crunch is a spicy, smoky, umami bomb I like to put over Greek yogurt on sourdough. — Sophie Mancini
For someone who is always lugging around a laptop, I find laptop sleeves to be a conundrum. Most are too big, stuffy, or clunky to squeeze into my briefcase or day bag, and they generally eat up a lot of real estate in a carry-on bag if you are trying to travel light. But since I’ve learned the hard way not to let my laptop float around in my bag unguarded, I also consider them a necessity. The leather laptop sleeve from Mujjo is the answer. Sleek and slim, the sleeve has a robust structure that feels secure without being bulky. It’s crafted from vegan leather and has a magnetic closure that shuts tight (no constant zipping and unzipping) and includes a side opening that allows for in-sleeve charging. It also boasts two front pockets perfectly sized for a cell phone or a charger, which helps declutter the contents of my bag, and my mind. — T. Cole Rachel
I recently learned that agave-based spirits are good for people who get alcohol-induced redness; wine turns me into a beet. So when I’m not in the mood for straight tequila or mezcal, Le Mone, a lemon aperitif with added agave, has become my drink of choice. Simply mixed with soda water and ice, both the Meyer Lemon and Lemon Blackberry versions are light, juicy ways to start the evening. I also tried blending it with a splash of Champagne (I got a little ruddy, but it was worth it) for an updated take on a Spritz — and highly recommend it as another way to enjoy this joyful, low-ABV sipper. — Sophie Mancini
I’m always amazed when I find out that other New Yorkers own a car, or when people I know reveal that they’ve had a car for years and I just didn’t know about it. In the pantheon of “New York-y” things that I am obsessed with, car ownership is second only to having a washer and dryer in your apartment. While my partner and I have been engaged in a nearly decade-long debate about whether or not to buy a car — the parking! the upkeep! the insurance! — we often test drive cars to see how much they would or wouldn’t improve our very city-centric lives. This is how we came to spend a weekend tooling around in a 2023 Nissan Z, which we opted to take upstate. As someone not acclimated to daily driving, I found steering this sleek little sports car felt like piloting a spaceship. Described to me as a “400HP twin-turbo thrill-ride,” the chic two-seater (ours was cobalt blue) also boasts an eight-speaker Bose audio system — high-fidelity driving music is an essential for me — and a dazzling array of interior bells and whistles, including heated seats and super intuitive touch-screen navigation. I laughed when the guy at the garage mentioned that the car had been outfitted with snow-friendly tires “just in case,” but the joke was on me. After a blissful, sunny drive up to the Catskills, we awoke Sunday morning to several inches of snow, which meant we got to experience just how expertly the car navigated icy conditions as we carefully traversed the winding mountain roads in high-performance style. It’s also worth noting that even though we only had the car for a long weekend — and even when the car itself was blanketed in snow — no less than four different people approached us in various parking lots to ask, “Oh wow, is this the new Z?” It gave me no small amount of pleasure to pretend that it was actually mine. — T. Cole Rachel
On a recent winter’s night, I nestled into Lower East Side haunt Ernesto’s. At the Basque taverna helmed by Chef Ryan Bartlow, the food has salt and spirit — both of which I was really craving that frigid night. Smaller sharing dishes (para picar, which means “to pick at” or “to snack on”) include bright and salty gildas singing with vinegar and anchovy brine, and deep, creamy croquetas encased in a fine crispy crust. The paleta Iberico con chips included one of the most generous servings of jamon I’d ever seen — buttery slices draped thick over a pile of crunchy, house-made chips. The menu changes quite often (I no longer see the delicate batter-fried sardines I had that night on it), but the long and short of it is: This place is a gem in a sexy space — pendant lights hang low with a sultry glow — and it’s important to order dessert. The pear tart was divine and I must return immediately for the Basque cheesecake. — Sophie Mancini
There is nothing I enjoy more than a tin of tasty seafood paired with rustic bread and a cold glass of Albariño. Whenever I can, I sample new cans on my travels and often bring home those I can’t live without. Recently, however, I spotted Siesta Co. tins at my local specialty market. The company’s beautifully designed packaging stamped with “Made in Los Angeles” intrigued me, as I often purchase tinned fish from abroad, even when shopping in the United States. It turns out that a Spanish-American wife-and-husband team created Siesta Co. to fill a void in the American market for authentic Spanish products. Each of their five gourmet tins are packed with flavor and high-quality, wild-caught seafood, specifically: white tuna, small squids, mackerel, sardines, and mussels — all packed in organic extra-virgin olive oil. I highly recommend serving these squids in a tin at your next dinner party. — Elissa Polls
I spent an enormously fun night this winter at Bar Lula, a French-and-Mexican-inspired spot helmed by Chef Luigi Petrocelli. Based on the crowd, it felt like a bar; based on the food, it felt like a restaurant in Mexico City — one I’d like to return to. There was a beautiful mushroom masa crepe with delicate maitake and opulently strung Oaxaca cheese; a market lettuce salad with a sauce that tasted like a mouthful of fresh blueberries in high summer; tender head-on prawns with an earthy char and creamy poblano aioli; a gorgeous glazed duck breast; and a few other dishes that have faded into the glowy, buzzing memory of a happy meal. The salted stone-fruit cake was a top dessert — one that, if it were to be sitting on your kitchen counter whole, would be gone in a few hours. The drinks program, led by the uber-knowledgeable beverage director Julio Xoxocotla, is also bonkers, replete with a vast array of mezcals and tequilas. I tip my invisible hat to chef de cuisine Ricardo Arias, who talked my guest and I through each dish with such color and detail that each plate felt like a party. — Sophie Mancini
Turntable at Lord Stanley is a culinary hub that hosts some of the country’s best chefs to showcase their cuisine for a limited time in a unique space in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood. I had the pleasure of dining when chef Susan Kim of Doshi was in the kitchen. Her tasting menu included bugak chips and Dungeness crab dip paired with caviar; a seaweed broth so delicious I asked to take some home; and several other dishes inspired by Kim’s childhood memories of Korean food. If you’re in the Bay Area or planning to travel there, be sure to check out this special spot’s upcoming lineup of chefs and book in advance. — Elissa Polls
On a recent trip back to Oklahoma to visit my parents, I conducted a very makeshift poll among friends, family, and Google to try to determine the best place to take someone out for a nice dinner in Oklahoma City. The most frequent response was Redrock Canyon Grill. The restaurant doesn’t typically take reservations, but a kindly manager advised me on when it might be possible to snag a table for four overlooking Lake Hefner. This is as scenic a view as one is likely to get while dining in the middle of the city. As it turned out, our dinner took place in the middle of a polar vortex so the lake was a frozen blur shrouded in darkness, but the dinner was still gorgeous. The restaurant’s dining room is large and lodge-like, with an open kitchen that highlights a open-fire rotisserie. Given the extreme cold outside, the elevated comfort food on offer was truly perfect. My dad proclaimed that his plate of smoked pork ribs was one of the best meals he’d ever eaten in OKC, where he has lived for the entirety of his adult life. The food, warmth, and general ambiance of Redrock made it an ideal place for us to reconnect. — T. Cole Rachel
I consider ice cream to be a year-round treat — no matter the weather. And though these days there are seemingly endless creamy options to choose from, I find that McConnell's satisfies like nothing else. The family-run company has been operating out of Santa Barbara, California, for over 70 years and still makes everything from scratch from the finest ingredients. It's this dedication to craft and community, and the company’s creamy custard base, that ensures every pint is heavenly. I like to combine the Peppermint Stick and Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate flavors. Because why limit yourself to just one? — Lisa Lok
There’s a newcomer in the West Village and she is both beautiful and satisfying. Her name is The Wesley. The restaurant has three rooms: In the main one, where I sat, the walls are lined with warm, bottom-lit reeds that make you feel like you’re sitting in a sun-soaked field of wheat. Gorging yourself in good company is very fun here, namely because the food feels so clean and pared back, like what your very fancy, health-conscious friend would cook for you at a dinner party — if they were a professional chef named Santiago Astudillo, a.k.a. the executive chef of The Wesley. Standouts included the tangy mushroom ceviche, artichoke pasta, and whole trout with a side of potatoes in a sunchoke puree with trout roe. For dessert, I had my first coquito: a creamy, spiced Puerto Rican holiday drink. This one was dairy-free — a menu theme that I, personally, appreciated — and tasted like what eggnog could be if it were all-around better. — Sophie Mancini
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.
Alex Frank is a contributing editor at Departures. Based in Manhattan, Frank previously worked at Vogue.com as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.
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. Polls has over 15 years of production experience and lives in Berkeley, California.
Lisa Lok is the visuals director of Departures. A Brooklyn-based creative, she enjoys collaborating with photographers and illustrators from around the world.
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.
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