Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Washington Social Diary: The Ladies Who Lunch

The ladies who lunched — last Thursday at the Sulgrave, hosted by Izette Folger.
Here’s To The Ladies Who Lunch, And Lots More
by Carol Joynt

Food, of course, and friends were the threads throughout the week leading to and including Passover and Easter, highlighted by a Thursday throwback ladies luncheon. No one has ladies luncheons anymore, at least not solely for friendship, and it was a pleasure.

The alphabet out of Hermes ties, designed and created by Spencer Joynt when he was a junior in college, using his father's old ties. He named it "Double Windsor"
But first, there was a trip to New York, with a sentimental lunch at Balthazar, an enduring favorite, a long walk, and a Tex-Mex drop by, plus the usual delayed and seemingly endless Amtrak ride home, with unexplained stops and slow downs. Waiting in Washington: some big breaking news, more good food, Saturday errands and a Sunday field trip to Annapolis, and more food, followed by early Easter dinner in Georgetown. Welcome spring!

The trip to New York was prompted by my son, Spencer Joynt, a designer and illustrator, who was making the rounds of some ad agencies to say hello. He’s a year out of college with a good creative job in DC, that he loves, but his dream is to one-day work with a fine New York ad agency and become its creative director. I tagged along on the trip for the getaway. Balthazar lunch was one stop we shared. It’s one of those lunch places, like Michael's, 21 and the Four Seasons Grill, where the vibe of the room makes very clear it's New York, and can only be New York. The din and pace are refreshing, energizing. So, enthused by all that, after lunch, as Spencer went off on his rounds, I walked from Soho up Fifth to the 50s.

Our next rendezvous was in Hell’s Kitchen at a new Tex-Mex on 10th Avenue, El Original, in its first hours of operation. We were drawn by its Austin pedigree. Austin should be translated to New York, but we’re not sure it can be. Austin is New York, only out west and in the early decades of being a transformative American city, a role New York minted, and what makes Austin great and relevant is what makes New York the same – being its own true self, which is tough to package, market and ship. You have to be there.

But El Original had tasty margaritas and enchiladas, friendly service (very Austin) and though we were there on the early side, the room looks ready for big crowds who want tequila shots with their ACL tunes.
El Original, on 10th Avenue at 50th Street.
A friendly greeting at El Original.
 A bit of an Austin feel at El Original.
The cocktail list at El Original.
The appetizer menu at El Original.
Chips, salsa and a fresh margarita.
The guacamole.
Enchiladas with sour cream at El Original.
Sopaipilla for dessert at El Original.
Did I mention the trip back? Oh, Amtrak, why? It would be so easy to bump up the service just a little to match the ticket prices. The “northeast corridor” has some of the most vibrant food scenes in the country and yet what’s on the menu of the trains – whether Acela or the regular – seems prepared and packaged by a highway convenience store. Why not do consultation contracts with Dean and Deluca? Mark Furstenburg? Or Eli Zabar? Good food and drinks would go a long way to take passengers minds off the delayed departures and sudden lengthy stops in the middle of nowhere – that go unexplained. The “quiet car” was an inspired innovation, but now it’s time for more.
Instead of an Easter basket I got my son a box of doughnuts from a brand new place called Sugar Shack. Talk about a shack attack!
Back at work on Thursday at Foreign Policy the focus was, of course, almost entirely on Lausanne and the impending announcement of whether there would be a nuclear deal with Iran. It was still a mystery as I slipped out to lunch.

Izette Folger and Aimee Lehrman.
The last to arrive at the Sulgrave Club, I climbed the carpeted stairs to the pretty second floor with Sondheim and Stritch in my head: “Here’s to the ladies who lunch,” I conjured Elaine punching out Stephen’s wise lyrics, the fierce showstopper of the incredible '70s hit, “Company.” Wow, I thought as I emerged into a pastel salon, this is time traveling. A ladies lunch, a concept so obsolete we should have been convening in a diorama at The Smithsonian.

Nonetheless, the gathering, while a relic, was as welcomed as the first warm breeze of spring, and all credit to our host, Izette Folger, who is a completely modern Sondheim character – not fitting any old mold, making her own, and breaking it, wife and mother but also an artist entrenched in the cultural scene, a party animal who can outlast her friends, the master of her own unique look, the leader of her own pack. If “Izette!!” became a play or a movie, the lead would be played, and could only be played, by Julia Louis -Dreyfus

So here we were at a spring luncheon of 14 women, gathered round a beautifully set table at Sulgrave at its most serene, with white wine and iced tea and a menu of salad, soufflé and fruit. Izette couldn’t remember the last time she hosted a similar lunch. “It has been years,” she said. “Years!” adding exaggerated emphasis followed by peels of laughter.
The crusty cheese soufflé at the Sulgrave Club.
The luncheon was a whim, she said, and the timing seemed right. There was no agenda except gathering for conversation, and a meal on a Thursday afternoon just before Passover and Easter. Others to our left and right noted it was indeed rare to come to a ladies lunch that was about friendship, rather than a gathering of “the committee” or the “planning group” for the upcoming fundraiser. How fresh, having friendship as the only reason to gather friends.

To the extent there was a focus on any one person it would be Melissa Chiu, who is the still relatively new head of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. She came to Washington from New York, where she was senior vice president of the Asia Society Museum. Izette encouraged her to say a few words – and she did – and charmingly, but not asking for anything, just sharing her enthusiasms about the Hirshhorn and its collections and, especially, the exciting challenge of revamping the sculpture garden.
Carole Feld and Melissa Chiu.
On Izette’s left, Aimee Lehrman recalled when we both worked together at Larry King Live. That was then. She’s on the advisory board of The Washington Ballet, and lives a philanthropic life with her husband, Robert Lehrman, who is on the board, and past chair, of the Hirshhorn (among other art museum boards). They own an acclaimed collection of contemporary and modern art, including works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Joseph Cornell. They don’t just collect, they also are students of who they collect.

Melissa Chiu, came from New York to Washington and is passionate about her new gig, the Hirshhorn.
On Aimee’s left was Carole Feld, a former PBS executive who is now a marketing entrepreneur. She is married to David Levy, the former head of the Corcoran Gallery of Art who is now president of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. And on around the table: Gabriela Ina Coman, Elizabeth Wilson, Elizabeth Duggal, and others, who preferred not to be mentioned, including a journalist, a gallery owner, an arts entrepreneur and a member of The Washington Ballet board who was eagerly counting down the days to the Ballet’s annual ball, which will be held this year on May 1 at the German ambassador’s residence. The Ballet always hosts the city’s best balls, and at this location, with this space and view and grounds, it should be another hit.

The Corcoran was discussed, as some of Izette’s guests had been involved with the art museum before it closed last year. While most in town assumed it was one for the social history books, the Corcoran Ball apparently will go on. The Corcoran Women’s Committee would not give up their annual formal dress party, was the word, with hope it will have some new vitamins as it relocates to George Washington University.

Izette said she resigned from the Women’s Committee, and had backed away from many similar roles with other groups to focus more on her painting and her work as a board member of Transformer, a DC non-profit that supports and promotes emerging artists. They bring the city’s arts community, and the arts money, together for an annual auction party in the fall.
At the Sulgrave Club the popover is the thing! A staple, a signature, a reason to host a luncheon.
Between bites of food and talking to table mates Izette and I time-traveled through our long friendship, particularly various get togethers that ranged from drinking Champagne at Nathans, followed by dancing in the bar's back room with various pods of friends, and some general mischief, to sitting on the white lawn chairs at Chevy Chase Club, sipping rum punch ... but not misbehaving there at all, ever. Not once.

Just as we finished devouring the delicious, crusty cheese soufflé and started to nibble at the fruit plate, I got a text that an Iran nuclear agreement had been announced in Lausanne and the President was about to speak. I had to get back to the office, which fortunately was directly across the street. I excused myself, pushed back my chair from one reality and departed to re-enter another.
The fruit and sorbet dessert — with macaroons — at Sulgrave.
The holiday weekend began with a Friday night dinner at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB at CityCenter, where we ordered fall dishes that are going off the menu to make way for new spring dishes. The place was packed, and my view was of a giant orange Hermes wall outside, where soon it will be unwrapped to reveal a downtown Washington Hermes store, a first. Which reminded me of my husband’s 300 or so Hermes ties, still hanging in a closet, but which my son once cleverly used for an art project, creating the alphabet out of Hermes! Try that sometime.

We capped the meal with ice cream sundaes. Don’t worry. They are staying on the menu.
The DBGB DC dining room on a Friday night.
Thai sausage and boudin blanc at DBGB (both will remain on the menu into spring).
Daniel Boulud's famous Madeleines (piping hot from oven).
Daniel Boulud's chocolate ice cream sundae.
On Easter we made a family trip to Annapolis for a walkabout and stopped in McGarvey’s for oysters and steamed shrimp and followed that with a visit to the “beach,” or what serves as a beach within 15 minutes of downtown Annapolis, Sandy Point State Park. It’s on the western shore of the Cheasapeake Bay with a mighty view of the Bay Bridge.  In another month it will be crowded with humanity, but on this sunny, cool and breezy Sunday there were only a few kite-flyers and some patient fisherman, casting for rockfish. The views were beautiful, the air bracing.
McGarvey's in Annapolis on Easter Sunday.
Steamed shrimp at McGarvey's.
The Chesapeake Bay on Easter Sunday, photographed at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis. (This is what it looked like. No filters!)
Fishing for rockfish with the Bay Bridge as a backdrop in Sandy Point State Park.
The view of the Chesapeake Bay from Sandy Point State Park.
One of the walks at Sandy Point State Park.
We returned home to cap the day with Easter dinner at Chez Billy Sud, with our friend and neighbor Ellen Charles. The chef had just introduced a spring soup, Vichyssoise, and it was a stunning presentation. Between the three of us we had duck, steak frites and trout, and I finished with a most photogenic dessert, Paris Brest. Chez Billy opens its outdoor terrace next week and we can’t wait.
Chez Billy Sud — ready for Easter Sunday business.
We brought some flowers and chocolates to Sunday dinner at Chez Billy Sud.
The beautiful chilled Vichyssoise at Chez Billy Sud — hello spring!
The Paris Brest at Chez Billy Sud.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt