Ted: The Fall of Rome? Lessons From La Caravelle

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By Ted Kruckel

I know it wasn't built in a day, but can someone please tell me how long it took Rome to fall? I'm just asking so that I'll have enough time to pack up my bibelots before the Visigoths (or barbarians or Young Republicans, whoever is next on the schedule) take over.

I figured the end was near when I learned in the same week that New York now offers a $1,000 omelet with lobster and caviar (of course it is a publicity stunt, which is why I'll decline to mention the restaurant that's proffering it) and that La Caravelle was closing.

I'm going to assume that you've read one of the many articles about this fabled, now closed, restaurant. So instead of another history lesson de gastronomie, I thought an examination of what made the place special was in order, in hopes that elements of its legacy might survive. So on the eve of its final meal I paid a return visit, leaning on Food & Wine publisher Julie McGowan and wine expert Bartholomew Broadbent, to help navigate.

GENTLE, FLATTERING LIGHTING This is not the same thing as dim, kids. I'm a fan of dim lighting at boîtes and bars, but for important dinners, I want to see what I'm eating and what others are wearing. At La Caravelle (LC) they used bright light only indirectly, bouncing it off the walls, which in this case had muted Parisian murals. Then tables got a tiny lamp with a silk shade, making it not only possible to read the menu, but also creating a bubble of intimacy for each dining group.

A SENSE OF HISTORY The current obsession with obscure ingredients and complex combinations often means that it is next to impossible to have the same meal, exactly as you like it, year after year. LC kept up with the trends, but also maintained a section of the menu with selections from its storied past. Filet of Dover sole may have sounded passé, but our entire group agreed that it was perfection. Oh that I could be served this at some black-tie dinner instead of salmon.

DRESSING FOR DINNER It's very simple. When you dress up, and others around you do the same, the overall level of etiquette rises.

GRACIOUS HOSTS A thank-you note for going to dinner? Offering to serve dessert after the show for guests who foul up their pre-theater timing? Chasing absent-minded guests out onto the street with forgotten sunglasses? Because of such thoughtfulness, whatever it is that LC proprietors Andre and Rita Jammet decide to do next, I will be there.

SOUFFLÉ GRAND MARNIER People are so intimidated by soufflés. Maybe it's because you have to commit to them up front so it seems like a big deal. But considering people's food foibles and phobias these days, soufflés seem perfect. They're lighter than most desserts. They have to be made to order so they don't sit around collecting germs. And invariably neighbors gawk and admire when they arrive, which is great if you are on a date or with clients.


The grand venue Gotham Hall is a year old now, but somehow in my travels I had not been inside until this month. After checking it out—twice—I recommend it with a few caveats.

Like Cipriani 42nd Street, it's a converted former bank, in this case with an oval set of teller windows acting as a main floor perimeter. Elevated air vents are covered with wrought-iron grills, and art nouveau sconces circle the room with gentle light. There's a giant skylight up above, although I've yet to attend an event where it is lit to its full advantage, and I'm curious to see what it looks like during the day.

My first visit was for Bettina Zilkha's book party celebrating Ultimate Style: The Best of the Best Dressed List (published by Assouline), where 525 people dropped by for a post-dinner reception. There, the oval overhead rigging was hung with sheer white fabric to create a living room environment inside the ring and allow the more commercial sponsor exhibits their own place in the outer loop.

But the true test of an event space is a gala dinner, so I took in the 20th annual Infinity awards sponsored by the International Center for Photography, a former client of mine.

This is a biggie, with 600 seated dinner guests, a massive audiovisual presentation, plus a stage, podium and more. And everything seemed to fit, but just barely.

Taste was the caterer for the evening, and you could see that from the beginning, they were hard pressed to get waiters circulating through the crowded side rooms where cocktails took place. A display of the evening's award winner's works hung in the rotunda, and a hefty bar tried to draw guests in to wander the outer perimeter and take in the pictures, but guests want to be where the action is, so we all crammed in together.

It was hot. And I'm talking about temperature, sadly.

Later, when everyone was seated for dinner, the heat lingered, leaving me to wonder whether Gotham Hall is really properly ventilated for a summer gala. Caveat emptor.

But the room looked great. The visuals, done, as always, by Icontent, were first rate. The technical production team, including Staging Techniques, Bentley Meeker and E.S.P. New York used focused lighting to highlight a few architectural details, and kept the tables simple. The sound was hit or miss, depending on the speaker—it is not a forgiving room.

Why Susan Sontag couldn't be bothered to drop by to pick up her statue I couldn't tell you. The award meant enough to The New York Times Magazine, though, for them to mention it in this week's table of contents accompanying her essay on photos from Abu Ghraib.

Posted 05.26.04

Columnist Ted Kruckel is an experienced and opinionated former event and PR pro who ran events for 20 years for high-profile clients like Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera. He shuttered his firm, Ted Inc., in 2003. You can email him at [email protected].

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