Mary Wells: Tasty Temptations for Under the Tree

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When you live around the world, you get to know the shopkeepers well. They are sometimes among my best friends in town. They are almost always smart and aware of which way the wind is blowing. I’ve been seeing and calling them. They know it is going to be a difficult holiday season and they have good ideas already for under the tree. Many have little luxe gifts and high-quality ideas that cost less than you expect and will be a treat to give people who will love them.

The stores tell me that what I read is true — England, Italy, Germany and Belgium are troubled and shoppers are slowing down, as they are in the United States. Japan, Russia and the Middle East, where the top spenders have gotten used to shopping in gilded cages for extreme luxury, are pulling back, too, perhaps psychologically, but nevertheless — back. There may be some crocodile coats for men out there for $150,000 that will be snapped up like last year. Or those $125,00 crocodile handbags that were bought one day after appearing in stores. But they will be too few to sneer at.

There has never been a more important year for charity contributions or to help green programs or to help a troubled friend. But if you love giving good friends something tied up with a beautiful bow over the holidays and if they love getting treats — do I have the gift suggestions for you! I swept our world for the little luxes. All sorts of things! Thanks to my friends behind the counters in New York, Miami, Barcelona, Rome, London, Monte Carlo, Portofino, Cannes, Venice and here in Vancouver, I not only have suggestions; in many cases we took pictures!

The most obvious gift around the world is a box of chocolates. The best chocolates, probably the very best in the world, and probably the hardest to get — are made by Japanese in New York City. Kee’s Chocolates are at 80 Thompson Street. They are made fresh every single day with fresh pounded chocolate. You may have to make an appointment to get a box in holiday season but it is worth the trip to be on time – so you won’t lose your box. It’s been known to happen. Wait until you taste the blood orange,  the sesame — it is hard to think about any of Kee’s chocolates without melting right into a puddle. They are not expensive. The box is not fancy. The quality is the highest. Half the joy in giving them is getting them in the first place. The other half is the joy on the face of someone you adore eating Kee’s chocolates for the first time.  

If you just can’t get to Thompson Street, I have an alternative: a completely different presentation but chocolate candy that tastes like yum! Chocolate! A lot of chocolates don’t. Debauve & Gallais, 20 East 69th Street, packs yummy chocolates. The boxes look absurdly royal and expensive but this year under a Christmas tree that just might be cheery.

You don’t have to live in New York. Both chocolate places have websites.

Joy on a face is a great gift to witness. And I know a way to insure joy on the face of your best friend! Bouchon Bakery  is on the third floor of the Time Warner Building in New York and it makes crunchy, heavenly dog biscuits with the finest foie gras mixed into the dough. They remind me of Daniel Boulud and his foie gras hamburgers that are now being copied in London. If you do nothing else this Christmas, make a few souls deeply happy with Bouchon Bakery’s dog biscuits.  

Another way to produce joy on a face at Christmas is with gin or vodka that is so superior to others they take you to another level. Wrap up a few of these super-luxe quality bottles in gorgeous wrapping paper and present them as Christmas taste tests for fellas with refined tastes. The producers, the sellers and the experts all agree on which are the top five gins: Junipero, Hendricks, Bombay Sapphire, Boodles, and best of all, Cadenhead’s Old Raj Dry Gin, considered the best of the best. As a martini drinker I can tell you that it is a bit eerie, a bit otherworldly, a bit of a knockout, as a matter of fact. You can find it at Sherry Lehman’s in New York, in London and in Miami and L.A.– I ‘m looking for it in Vancouver. 

If you need to give vodka, not gin, here are the top five vodkas on my experts’  lists — not because of the bottles, but because each vodka is hauntingly beautiful to drink straight: Roberto Cavalli (yessiree), Elit, U’luvka-Polish, Jewel Of Russia, Jean Marc – French XO distilled nine times in the same process as XO Cognac. Wrap each in a different color for the cool man who would get it. P.S. As the bartenders say, “If they can’t find the top ones anywhere they’re happy to drink Grey Goose.”

I’ll be back next week with more to add to my guide to holiday shopping. If you have any questions in the meantime, send them on – I’m reading you.

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