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Items 276-300 · Current Items · Index

125. Best Atlas of the Ancient World
Published in October, Dr. Richard Talbert's The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World is the best thing going on the way things were way back when.  Or so says John Wilford of The New York Times, the author of a very fine book on map-making himself, The Mapmakers.  Dr. Talbert is at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is supporting the establishment of an Ancient World Mapping Center.  See "An Atlas Unveils the Intricacies of Ancient Worlds," The New York Times, December 12, 2000, p. D5.

124. Best Get-Away-From-It-All Calendar
MaCallan, the malt-whiskey people, and their American distributor turn out the Macallandar every year, replete with fishing shots that delight the heart.  All proceeds from sales go to the Atlantic Salmon Federation (   Call 1-800-428-9810, a number which  will take you to Remy Amerigue Inc., their U.S. outpost.   For more on MaCallan, see

123. Best Jazz at NoonNew York
One of New York City’s unique institutions, “Jazz at Noon,” under the leadership of Les Lieber, takes place every Friday from 12-2 at Cafe St. Bart's, a restaurant located at 143 East 49th Street in Manhattan.  Les, who plays a mean alto sax and penny whistle, founded the program 36 years ago to give business people who were also good musicians a place to jam and have some fun.

Here’s the way it works.   A core group of CEOs, doctors, lawyers, advertising executives, etc. show up at noon to start things off with a standard like “All of Me” or “Just Friends” and, during the ensuing two hours, they are joined by other business people/musicians who drop by from all over the United States and other countries.  Finally, the guest artist for the day (top names like Clark Terry are regulars) joins the band for the rest of the session.  In addition to music, what makes “Jazz at Noon” special is the warmth and sharp wit of Les Lieber, who introduces each of the band members with a great deal of humor.  For more information, check out the website,, then call Cafe St. Bart's for reservations at 212-332-0888. 

Thanks to our friend Bob Whyte, Chapel Hill venture capitalist and banjo player, for this entry.

121. Best Book on Domestic Improvement
It’s Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language.  See also “Home Design’s Zen Master of Perfect Imperfection,” New York Times, November 25, 2000, p. Bl8.   Alexander lives in Berkeley, which is only fitting because it was home to America’s most significant domestic architect in the early 20th century
, Bernard Maybeck, whose quaint houses just happened to be very charming and very livable.  Mr. Alexander’s house does not have a doorbell so you have to give him a shout to raise him.  You will also find his website ( hard to navigateall part of the trappings of artfully designed eccentricity.  For sure he is an antidote to sterile architects, Home Depots, and new housing developments that lack any memory of yesterday.

120. Best Atmosphere in a Mexican Restaurant—San Antonio, Texas
Over the years we’ve eaten more chalupas compuestas at La Fonda on Main than we’d care to admit.  Somewhere along the way, this beloved Tex-Mex eatery, founded in 1932 and still located in its original red tile-roofed casita, began a sad downward drift.  Local restaurant maven Cappy Lawton came to rescue, and when it re-opened a couple of years ago, La Fonda quickly resumed its place in the hearts of the faithful. The new décor distills the best of the old: pale stucco walls hung with bullfight posters and photos of the first La Fonda, banquettes upholstered with day-glo serapes and huge broken tile urns flanking the arched doorways.  The service is the nicest in town—some of the waitresses have been there for decades—and you can still get the essential pecan pralines at the cash register.  On hot summer nights, todo San Antonio gathers on the airy terrace to drink margaritas and cool down under a gentle mist that periodically falls from the trees.  In winter, get cozy inside with a traditional steak a la tampiquena or the aforementioned chalupas compuestas: crispy tortillas piled high with refried beans, guacamole, lettuce and tomato, chicken and grated cheese. This is not the place to come for inventive cuisine, just good, old-fashioned comfort food, San Antonio-style.  Contact: La Fonda on Main, 2145 North Main Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78212.  Telephone: 210-733-0621.

119. Best Source of Trendy Objects for the HomeSan Antonio, Texas
The tone is set the moment you enter Sloan Hall: two flanking tables of Prada sneakers, one for men and one for women, and straight ahead, Johnathan Adler’s muted, organically shaped ceramics.  The proprietors of this urban chic emporium do their shopping in Paris, so between trips deprived Francophiles can stock up on Christian Tortu’s rectangular zinc vases, Marie Papier’s leather-bound journals, and Diptyque’s Baies candles.  There’s even a cache of trendy vegetal fragrances (think tomato leaf) from L’Artsan Parfumeur, a jewelbox shop in the Marais.  Most beautiful object: an engraved crystal goblet patterned after Renaissance Venetian glass.  Wittiest object: an enormous white porcelain laughing Buddha with a slot in the back for centimes.  Contact: Sloan Hall, 5930 Broadway, San Antonio, TX 78209.  Telphone: 210-828-7738.

118. Best Source of Hippie-Chic Clothing for WomenSan Antonio, Texas
The sultry fragrance of incense wafts through Kathleen Sommers’ eponymous shop, located in the premises of a former beauty supply house on North Main Avenue.  The store is so dimly lit and so full of wondrous “stuff” that one has to navigate slowly to take in even half of it: sequinned Mexican skirts, Asian noodle cookbooks, sculptural beeswax candles, glittery evening shoesin short, lots of feel-good girlie luxuries that have won Sommers an avid following among hip San Antonio ladies.  Most alluring is her own line of luxe but comfortable eveningwear “made in our factory a few blocks from here” for those who like the rich hippie look.  One irresistible ensemble included a short, fitted, antique velvet jacket of beaujolais red worn over a creamy crushed silk shell, with flowing velvet pants of a burgundy so dark it was almost black.  Novelist Sandra Cisneros is said to shop here.  Contact: Kathleen Sommers, 2417 North Main Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78212.  Telephone: 210-732-8437.

117. Best Intimate Creative Writing Program
This is not a big program, but it has a star-studded cast of poets, novelists, and playwrights as faculty, and its students win endless accolades, including the National Book Award, Pulitzers, etc.  Director Leslie Epstein has led the program for more than twenty years; his eight books of fiction include the well-known King of the Jews.  Poet Robert Pinsky was U.S. Poet Laureate from l997-2000, poetry editor for Slate, and a regular on PBS.  Given the small number of faculty and students, it is something of an intimate salon.  See

116. Best Falconer
Philip Glasier, the world's best modern falconer, died on September 11.  See New   York Times, September 23, 2000, B27.  Among his books were Falconry and Hawking, As The Falcon Her Bells, and A Hawk in the Hand.   The National Bird of Prey Center in England, started by him in 1967, has spread way beyond eagles to include 300 plus birds and 80 species.

115. Best Toy Stores
Chasing about the nation, we have looked at all the toy stores that the media praise. Well, the stores they laud are as humdrum as the current FAO Schwartz, a wonderful store that has been lobotomized by the current owners.   We have a couple, not on the charts, for you to inspect (we will be adding to this list):

5. -new- The Attache List (December 1997, pp.74-83).  Back in 1997, toy collector Barry Janoff put together a fine toy store list for Attache, a fine airline magazine Pace does for U.S. Airways, this issue dating back to when that always troubled airway still had dreams of grandeur aloft.  We’ve been to many of the stores, and they are of mixed quality.  But each provides entertainments for the toy fancier in all of us.  They are:  Archie McPhee, 35110 Stone Way, North Seattle, Washington 98103.  206-545-8344.  McPhee is a very fun provider of toy kitsch and has a dribs and drabs catalog that proves it.  Classic Toys, 218 Sullivan Street, New York, New York 10012.  212-674-4434.  We hope this still exists: it’s a little mysterious den on a side street down in SoHo and could have been wiped out by rising rents.  Le Petit Soldier Shop, 528 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130.  504-523-7741.  This should be all right since it was in the quarter.  It has some beautiful hand-painted figures, and, as is the case here, enough wares are in the window to hint at its ambiance.  Nashville Toy Museum, 2613 McGavock Pike, Nashville, Tennessee 37214.  615-883-8870.  It’s a little hard to tell the current status of this museum, but at least you can get a history here.  It’s probably more of a train store now.  Star Wars Collectible & Old Tyme Toy Store, 6159 N. 9th Avenue, Pensacola Florida 32504.  904-857-1343.  This store seems to have moved so do some checking before you venture there.  Sullivan’s, 3412 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20016.  202-362-1343.  Actually this was a pleasant, run-of-the-mill store.  Toy Joy, 2900 Guadeloupe Street, Austin, Texas 78705.  512-320-0090.  The late hours here make it a thing to do after a bite in Austin.  It looks like a hoot.  Toys & Co, 803C Friendly Center, Greensboro, North Carolina 27408.  910-294-1114.  This is actually a rather typical mall store, but with more inventory than you will find at many North Carolina locations.  Interestingly, it has spread to a number of locations in the Piedmont and onto the coast.  U.S. Toy Company/Constructive Playthings, 208 West 103d Terrace, Leawood, Kansas 66206.  913-642-8247.  This shop and its many sisters had an educational tilt, its CEO once a preschool teacher, but it has since become all things to all people.  The Wound & Wound Toy Company, 7374 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90046.  800-937-0561.  Full of tin cars and other action toys.  Incidentally, U.S. Airways and America West are merging, with the new leadership coming from America West executives.  (10/19/05)

4. Hamleys.  We have it on the word of Forbes that this 200-year plus store in London is worth the visit, although we cannot remember for sure whether we liked the store or not.  But it is the sort of place you have to visit once anyway because it is a colossus. Besides, how can we resist visiting what claims to be the finest toyshop in the world?  See or  Hamleys.  181-196 Regent Street.  London.  Telephone:  011-44-202-2900.

Addendum:  One of our very faithful readers reports that there is a very big downside to the renowned Hamleys.  He says, "I have been to Hamleys three times.  It is always overcrowded, and it has a poor selection and absolutely horrible service.  Three episodes of unresolved frustration."  Well, we suppose you still have to go, though you may also leave very fast.

3. Le Petit Soldier Le Petit Soldier is ground zero for strategic warriors of all ages.  Ranged amongst the military medals, uniforms and antique pistols are battalions of beautifully hand-painted miniature soldiers from the time of the Greeks and Romans to the present day.  We spied a legion of generals and other leaders:  Julius Caesar, MacArthur, Robert E. Lee and Mussolini to name a few.  But among the thousands of troops, we were most enchanted by the colorful Louisiana Tiger Zouaves, in blue-striped pantaloons and red fezzes.  Owner Dave Dugas knows his stock intimately and is not averse to trading war stories if business is slow.  Contact:  Le Petit Soldier Shop, 528 Royal Street, New Orleans.  Telephone:  504/523-7741. 

2. WoodShop Toys.  320 lst Avenue South, Seattle at Pioneer Square.  1-888-624-1763.  Owned by Douglas Norwood, a.k.a Top Dog, this store has a unique selection of most everything, so don't be fooled by the wooden toys name.  He claims he is "Often a circus, always a zoo."   This fits because his specialty is folkmanis puppets, darn cute animals of reasonable dimension that also happen to be puppets.  We found Doug lending voice to Chuck the Dog when we visited--so we bought Chuck the Dog.  Doug's father Willis started the store in l972.  Now Doug divides his time between his child life at the store and his six- and two-year olds at home.

1. Oz.  1977-1 Main Street.  Blowing Rock, North Carolina. 1-828-295-0770.  This is probably the only really charming shop in Blowing Rock, a wonderful tourist mecca where the stores have taken to kitsch.  We found Jim Thirtle busily putting more stuff on the shelves, pained a bit that he did not have enough room for all his new discoveries.  Suspended in the air was a vintage Roadmaster bike; on one side, a fair number of tin toys.  He and Iris claim to have all sorts of "needful things," which, I presume, are all needed by the Thirtles.  A retired contractor from Florida, Jim obviously thinks you can only get it truly right when you construct fantasies.

114. Best Reason for Reading Sports Illustrated
All our newsweeklies of all sorts--Newsweek, Time, U.S. News, Sports Illustrated, blah, blah--have been ruined by the media conglomerates.  So we have done the impossible in discovering why you should peek at Sports Illustrated, even if you don't buy it.  Uncle Tom from Pittsburgh has uncovered Rick Reilly, the new star of sports columnists.  He writes with passion, anecdote, and skill about stars who matter because they have character, like John Wooden or Shaquille O'Neal.  We are particularly fond of his pre-requiem for ailing Al McGuire, champion coach and sportscaster.  Reilly is full of telling details:  "As a pit-bull New York Knicks guard in the early 1950's, he once showed up at center court with a knife, fork and plate and hollered, 'I'm gonna eat Cousy for dinner!' "  See Sports Illustrated, September l8, 2000.  You'll find the web-version of Sports Illustrated (in league with CNN) at  

113. Best Kids' Expository Writing
The Concord Review is shockingly good, and we are annoyed that we did not see it sooner.  It is "A Quarterly Review of Essays by Students of History," a selection of papers from high school students all over the country who, in general, write and research better than their college cousins.  You can find a short history of IBM, a piece on Williston Academy and World War I, two treatments of Marbury vs. Madison, a memory of Julia Morgan (the architect of Hearst Castle and friend of the great California architect Bernard Maybeck), and just about everything else you can imagine.  This is the child and worthy compulsion of Will Fitzhugh of Sudbury, Massachusetts.  A one-time teacher who has spent 13 years building the Journal, he has earned the praise of everyone, even though, financially, his enterprise has been a hand-to-mouth affair.  So subscribe and get your friends to endow it.  On the Internet, you will find some sample essays at  Send praise and dollars to Mr. Fitzhugh at

112. Best Sunday Night Dining Room on Central Park West
Just steps from Columbus Circle, on the ground floor of the predictably glitzy Trump International Hotel, is a rare find: a beautifully chic restaurant that draws a well-dressed crowd on the Upper West Side, even on a Sunday night.  Nougatine is the casual stepchild of Jean-Georges, the highly acclaimed French restaurant opened in 1997 by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  With its pale taupe, Adam Tihany-designed interior and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Central Park West, the dining room has a luminous, airy feeling amplified by the luxury of actual space between the tables.  The scaled-down but still luxurious menu reflects the innovative culinary philosophy that has been winning Vongerichten four-star reviews for the last fifteen years: he takes exquisitely fresh, seasonal ingredients and cooks them in a way that boosts their natural flavors, often with pure vegetable and fruit essences and the occasional Asian twist.

As the sky turned steel blue and street lights glimmered one autumn evening, we began with an amuse-bouche of stunningly fresh, almost buttery salmon tartare with a tiny puff pastry shell.  It was followed by salad of white asparagus, enoki mushrooms and baby lettuces in an earthy vinaigrette flavored with soy sauce and truffle juice, and then by a succulent poached lobster, its generous chunks bathed in a voluptuous lemon broth and served atop chive-flecked spaetzle and tiny fava beans.  Though Vongerichten is known for top-notch desserts (especially his famed soft, warm chocolate cake), a fresh fig tart did not measure up to the rest of the meal.  Contact: Nougatine, 1 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023.  Telephone: 212-299-3900.  See  

111. Best Source of Big Garden Ornaments on Lexington Ave., New York
Through the windows of Lexington Gardens, one first glimpses sumptuous dried flower arrangements.  Hydrangeas, roses and pomegranates spill over the sides of urns, while wreaths in autumnal hues of gold and ruby beckon the passerby.  Inside, one discovers a small but well-chosen trove of over-sized garden ornaments with a seductive patina of age that could give immediate credibility to a new McMansion or instant garden.  A gorgeous 19th-century terracotta urn adorned with acanthus leaves and grinning satyrs ($5,000) almost demands to be placed on a country estate at the terminus of an allee of pear trees—but would also lend regal splendor to a double-height entrance hall.  For homeowners with an Asian bent, a fierce pair of weathered wooden guardian dogs from a temple on the Thai-Burmese border ($9,500) might prevent evil spirits from entering the front door during a down market.  A large antique circular window with a frame of peeling white paint could anchor an empty wall until the Rubens arrives.  Contact: Lexington Gardens, 1011 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10021.  Telephone: 212-861-43990. 

110. Best Antidote to Pottery Barn's ClutterNew York
If your eyes begin to glaze over at the sight of yet another Pottery Barn catalogue lurking in the mailbox, take heart.  Terence Conran’s new outpost beneath the 59th Street Bridge in New York is the perfect antidote to all the ersatz country furniture and fake kilims that clutter up that other lifestyle merchandiser’s stores.  The absence of clutter is precisely what’s most alluring about this airy, ultra-modern, glassed-in structure, where minimalist pieces of furniture are displayed almost like sculpture.  Our eye was drawn to the sleek, classical lines of the Cicero daybed in soft honey-colored leather (from $2590), which would look nifty in almost library or in front of a pair of French doors opening out to the garden.  A barrel-shaped, 19th-century Ethiopian “throne” in dark wood with diamond cut-outs ($5,400) would be dramatic silhouetted against stark white walls.  The Capuchin zinc-clad dining table ($2,190) was chic, but we were deterred by warnings about the effects of fingerprints on its surface.  Not everyone finds the modernist look appealing, of course, but for a fresh vision of what good design in the home could look like, Conran scores at the top of our list.  (There are no catalogues, alas, but tear sheets for sofas and tables are available.)  Contact: The Terence Conran Shop, 407 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022.  Telephone: 212-755-9079.  See also

109. Best "White" Japanese Soy Sauce
It has the deep amber hue of old Kentucky Bourbon, and an aroma redolent of wood fires on a frosty night.  The flavor is subtle and complex, not unlike that of a well-cured jamon serrano.  It is Shiro Shoyu, a "white" soy sauce brewed (mostly from wheat) in small batches in central Japan, just as it has been for 150 years.  We discovered it a year ago, while searching for an alternative for the ubiquitous dark soy sauces that taste mostly of salt and the murky bottoms of enormous factory vats.  Shiro Shoyu transcends the genre, taking dishes as varied as grocery store avocado rolls, Chinese watercress and shrimp dumplings to unexpected culinary heights.

To those in the food and wine orbit, it may occur as no surprise that Shiro Shoyu was introduced to America by Darrell Corti.  Hailed by Saveur as "The Man Who Knows Everything About Food and Wine," he circles the globe searching for excellent, often little-known delicacies to sell in his family's Sacramento grocery emporium.  As Corti wrote in one of the newsletters which occasionally waft across our desk, Shiro Shoyu has a "meaty, intense flavor ... the scent is a meaty one, smoky like a good aged country ham"--as unlike ordinary soys, we might add, as day from night.  Contact: Corti Brothers, 5810 Folsom Boulevard, Sacramento, CVA 95819.   Telephone: 800-509-3663.

108. Best Friendship Book of 1999
Just as you conclude the nation is going to hell in a handbasket, you discover some new wonderful people who are marching to a different drummer.  We have already pointed out the best love story of 1999 (see Best of Class #81), and now we discover a gem about friendship.  It's Stephen E. Ambrose's Comrades, Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals.  He writes about the Ambrose family, but also about Eisenhower and Patton, and Lewis and Clark.  It includes an affecting chapter, "Nary A Friend: Richard Nixon," in which Ambrose calls Nixon a man of enormous talent and drive, brought low by his very inability to have true friendship.

107. Best Card Games for Kids 3-12 and over 40
Gamewright of Newton, Mass. puts out simple games that use brain, eyes, and hand coordination while providing a barrel of laughs.  Among our favorites are Go Bananas, Slamwich, Rat-a-Tat Cat, Pigasus, and Frog Juice.  See

106. Best Corporate Advertisement
And probably the longest running as well.  We just got the latest number of the Royal Bank Letter, a long-running publication of the Royal Bank of Canada.   Always a four-page issue, the current topic is "The Place of Recreation."   As a society, it says, our quality of life is coming to depend on the quality of our leisure.  The question is, are we amusing ourselves to death?

When you contemplate all the triviata coming out of Wall Street's investment banks, it is a joy to receive a missive from a financial institution that knows how to act like number one.  If I remember correctly, this reflection goes out to 600,000 plus readers.  The secret of its success:  in this letter, the bank talks engagingly about values, not boringly about itself.  Available also at

105. Best Way to See Cuba
Americans and others are pouring into Cuba now in increasing numbers.   But a fast visit there will not invoke the leisurely land where one went to Sunday mass, because the walk there in the sun will put you in a state of grace even before you reached the cathedral.  We suggest you listen to the Buena Vista Social Club, which will let you see the whole thing the right way in your mind’s eye.  Latin music is sweeping through the United States, the surest sign yet that we are getting ourselves linked to Latin America, becoming a dual culture if not a multiculture.

104. Best New Bird Watchers Book
David Allen Sibley of Concord, Massachusetts has turned out The Sibley Guide to Birds, which even seems to have displaced Roger Tory Peterson.  It weighs more than 2 ½ pounds, so you will not be carrying it around in your knapsack.   The whole Sibley family is into birds—the kind of passion that creates greatness.  Concord is home to all sorts of interesting people, many of whom are not really part of the academic/industrial complex Boston has become.

103. Nicaragua’s Best Poet
And probably Latin America’s.  Possibly the most important modernist poet in the Spanish-speaking world.  Ruben Dario (1867-1916), born in Metapa, spent his creative life in Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires, Madrid, and Paris.   Harvard recently uncovered a couple of his poems, which were gathering dust, unheralded, on the shelves of the Widener Library.  (See “Harvard Finds Two Poems, and a Latin Romance Reignites,”  New York Times, September 19, 2000, p. 2.  He is celebrated by both the greats and the critics.  See, for instance, a 1933 dialogue between Pablo Neruda and Garcia Lorca at   Some works are available such as Azul, Cuentos Completos, and Poemas Escogidos, with more due to be published.  On the website, there are six dramatic poems including “To Roosevelt.”

102. Best Pen Shop in Dallas
Why bother with fancy watchpieces that everybody has?  Penwright stocks all the premium brands plus vintage pens.  It also does both repairs and restoration. With one of these in hand, one can prove that the pen is mightier than the sword.  Penwright is located at Lovers and Inwood.  5330 West Lovers Lane, Dallas, Texas 75209.  Telephone: 800-672-7814 or 214-350-7814.  See

101. Best Mystery Book Store in Washington D.C.
We first spied MysteryBooks one bright March afternoon when cherry blossoms were gusting in the wind around Dupont Circle.  Always in search of books by our favorite Irish crime writer (his early works are out of print and we can never remember his name), we ambled inside and inquired vaguely about a working-class Irish detective and his escapades in the rare-book and trout-fishing worlds.  Within moments, the genial proprietor had not only identified the writer, Bartholomew Gill, but had, to our delight, discovered newly reissued paperbacks of Gill's works, as well as a forthcoming novel.  (For more on Gill, see entry #61.)

Addicts of literary murder and mayhem, take note:  The store not only features the usually autographed bestsellers, but also stocks hard-to-find classics, plus intriguing volumes from European publishers rarely available here.  For buffs hooked on mysteries set in, say, Tokyo or Venice, there's a section in which books are shelved by location.  Here we discovered Sujata Massey's funny, sexy antique dealer-detective, Rei Shimura.  You can peruse these diabolical treats in the comfort of an easy chair in the stacks or in your own lair via the store's gargoyle-bedecked website,   Washington-based mystery mavens can compare clues with luminaries such as Dick Francis and Robert Parker, who regularly stop by when on tour.  Contact: The MysteryBooks Store, 1715 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.  Telephone: 202-483-1600 or 800-387-8252.

Note:  We regret to hear that MysteryBooks is closed.  As the proprietors write, "We have struggled and fought the good fight, but too many circumstances did not turn in our favor. ... For all of us here it is more like the loss of a loved one than the closing of a business."

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