Robin’s Nest: a doodad gift, a dumpling to gobble
By ROBIN WOODS
For Montclair Local
Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants, and
interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers.
Got something you think should be in Robin’s Nest? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer’s here and warm temperatures and bright sunshine bring many gift-giving occasions: graduations, engagements, weddings, and visits down the shore or to the Hamptons. If you’re looking for something different and unusual, stop by White Rabbit Black Heart and see what owner Paul Giordano has in his tiny shop, which opened in March of this year.
Why the name “White Rabbit Black Heart?”
He said that “white rabbit” means love, tenderness, magic, Alice in Wonderland and Jefferson Starship. That's a huge store sign and a mouthful. Black heart is the symbol of
his broken heart, because his former business partner, Ann Asilo, passed away in 2014. “It’s on the darker side, not as colorful and sweet, but a little deeper,” he said.
The merchandise is edgy, a bit sarcastic and sometimes risqué.
Although the décor and items sold are primarily white and black, the walls are painted a bright blue to contrast what could be seen as too matchy-matchy. I wanted to buy the two bowler-hat pendant lights hanging over the front register. They are currently just for decoration, but Paul might commission them for sale in the future.
Paul has always been a creative person, and his store shows off his quirky personality. A self-taught interior designer, he once made floral wedding chuppahs, the canopies under which a Jewish couple stands during their ceremony. From chuppahs to chocolate, he’s famous for his Belgian and Mexican milk and white chocolate confections, especially the pretzels that always sell out at White Rabbit Black Heart. You can pick up marzipan sticks, almond bark, huge chocolate-covered malted milk balls and red velvet bites. My allergy to chocolate prevented me from tasting the candy, but it didn’t keep me from buying some to take home to share with others or to take along as a hostess gift.
A wedding gift from White Rabbit could be a set of floral melamine dishes, painted bird figurines, or gold or silver charms — tiny two-peas-in-a-pod, heart, hamsa or Star of David — to carry in a pocket. Bird themes are popular now, with paintings, plaques and dishes for gift-giving as well. I was happy to see some of my bird friends in the shop, although I couldn't find a robin anywhere. An offbeat “There will always be us” artist print might be the perfect gift for the edgy engaged couple you know, with a cartoon of somewhat gothic skeletons and hearts.
Beautifully woven and decorated small Dreamboxes are objets d’art. They’re a big hit with the high school and college-age crowd, as are cigar boxes with “Gratitude” written on the lid, Paul said. I expected the boxes to be empty, but they're filled with “Thank You” and “Gratitude” note cards in blue and gold. Paul carries a line of cards with unexpected designs and sayings. My favorite one had a bride and groom on the front, with “This is a terrible idea” on the inside. Be daring and bring a “Welcome to the Sh*t Show” pillow along as a gift the next time you spend a long weekend at a friend's summer house. But don’t forget what Benjamin Franklin said: “Fish and visitors stink after three days.”
Hungry after all my exploring and shopping, I walked a few blocks down to Elyssia’s Kitchen. Newly opened on May 11, Elyssia Yung runs the business and cooks at the same time, with the help of her parents Myra Yip and Ho Yung. She's just 17 years old, and a budding chef who's preparing the dishes she’s grown up with in her Chinese/ Filipino household. She’s the third generation in the family to cook, although Elyssia considers herself to be a novice sous-chef at best.
Elyssia has always loved cooking, and watching her parents and grandmother cook. “I have a passion for food, cooking and eating,” she said, describing how she used to sneak into the kitchen when she was 6 years old to figure out how to cook what her grandmother was making. During her visits to Hong Kong, Elyssia discovered that her grandmother never wrote things down. She would tell Elyssia what each dish was, and the ingredients needed, but never exact cooking times or measurements.
In Elyssia’s Kitchen, well-used skillets and cookware hang from a rack at the front open kitchen. The menu is relatively small, with potstickers, wontons, tofu and soup dumplings, rice and sui mai. I ordered fried tofu, cabbage and mushroom dumplings and ate the huge serving of eight. I liked the thin dough, but some prefer thick dough. Thin dough allows you to better taste the ingredients. It's difficult if not impossible to make crispy tofu at home, even with a screaming hot wok.
I can’t pass up kimchi (pickled vegetables), and you can choose from kimchi or roast pork fried rice. The kimchi doesn't smack you in the face and set your head on fire, but has complex seasonings and a soft texture. Go for the Korean beef bao buns if you’re a carnivore, and try the seaweed salad if you're not or just want a taste of something bright and a bit fishy.
Elyssia is headed for University of California, Davis, in Sacramento in the fall to study nutritional science and learn about what she calls “the background of food.” Her parents will run the business for her during the school year.
When I asked her if she misses having time to have fun, working from 9 a.m. to midnight six days a week, she said, “We are all workaholics. We can’t just sit still and do nothing.”
I sat still and did nothing while trying my first iced matcha espresso. It was an interestingly odd mixture of matcha tea, milk and espresso layered in green, white and brown until you shake it up. I prefer dumplings unshaken, please.
In this column:
- White Rabbit Black Heart
219 Glenridge Ave.
- Elyssia's Kitchen
190C Bloomfield Ave.