My mother is half Italian; and she plays the part, with her year-round suntan, petite frame, and magical powers at cooking spaghetti sauce from scratch. By default, I have always felt a bit connected to Italians — obsessed, you could say, with their way of life, notorious passion, and storied history in the realms of food, fashion, and art.
So when I arrived Thursday night at the circa 1926 home of Valerie and Mike Karns for a small, private dinner hosted by Neiman Marcus and celebrating Florentine menswear mogul Stefano Ricci, I was delighted to find myself in a scene that felt far less like Dallas and more like a Slim Aarons’ photographs of Italian jet-set life circa 1968.
“We’ve been European’d!” one guest exclaimed.
Stefano Ricci’s 45-year-old Italian line of finely tailored menswear and accessories has been a staple at Neiman Marcus for decades. He fondly recalls time spent with Stanley Marcus, including one visit when Mr. Stanley fetched him from the airport in a red Jaguar. This visit, though, was special: It marked Stefano’s first trip to Dallas in 10 years, and his sons (CEO Niccolò Ricci and creative director Filippo Ricci) came along for the visit, and to join Papa Ricci for a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus NorthPark Center. Attention gentlemen: The Ricci fam is in-store until 5 p.m. Friday.
But back to the dinner. The beautiful, historic home is tucked away on Turtle Creek Drive — one of my favorite neighborhoods — with its well-manicured backyard on the bank of Turtle Creek. An elegant, candle-lit table was set al fresco, and just at dusk we were asked to be seated.
To my right was Filippo, who explained that we were in for an authentic Italian meal. Indeed, the Riccis had brought along their personal executive chef, Roberto Casini, and shipped in the freshest Italian ingredients for the occasion. Most important were the truffles from San Miniato, which topped every course, save dessert.
Years ago, Casini opened Osteria Delle Tre Panche restaurant in Florence — a favorite, I’m told, of Jim Gold’s, president of Neiman Marcus Group’s specialty retail, and a dining destination he always seeks when visiting the Riccis. After Casini retired from his post, he went to work full-time for Stefano and fam. Each course was Italian perfection, from the artichoke flan covered in a pile of shaved truffle so high you could barely see your plate to the Florentine cheesecake, which was “like eating a cloud,” just as Filippo had promised.
Upon reflection, I’ve decided there are quite a few new reasons I must make a trip to Florence. For one, I’m quite intrigued by the company’s investment in some of the oldest Italian ateliers and craftsmen, from silversmiths to fine weavers. I’m also suddenly excited at the idea of attending the famous Mille Miglia car race, which is a tradition in the Ricci family. The boys collect historic cars, and Niccolo and Filippo participate in the historic three-day race each year.
Alas, there was one member of the family missing from dinner: Mama Ricci. “The real boss,” as Stefano calls her. She was back in Italy, watching over her two grandchildren — and perhaps taking a spin in her vintage Jaguar. For she, too, adores collectible automobiles. And for the record, she doesn’t leave racing in the Mille Miglia only to the boys.