Our Man in KC: Tivol and Waldo Thai

Damian Lair at TIVOL.

Sparkle Plenty

Every decade on her wedding anniversary, my mother gets an upgrade—to her diamond. In the early ’80s, she kicked things off with a classic, modest, half-carat solitaire engagement ring. Ten years later, the half carat was swapped for a full carat, with the original engagement diamond joining it on the left, and a new matching half carat to balance on the right. At 20 years, the center one carat was bumped to a pendant necklace and replaced with a two. At 30, three carats replaced two, two went to pendant, etc. This year, to my father’s alarm (I gather), was 40. And so the bauble bumping began anew, leaving the two carat without an obvious home. Obvious to my mother, and sanctioned by my father, it found a new home—with me. So what to do with a windfall loose diamond? I went to TIVOL, of course.

One hundred and eleven anniversaries later, TIVOL is still alive, kicking (and sparkling) in Kansas City. So one weeknight after work, I dropped into the Plaza location to see my guy, and my parents’ guy, and my grandparents’ guy—Gary Pener. He’s been helping my family (according to my grandmother, Mary Alice) for nearly 40 years. In fact, if you want a really funny TIVOL story, ask me sometime about my grandmother’s run-in with a very famous quarterback during a discreet, private-shopping appointment.

But I digress. Back to this story. I’d made an appointment in advance, explained how I was hoping to repurpose this sentimental gemstone, and emailed a few inspiration photos I found online. Upon arrival, Gary had prepped an array of items for me to view and try. [Pro tip: I recommend doing a custom appointment like this on a slower weekday when they can properly shower you with attention.] Priorly, I’d explained that I was expecting to ultimately land on a custom ring. But if the jewelers had other ideas, I’d consider them.

Overheard: “When we wear sweatpants, it’s called fashion.

We began with a braided gold cuff that, with a diamond dropped right in the center, would have been smashing, but probably not something I would wear every day. And I wanted this to be more distinctive and sentimental—not just a bauble picked up on a whim and too much Champagne. A cuff felt too spontaneous. Next!

We then looked at a few necklace options. I have a quite special one already that I never remove, and a second one added with permanence struck me as cluttery. I hardly want to feel like my neck needs Marie Kondo’d. Also, the necklace I have lives eternally underneath a shirt. I figured I would likely do the same with any new necklace I’d wear daily, which would be a shame because it really deserves to be seen.

We moved on to rings and began with metal options. Yellow gold seemed a bit much, particularly when added to the omnipresent gold President I rarely swap out. A silver color felt right, and less—flashy. So, white gold or platinum? I’d heard that platinum is heavier and less malleable (read: less comfortable), and white gold might be the way to go. Gary advised, however, that I’d never be able to feel the difference—weight or softness—between the two. Typically, he explained, people opt for white gold as a means of cost savings. Given the current price of gold, though, the savings would be negligible. I should go with platinum. Ok, then—done.

But what about the finish? This is honestly something I hadn’t even considered until another favorite TIVOL friend, Brian Butler, dropped his wedding ring on my finger. It was brushed platinum with a large center diamond. I’ll admit that, peering into a ring case, I’d probably have never gravitated toward a brushed finish. But I began falling in love immediately. This is why you seek professional advice. And try on lots of things.

Not one to get caught up on stereotypical gender roles, I had to admit that the brushed finish conveyed a more masculine vibe. I appreciated that the demurer aesthetic matched the overall heft of a man’s ring—and particularly, one wide enough to encase two carats. Yet another thing I didn’t know: if I ever tired of the brushed finish, I could always have it polished out. Learning this instantly lifted the pressure of finality. Game changer. Making progress!

Now, for the last bit. The design I’d seen online had some additional rectangular baguette diamonds cascading down each side of the wide band. With no men’s rings on site having that kind of coverage, I tried on some women’s approximations that featured additional band diamonds. I know this is going to sound crazy, but they almost sparkled too much. My objective was an “Oh, that’s a nice ring” level of attention-grabbing, not the sort that could cause a traffic pile-up. Still, who’s to argue about extra diamonds?

Days later, as I was talking about this fun afternoon with various friends, I was surprised how many of them had unused jewelry pieces squirreled away at home—wedding rings from former marriages, family heirlooms, inheritances, etc.—that they’d been planning to do something with. It reminded me of all the people stuck at home last year who wished they’d tackled their long-planned renovations just a bit sooner, before the storm hit. Stop waiting! If you have something that you’re not going to regularly wear or use, do something with it.

As I quickly learned, the possibilities are as infinite as your creativity. And no matter how you came across the piece, undoubtedly at some level the grantor would want you to enjoy it in any form. And if not, well, you deserve to anyway. As for the result of my appointment, I essentially settled on two solid—and very different—ring options. As I write, I’m mulling them over, constantly looking back at the photos I took, and waiting for the two estimates to drop into my inbox. Once those arrive, I’ll press myself to make a final selection. And before summer, I will have a new treasure encircling my finger. A prized symbol of the two beating hearts who brought me to life, and whose unwavering love I’ll now be reminded of—a little more often.


Thai Me Up!

Once in a very special blue moon, chef Michael Smith will host a (always sold out) prix fixe dinner extravaganza. Often, they’re centered around a wine or Champagne journey. And once a year, typically in May, he hosts an unrivaled Thai dinner, a seemingly unpredictable choice for Michael, one of Kansas City’s first James Beard Award-winning chefs. His culinary career stretches from his classic training in Nice, France, to Michelin-starred Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago (oh, how I miss), to The American (also miss), to his own successful restaurant ventures that have graced our city. But never a Thai restaurant.

Hot Gossip: Whose impromptu house party ran out of booze at 1 a.m., but still had Ubers full of people arriving after 3?

Avid followers will know that Michael scrapped the 2020 Thai feast because, well, Covid. So it was with extra anticipation that the Thai dinner returned—this year, a few months earlier than usual. The occasion also auspiciously shared the same week as Farina’s second anniversary. And even though the 2020 dinner wasn’t meant to be, Michael and his wife, Nancy Smith (Farina’s sommelier extraordinaire), didn’t stop thinking about the Eastern cuisine they’re so drawn to. In fact, local Waldo Thai was among their go-to respites during the uncertainty-filled early months of the pandemic. [Pro tip: Wanna know the best spots in town to eat? Ask a top chef.]

Michael Smith, Pam Liberda, Darrell Loo, and Berto Santoro.

So, when it was time to finally fête his loyalists with Thai food again, it made every bit of sense to host the dinner as a collaboration with Waldo Thai chef Pam Liberda. Born in Lampang, Northern Thailand, Pam’s (and Waldo Thai’s) style of Thai dishes is different than more traditional Thai food you’re likely to find elsewhere. With close proximity to Laos, Burma, and China, the northern cuisine often absorbs gentle, complementing elements from those regions.

Upon examining the extensive, seven-course dinner menu, it was apparent that this did not all fall together in a matter of days or weeks. The culinary superstars began meeting in December to plan in earnest. Though I’m not about to tick through the encyclopedic menu, I will drop some standouts, which included chor muang, a butterfly pea dumpling with ground pork, palm sugar, sweet radish, peanut, and garlic; larb nua dib, beef tartare, Thai herbs, pak pai and quail egg; and kow soi, a coconut curry braised brisket, served with Farina’s tagliatelle pasta.

Overheard: “That’s the women’s bathroom. ” “Well, I put the seat back down.”

Cocktails were created and paired—by Berto Santoro of Farina and Darrell Loo of Waldo Thai—with each course. Yes, the next day was a bit rough. The pairings ranged from one with J. Reiger & Co. gin, butterfly pea, lemongrass, lime leaf, strawberry, absinthe, and bubbles to a twist on the classic Thai drink you sip from a bowl, which consisted of Bison Grass vodka, coconut milk, lime, Thai chili, chili oil, and cilantro. And, of course, there were some of Nancy’s inspired wine selections sprinkled in.

The next one will be a Mediterranean dinner, date TBA in April. Hopefully, I’ll see you there. And finally, a very special thanks to Denise Delcore for the invite. The evening was sublime, and I cannot wait for Michael’s next special dinner.

Spotted: Richard Wetzel, Jen DeMeyer, Dan Nilsen, Kim & Jimmy Halloran, Sarah Strnad & Joe Hemmer, Dan Meiners & David Brinkerhoff, Pam & Jack Dicapo, Katie Van Luchene & Jerry Foulds, Jenny Wheat


So, KC—where do you want to go? XO

email: dlair@inkansascity.com  | Instagram: @damianlair #OurManINKC