Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hotel Mazarin: An Indulgent Oasis

New Orleans is a city of beauty, history and indulgence. You feast on the beauty of your surroundings as well as the culinary bounty. This tiny slice of France in the USA lures jazz lovers, foodies, party goers and more into its daily bacchanal. So finding an oasis of calm within the historic French Quarter is a blessing indeed.

The Hotel Mazarin is such a place. Named after the great 17th Century French statesman, the property exudes Parisian finesse. The large inner courtyard features a stunning fountain whose soothing sounds serenade the guests. I could hear the gentle gurgling of the fountain from my room which was directly off the courtyard. 

Pictured below is the facade, typically New Orleans, of the Hotel.

Complimentary Breakfast is served in the courtyard pictured below.

And wrought iron detailing like this is featured throughout the courtyard.

The rooms are tastefully decorated and renovated. Those of you who know me know that bedding and bathrooms are the first things I look for in a hotel room. These crisp white immaculate sheets were a perfect retreat from the bustling scene in the French Quarter where the party rages on till all hours of the morning, New Orleans style. 

The colors and the tropical vegetation in New Orleans is one of the things I treasure most about the place...if you block out the cars, and the modern dress, New Orleans is the sort of place that takes you back in time. Take one of the many carriages rides on offer in the historic district and you can almost hear the swish of ladies gowns against the cobblestone pavements... 

The Lobby pictured below is a paragon of French gilt and marquetry.

But my favorite time in New Orleans is, as the French call it, "l'heure Bleu" that moment at dusk when the sky changes, blue, purple...the old buildings take on a life of their own as they harmonize with the light show above, everything seems magical. I spent some time in the courtyard of the Hotel Mazarin to enjoy those fleeting dusky moments, I looked up and watched the masterpiece in the sky, knowing I only had about half an hour before night settled in, just enjoying. The fountain was singing, the chatter of guests could be heard through the French doors, the faint glow of the 18th century lanterns lit the pages of my book which by now was more of an accessory than anything else, the electric vibe of excitement as guests were busy readying themselves for that night's revelry...all coincided to create a memory of the place which I shan't soon forget. Indeed, the Hotel Mazarin will live on in my mind long after the words of its namesake, the Cardinal Mazarin, are but a distant memory.

If you're planning a trip to New Orleans, the Hotel Mazarin has it all: perfect accommodations, location and charm.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Live Like a Gatsby...

Ah...Jay Gatsby...handsome, rich, elegant...a perfect wisp of F.Scott Fitzgerald's imagination. The Great Gatsby is definitely a Summer novel, the smell of the ocean is nestled within its pages, and with the advent of warmer weather upon us, I turn to its debonair hero for inspiration. So, where would Mr. Gatsby go to get away from it all for a perfect weekend? Definitely, somewhere on the Northeast, definitely something by the sea and definitely the sort of place both casual and elegant but trying to be neither...

The Tides Beah Club, along the coast in Kennebunkport, Maine would have been Gatsby's perfect also happens to be mine! Bright whites and plush furniture with nautical accents set the sleek, modern vibe of this luxury seaside resort located on Goose Rocks Beach. The rooms are crisp and clean, the linens heavenly, the decor is very 'JFK on vacation chic' and the rugged beauty of the beach is unparalleled. Turn off your cell phone, leave the computer at home, all you'll want to do here is lie on the sand with a good book, go for leisurely bike rides and forget the hustle and bustle you left behind in the real world.

I recommend an ocean view room, it may cost a little extra but it's worth the added expense. And if you really want to treat yourself, then the Jonathan Adler Suite will make your getaway extra special. The private deck directly overlooking the ocean and replete with bright yellow lounge chairs is the perfect place to sip a cup of coffee while you watch the sun rise. Fall asleep as you hear the waves crash against the shore...

For all you foodies out there, pay a visit to the Tides Beach Club sister property "Hidden Pond" and check out their restaurant "Earth". It's a mecca for foodies and I'd heard so many rave reviews I decided to experience it for myself. Food and its connection to the earth, a vital relationship we too often overlook, is sacrosanct at this restaurant. This farm to table experience allows the freshness of the ingredients to speak for themselves, even the decor is inspired by the beauty of the natural surroundings. Ingredients are sourced from organic gardens on the property and James Beard Award-Winner Ken Oringer has gone out of his way to make sure you experience the authentic flavor of fresh produce. Interesting items on the menu include snacks such as "Relish board, cauliflour, fiddle heads, Vidalia's and Kimchi asparagus" or local "Fried Nonesuch River Oysters with padron pepper relish and sage". I had a chance to speak with fellow diners at Earth and they all seemed to concur that for a foodie, Earth was something of a religious experience. After dinner, head out to the bonfire surrounded by Adirondack chairs where guests sip wine and roast marshmellows around the open's the perfect nightcap.

If you love the ocean as I do, then the Tides Beach Club in Kennebunkport, Maine is for you. Nothing beats hearing the waves crash upon the sand from your window, watching the sunset on the horizon, or even going for late night walks on the quiet beach... And if you squint and use your imagination, you might even catch a fleeting glimpse of Jay Gatsby himself getting away from city life, throwing on his chicest pair of Khakis and dreaming of Daisy as he stares into the ocean and the distance beyond...

I highly recommend the Tides Beach Club

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Adour DC

"The Unbearble Lightness of Being" it's one of my favorite books by Milan Kundera, it could also be the leitmotif of my meal at Adour Restaurant located in the St. Regis D.C. last month. The setting was lavish, the St. Regis lobby exudes Old World Washingtonian refinement and Restaurant Adour was starkly modern, sleek and elegant. Located only a few minutes walk to the White House all the elements conspired to make for a perfect evening.

Adour is one of the famed Alain Ducasse's signature restaurants, run by Executive Chef Sebastien Rondier, and I was very keen to make my own assessment of it. Light, light, light...everything was incredibly light. For a French restaurant where heavy sauces usually reign supreme this is quite a feat. At a special dinner, like this one, I usually start to feel weighed down after the first course...not here. Lightness to me is a sign of finesse, refinement, it's not the absence of flavor but rather an intensity of flavors that are not brought down by heaviness. The other unique quality was the efficient and prompt service. A "fancy" dinner can run you 3-4 hours long and while I'm not one to be rushed, 4 hours of sitting, eating and intense protocol can leave one feeling groggy. At Adour, the lapses between the courses were perfectly timed, not short enough to feel rushed but not long enough to get restless. It made a huge difference in the pace of the meal and of my enjoyment of it.

Ducasse is well-known for his Provencal cooking methods which advocate the use of vegetables. Indeed, Ducasse is pushing vegetarian dishes on his menu and I was lucky enough to get a first hand chance to experience push towards all things "nature". Vegetables are more challenging to cook than fish or meat. Allowing each one of their delicate flavors a chance to express themselves is no easy task.

Something you will notice repeatedly on menus belonging to the Alain Ducasse empire are the "Cookpot" dishes. Yes, they are vegetarian but not necessarily for vegetarians. They are cooked masterfully to allow the vegetables to become the star of the dish instead of playing the supporting role. I was continually impressed with the vegetarian dishes at Adour. I started with a Beet Salad, so light, so airy, it was like taking a walk through the garden.

Beet Salad

I followed with the "Crustacean Fregola Sarda" a cuttlefish, scallop, lobster and Sea Urchin emulsion. Unbelievably flavorful, light and exquisitely balanced. If I had eaten nothing else, this dish would have made the dinner entirely worthwhile. But it was onwards and upwards at Adour when I had the "Steamed Chatham Cod" with Quinoa, Hearts of Palm and orange/olive oil emulsion. A masterfully crafted dish.

Crustacean Fregola Sarda

My dinner partner had the Filet Mignon and his reaction bears reflection. I am told, and I believe, it was so tender and perfectly cooked, that a small bite can be, to a true foodie, akin to an out-of-body experience. I will have to order the Filet Mignon next time! 

I finished with the Hazelnut Souffle served with a side of orange sorbet: the perfect finish to a perfect meal. The Souffle is a hard dish to pull off successfully. It can taste "eggy" which I don't like or the texture can be less than feather light. But when that perfect balance is struck it transcends the mere title of "dessert". This particular souffle was intensely hazelnut, deliciously light. The orange sorbet complemented the hazelnut flavors unexpectedly but perfectly: a match made in culinary heaven.

A Peek inside the Hazelnut Souffle

If Adour was not a restaurant but a piece of Haute Couture it would be renowned for its clean sobering lines, it would be elegant because of its simplicity, it would favor perfectly cut fabric as opposed to ornate frills and the color palette would be neutral to better allow the wearer to express short, it would be designed for the thoroughy modern and elegant individual.

Monday, December 10, 2012

MOZEN Bistro at The Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas

A relaxed, zen-like atmosphere isn't something one usually associates with the Las Vegas dining scene, but then again it's the Mandarin Oriental and they always do things with a serenely luxurious flair. The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas does not have a loud, smoke-filled casino-like Lobby  nor does it have hoards of inebriated tourists crowding its hallways. Let's just say, the Mandarin Oriental is above all that. Instead, it has a sleek, sexy, residential feel to it.

On the third floor of the hotel is the discreetly tucked away Mozen Bistro: a neutral beige color palette and modern, sleek design aesthetic complement the asian-inspired menu. Floor to ceiling windows offer breathtaking views of City Center and a delicious meal with a multi-cultural flair awaits you.

Mozen's menu includes sushi as well as Thai, Indian and Chinese dishes which they call "A Journey Through Asia". Every bite was spectacular. Service was efficient but relaxed, this isn't an 8-course tasting menu kind of an evening: this type of elegance is understated making the experience all the more luxurious but not stuffy. It's less of a "special occasion" dinner kind of a place and more of an "amazing dinner" kind of a venue.

The sushi selections were exquisite, a special mention for the Tempura Shrimp Roll with cucumber, avocado, spicy tuna and green onion: excellent. Of course I had to try a side order of Garlic & Cheese Naan Bread to see what the Indian selections were like. For me, Indian dishes have got to be the best quality for me to appreciate them otherwise I feel as if my palette is being assaulted by too many strong flavors at once. The Naan was the only Indian dish I tried but I could tell it was delicate, aromatic and well-balanced.

I ordered the Uni which was creamy, rich and oh so perfect. Followed by the Salmon, Tuna, Hamachi Ngiri which was the ultimate in freshness. I ordered the Fruit de Mer Fettuccini but after a bite I realized I was so full there was no room for it, so I took it to go and ate it the next day. You know food is great when it tastes just as delicious, sometimes even better the next day.

My one regret is that I didn't have room to try the Thai and Korean dishes...when I'm next in Las Vegas I will definitely stop by Mozen Bistro. One time simply isn't enough. If you're looking for a quiet (for Vegas standards) but sophisticated restaurant with top-notch food this place should be on your list. After dinner I sat in the Sky Lobby at the Mandarin, just soaking up the vegas the Mandarin Oriental itself, it was sexy and sophisticated, if ever there was a mirage in the desert: this is it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Koi Restaurant in Los Angeles

It's trendy, it's young, it's's Koi Restaurant in LA. Part of a widely successul chain with outposts all over the country from Las Vegas to New York and then beyond to Bangkok, the ambiance was modern, cool, asian-inspired and service was efficient, laid-back and fun. There's a definite vibe and people-watching scene here. The food, a succession of smaller but amazingly fresh dishes, is delicious.

I particularly liked the outdoor courtyard setting with bamboo plants, soothing Zen-like fountains and sexy mood lighting. The menu is comprised of sushi as well as signature hot and cold asian-inspired dishes. They call it "Japanese inspired cuisine with California accents" and that sums it up perfectly.

I tried some of the Koi Signature Dishes, namely the "Salmon Carpaccio with Black Truffles and Citrus Sauce" it was unbelievably fresh and light. Los Angeles weight conscious types can eat this one with zero guilt. 

Next I had the Toro rolls: unctuous, melt-in-your-mouth, deliciousness and an explosion of freshness in every bite. But without a doubt, the best part of the dinner was dessert. I often find that Japanese-inspired restaurants don't always live up to the hype when it comes to dessert, but this one was different. The "Koi Sundae" should be featured on the Travel Channel: yes, it's that level of crazy good, over the top presentation that we love watching on TV. The menu says it's vanilla and chocolate ice-cream, warm brownie and fresh bananas but I could have sworn there were a couple of other ingredients like hot fudge, whipped cream and possibly a few others which I've since forgotten. They present it to you in the cup and then turn it upside down in the plate so you can better enjoy ALL the flavors: this is definitely one to be shared.

If you want to hang with the beautiful people in Los Angeles then Koi is the place to go for a light but memorable dinner.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Life after Everest...the Restaurant

In a city like Chicago, a mecca for foodies, Chefs are continuously vying for that prime spot amongst the top ten restaurants in the Windy City. Chef Joho, a native of Alsace and owner of restaurant Everest, has continually maintained his place amongst the luminaries of the Chicago food scene. With a name like Everest, the pressure to remain at the top of one's game must be significant. After hearing a lot about the restaurant, I decided I was long overdue for a visit. 

Located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange the restaurant is reservations only and accesible by a private elevator. Perched high above the proverbially unwashed masses Everest soars over the Chicago skyline, metaphorically looking down on the city. This is a sanctuary of food, a sacred culinary space. If loud conversation, a couple of drinks and a quick dinner is what you're after, you may be disappointed. To really make the most of this experience, be prepated to devote several hours to the meal, don't rush, take time between the courses, savor the rare wines from France, have a civilised conversation and be prepared for a perfectly timed choreography of waiters placing and removing plates or delicately pouring vinatge wines. Everest is a member of Relais & Chateaux/Relais Gourmand, Les Grandes Tables du Monde, Traditions & Qualite, Academie Culinaire de France and Maitres Cuisiniers de France and they don't let you forget it. So, I recommend making an evening's entertainment out of it...after all, if one climbs Mount Everest I advocate taking the time to enjoy the panoramic view, take a moment to savour that Master of the Universe feeling...

After a few delicious amuse-bouche I began with the Home Smoked Salmon Naturel, Herbed Alsace Fleischnagga amd Melfor Aigrelette. The salmon was delicate, as I believe it should be, and perfectly balanced. I could have eaten five more of this dish without tiring of it. This dish was recommended on the menu as a signature dish for Chef Joho and one that has helped found his I understand why.

For my main dish I opted for the vegetarian option and it was everything I had hoped: light, elegant and satisfying. This Cromesquis of Yukon Gold Potato, Topinambours with Truffle Coulis was a supremely well-executed dish.

I followed with the Composition of Midwest Farmstead Cheeses which was a distinguished homage to the area.

My Grand Finale was the Alsace Vacherin with Valrhona Chocolate and Bartlett Pear Glace with Vanilla Coffee Coulis coupled with the 1976 Chateau de Canterrane...what a spectecular ending. Like a well-executed fireworks display the meal went out with a bang, as all great meals should.

Yes, this is a meal replete with full French protocol, hushed whispered tones and an army of knowledgeable waiters surveying the tables. After having spent the evening atop Mount Everest, seemingly atop of the world and Chicago's infinity view the descent back to earth, down those 40 floors and into the cold Chicago night was not easy. Everest is a once in a lifetime Chicago experience.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

St. Regis Monarch Beach

Nestled within verdant acres of land along the Pacific Ocean shoreline the St. Regis Monarch Beach offers some of the most visually striking vistas in the area, if not the country. I arrived in the early evening and after a flight from chilly New York, the balmy breezes coming off the ocean, the grandeur of the Italianate fountains and the sheer beauty of the luxuriant flora and fauna was quite dazzling.

As soon as you come up the driveway and are greeted by a battalion of polite, white-unform clad gentlemen amidst the splashing of massive water fountains you know you have arrived somewhere start to feel pampered like a royal and there's a new spring in your step as you contemplate the paradaisical surroundings.

It's quite a large resort complex with a private beach club, three swimming pools, oceanside golf course, spa and six ocean-view restaurants on-site so if you're looking for intimate, this isn't it. Au contraire, this place has grandeur written all over it. There is a definitive sense of "You have arrived".

The Butler Service, a signature feature of all St. Regis Suites worldwide, includes packing and unpacking luggage, garment pressing, shoe shine and any other requests you may have. My personal favorite was  the beverage service and wake-up call. I requested a 7am wake-up call which translated into a white-gloved butler ringing the doorbell as the sun was rising over the ocean and bringing me coffee and tea. I opted to be served on the ocean view balcony and it made the "good" in "Good Morning" a lot more sincere.

I took the resort tram to the private beach after lunch. I could have sat under my private umbrella on a plush lounge chair and ordered drinks from the Monarch Bay Club but I decided a stroll along the shore was what was called for. There were under a dozen people on the beach so the feeling of exclusivity was perfect for drinking in the exquisite beauty of the surroundings. But there were other ways I could have spent the afternoon: at the award-winning Spa Gaucin, playing golf or surfing. But the ultimate way to soak up the Orange County relaxation and all the beauty the St. Regis Monarch Beach has to offer is lounging by the pool. The infinity pool replete with large gurgling fountain is a wonder to watch, by day or night. It hands down wins the prize for most beautiful pool in the country...time stood still as I lay in my plush lounger and had to pinch myself to find out if such natural beauty was indeed for real or if I was dreaming.

The St. Regis Monarch Beach resort is a mecca for golfers, a paradise for beach goers, a dream for surfers and the realization of a perfect dream for pool loungers like myself! The only problem will be finding the courage to leave the comforts of this earthly paradise. After a visit here I am starting to think St. Regis may very well be the Patron Saint of the rich and famous.