Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Monaco Alexandria...Modern Luxury in a Colonial Setting

Alexandria, Virginia...a half hour away from Washington, D.C. This town has been stuck in a most enchanting time warp...just the buildings not the night life. The streets are cobblestoned, the buildings from the 18th century...on a quiet morning with no cars about you feel like you're on a movie set. What most surprised me was the amount of bustling activity...great restaurants, busy main street with fabulous shops, Saturday morning farmers market, the vibrant night life...of you're planning a trip to DC stay at a hotel in Alexandria!!! I stayed at the Monaco Alexandria, a Kimpton Hotel...it was modern, luxurious, quirky, charming, hip and all out wonderful...and the icing on the cake was the use of free bike cruisers for hotel guests...SO worth it! There is nothing quite so charming as biking along those gorgeous Alexandria streets...

A beautiful house in Alexandria...all the houses look like this...I half expected to bump into Thomas Jefferson or James Madison in the street. If you're into Colonial America, or even if you just like elegant buildings...Alexandria Virginia is a magical place. I am really picky and I liked it way more than I thought I would...it's picture perfect.

The quirky black and white chaise longue in my room

Check out the modern, hip wallpaper in the bathroom. I usually don't love 'quirky' because it's usually code for "cheap" but not at the Monaco Alexandria..oh no, this was modern luxury at its best!

See what I mean about amazingly quirky, modern luxury...and absolutely perfect, white bedding!!!http://www.monaco-alexandria.com/

Breakfast like a Vanderbilt...

The breakfast at the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel in Newport, RI is included and it's pretty damn good!
Our basket of pastries...the chocolate croissants were my favorite...

Champagne Bellini for breakfast anyone?


Smoke salmon, onions, cream etc...pretty good.

Bacon and eggs

A royal breakfast and a great start to the day in Newport...

Fit for a Vanderbilt...

The Vanderbilt Grace in Newport RI is a pristinely beautiful hotel. A perfect fusion of Old and New, the cutting edge modern touches and finishes in my room were very much to my taste...and I think they will be to yours too! Don't get me wrong, I LOVE classic style and furnishings but when it comes to bathrooms and bed linens...I'm into modern...that's the difference between renovated and non-renovated. And my room at the Vanderbilt Grace was definitely renovated in grand style! There was a Living room, bedroom and Foyer area...very bright, very airy, high ceilings, gorgeous modern lighting...great use of space. The white linens were absolutely perfect: always a sign of a top notch hotel in my book...if the linens and the bathrooms are up to snuff, everything else usually falls into place.

My room at Vanderbilt Grace in Newport...this is the Living Room portion of the room. The decor was perfect: crisp, modern and fresh and I very much appreciated this living room area.

I like this writing desk...and to the left you can peer onto one of the TWO bathrooms!!! Yes, I adored that...2 bathrooms in one hotel room- it's the best!

This gorgeous painting was hanging over the couch...

Love the small mirrors...and the panelling

There was a Flat screen TV on both sides of this bookcase...the idea of the bookcase seperating the bedroom from the living area was very unique and helped contribute to the very airy feeling in the room.

Penhaligons products in the bathroom...

If you're in Newport, this is definitely one of the top hotels in the area...I highly recommend it!

Check out my post (below) about Muse Restaurant located inside the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel in Newport.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Last Supper

I've been fortunate enough to have more than one meal good enough to be my last. In fact, if you asked me to choose my last supper I would need a couple of hours to think it through, but "Muse" by Chef Jonathan Cartwright is definitely a contender.

Last week during my dinner at 'Muse" in Newport, Rhode Island I was ambitious and ordered the seven course tasting menu...little did I realize that seven courses was actually code for ten. Every morsel was divine, I only wish I had trained my stomach to be ready for this culinary extravaganza.

The American food scene has transformed itself over the last 40 years and it's in no small part due to the extraordinary talent of Chef's like Jonathan Cartwright. In 1999 he was invited to cook at the James Beard House in NYC and he is currently Chef at Relais & Chateaux establishment White Barn Inn in Maine and at the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel in Newport where he runs "Muse" which is where I had the pleasure of discovering his talents.

As with any good Chef the culinary offerings were designed to highlight local ingredients and they brought a new meaning to the term New England cuisine...a distinct marriage between American freshness and European tradition. A lot of risks were taken but as the French say "Celui qui risque rien, n'a rien" meaning "He who risks nothing has nothing" and all of Chef Cartwright's risks paid off, in grand style.

Here are some pictures from the meal...one or two of them are pictures of my partner's dishes and I'll point those out below each image.
These pictures can't really convey the entire culinary experience at Muse as no pictures can, they are just here to give you an inkling, an itch to go do your own research and whet your appetite, no pun intended.

Lobster Bisque with Crispy Lobster Won Ton and Cognac Creme Fraiche
Delicious, the lobster was heavenly!

Fig and Fois Gras Torchon, Lightly Dusted with Pistachio and Served on Rutherglen Muscat Gelee
I couldn't resist taking a bite before the picture taking...oops! This was my first time experimenting with Fois Gras and the Gelee (the brown surrounding the fois gras) was certainly a bold, innovative touch...but quality is quality and the high level of ingredients and preparation was apparent.

Butter Poached Smoked Kennebunkport Lobster
This was recommended to me as one of the specialities of the house and with good reason...the lobster was without a doubt the best I've tasted to date...delicate, flavorful perfection.

Pan Seared Halibut Filet and Lobster Raviolo, Green Asparagus and Champane Froth
Once again I took a bite before snapping a picture! The Halibut was as fresh as they come and the Lobster Raviolo was exquisite...and by this time in the four hour long meal I had already eaten quite a bit of Lobster!

Intermezzo: Butternut Squash Soup
This was one of my favorite moments...classic American style comfort food but with serious European finesse...Butternut Squash soup will never be the same!

Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin with a Shallot Glaze, Portabella Mushrooms, Potato Puree and Merlot Sauce
This was my partner's dish so I can't vouch for it but he did say "This is the best thing I've ever tasted" so I'm guessing it was palatable...

Carpaccio of Beef Tenderloin "Bon Bon" with Tomato Chutney, Candied Pine Nuts and Garlic Ice Cream
Also my partner's dish

A Selection of Fine Ripened New England and Imported Cheese with Homemade Chutney and Breads
My cheese dish 
Local Pear and Crumble Souffle with Poire Williams Sorbet and Cinnamon Anglaise
This was the house speciality dessert and I always make a point to try out a restaurant's speciality...I thought I was full but surprisingly I managed to finish every bite...I guess there is a seperate pouch in the stomach for dessert! Usually, I'm more of a Chocolate Souffle kind of girl but once again, you can't ignore quality...the freshness was intense and the flavors all came together magically. For me there was a definite American freshness to this dish but here I go again...with European "je ne sais quoi"

Crisp Chocolate Meringue with White and Dark Chocolate Mousse and a Raspbery Sorbet

This was my partner's dish...apparently it tasted as good as it looked, a quality I value in a dessert!

Whether you're looking for your Last Supper or your next supper Chef Jonathan Cartwright's MUSE at the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel in Newport is worth going out of your way for...otherwise I wouldn't be featuring it in this blog. If you have a special occasion coming up or you just want to treat yourself, which we should all do now and then, I recommend MUSE.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

When In Richmond, VA...

The Jefferson is the Grande Dame of Richmond. If you must spend time in Richmond, then you must spend it at The Jefferson, a 5 Diamond quality Hotel. The building is the most beautiful in the city. The Belle Epoque lobby is quite breathtaking...
Check out the stain glass ceiling...pretty incredible

This was by the bedside...

The bed: classic but very comfortable

The living area was a nice touch...as was the minibar/kitchenette area

Turndown Service tidied up my room, which was a MESS...I really miss the turndown service at The Jefferson, it was the best I've ever experienced...I wish I could take the turndown service crew home with me...they have their work cut out for them!

I HIGHLY recommend getting one of the rooms with the updated bathroom...it was one of the best bathrooms, and I've tested out a lot of bathrooms...the shower was roomy enough for another ensuite bathroom: HUGE! Double sinks: perfect. And I simply MUST get a TV in my bathroom at home!

The whirlpool tub was pretty great too! The bathroom was pretty classic, they didnt exactly take risks with the decor, nothing edgy about it! But that's part of the charm: pure classicism without feeling the need to follow any trends...

When in Richmond, VA stay at The Jefferson and if you can't...don't go to Richmond. It's more than a hotel: it's a landmark.

A Passion for Hospitality

I have always believed that there is as much intrinsic and therefore artistic value in a piece of music as in a painting or an edifice or even a well-appointed room. This is why a recent visit to Glenmere Mansion, in Hudson Valley, reminded me that beauty and elegance are all around us if we really start looking. Built in 1911, Robert Goelet commissioned the famed architects Carrere & Hastings to create a Tuscan style villa for his wife who had always dreamed of one. The estate soon became a favorite haunt for such noted guests as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor but as time ran its course ownership changed and the estate was seized as a tax lien. After years of neglect the current owners drove past, fell in love, purchased, renovated and transformed Glenmere into a Relais & Chateaux establishment www.glenmeremansion.com
My favorite quote is by William Blake “To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands and eternity in an hour.” At Glenmere, those words were beautifully brought to life and it was clear, even before entering this Italianate Mansion, that loving and talented hands had tended to even the lowliest blade of grass and that indoors every curtain stitch, hidden lining and object had a place and purpose. Antiques and modern pieces, old world charm and modern comforts which are often, wrongly so, thought to be at odds were somehow drawn together and connected by an invisible but deeply artistic power. Some may say that too much attention to detail is trivial, I say it is profound.
Glenmere is a throwback to a more glamorous and leisurely time. But these qualities will appeal to some and less to others. There is, however, one word that, for me, encapsulates Glenmere Mansion and speaks to all and that is: passion. I believe every one of us has a passion and we become truly alive when we honor it. Daniel DeSimone and Alan Stenberg, co-proprietors and “imagineers” of Glenmere Mansion, whether they know it or not, have a passion for beauty, finesse and hospitality which makes their Glenmere more than just a stunning homage to the past but a vibrant testimony to the Present…
No, it's not Florence Italy but if you suspend disbelief it could be...about a 25 minute drive from Woodbury Commons Fashion Outlet...fashionistas, this one is perfect for you!

Damn, that garden is stunning!!! It looks like a picture perfect Italian postcard!

Love the pinkish walls and the statues!

And dont even get me started on the gorgeous blue shutters!

The driveway...private, exclusive, quiet...it's everything you think it will be and more...

A stunning view of Glenmere Lake

Too bad it was November and the weather was a bit dreary...

Matching blue pillows...love it!

The Inner courtyard

The view from the Penthouse...not bad!

I loved this piece of furniture...took lots of pictures of this one!

Just look at the detailing on this chair

Old world mirror and contemporary art: a perfect marriage

Do you see the snack bar on the far left...sssh, for guests only...

Look at that detailing

The Frogs End Bar...love the upholstery on those high chairs...the details at Glenmere Mansion are its most amazing feature

Pony Hide Chairs

Check out the wallpaper in the ladies bathroom...it adds a whole new dimension to the bathroom experience:-)))

The library...also for guests only. Pictures do NOT do it justice!

Do you love this piece as much as I do?

Check out the fabric of those curtains! Gorgeous!!!

Inside the elevator...newspaper clippings about Glenmere Mansion from way back when...see what I mean about attention to details!

The Living Room...and boy was that room made for Living!

The gorgeous piano plays itself...

Now that's what I call LIVING

Look at the detail on this chair

The Bed...I think the sheets were a billion thread count...you dont need to die to feel what it's like to be on Cloud Nine, just spend the night at Glenmere

Lounge Chair in the room

I really liked this piece- every room has one

Sound System

Check out the complimentary Bellini's

I could write at this desk all day

Ah, the Bathroom...this Venetian mirror is to die for!!!

Everything is marble

That is the CUTEST sink ever

Turndown service...

Bright green footstools at the edge of bed...once again a perfect fusion of classic and contemporary styles

Soaking tub in the Penthouse Suite...we can dream can't we?

Red Leather Chaise Longue in Penthouse Suite...who said money can't buy you happiness?

One last look at the garden...the perfect Hudson Valley getaway...no, the ultimate Hudson Valley getaway...I havent tried any of the others and I don't need to...I KNOW Glenmere can't be beat!