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 herself...in 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 skyline...like 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 delicious...it'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 reputation...now 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 special...you 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.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

JALEO: Spanish Tapas in DC

Quite simply, this was one of the best meals I have had in a long time...a really long time. It's hard to put it into words because all I can come up with are cheesy superlatives like "amazing" "delicious" and the like. Jaleo is a Tapas restaurant overseen by celebrity Chef Jose Andres. Renovated in March 2012 to coincide with its 20th Anniversary, the decor and the food is fun, provocative and just plain delicious.

It's not fancy, it's trendy. It's an authentic slice of Spain in the heart of DC. When I visited in October there were more than a few Spaniards at the Restaurant: they had obviously got the memo this was THE place in the nation's capital for a real bite of Spain.

First of all, we need to talk about the quality of the ingredients. I have always had a personal gripe with American ingredients, I find they can be bland. But Jaleo imports many of their specialty items like anchovies and patanegra from Spain and the difference in flavor is indescribable. It feels like your palette has been living in black and white and all of a sudden everything has exploded into technicolor. Yes, it's that good!

Endive with Oranges, almonds and goat cheese...who knew it could be this good?

Bunuelos de Bacalao: There was liquid Bacalao inside this, the outside covered in honey aioli

Store bought anchovies in the U.S. can be overly salty, rather skimpy looking and dare I say it "hairy", making us think that anchovies are not that great a product. But restaurants like Jaleo are here to remind us that yes they are, in fact they are amazing, unctuous, meaty, and extraordinarily tasty...when they are imported from Spain.

Of course, there's always Patanegra, the traditional Spanish ham served on Panne con Tomate (bread... delicious crusty bread, with diced tomatoes) so good it could make grown men cry. Fatty, salty, melt in your mouth deliciousness.

Many of the dishes on the menu here are typical Spanish comfort food with an artistic flair. But the absolute highlight, I specify because there were many throughout this lunch, was dessert. I was fortunate to taste two desserts: "Pan Con Chocolate" which is a chocolate flan with caramelized bread, olive oil and brioche ice-cream and "Flan El Estilo Tradicional De Mama Marisa Con Espuma De Crema Catalana" a classic Spanish custard with espuma of catalan cream and oranges. I could tell you about the delicate interplay of flavors, or the master craftsman who created this miracle of a dish out of such simple ingredients but it would all boil down to this: it was mind-blowingly good!

Flan El Estilo Tradicional De Mama Marisa Con Espuma De Crema Catalana

Pan Con Chocolate

If you are a foodie, you need to check out Jaleo. And even if you're not a food enthusiast, after a meal here you will soon become one. Some meals are fabulous but you forget about them, others live on in your memory as this one will for me. When you're next in D.C. by all means visit the museums, look at the White House  but there is also a new mandatory stop in the guidebook and that's a meal at Jaleo!

Friday, November 30, 2012

1789 Restaurant in Georgetown

1789, it was the year of the French Revolution, the Rights of Man were finally surfacing and Napoleon was still a young, obscure Lieutenant in the shadows. On the other side of the pond George Washington was President of the United States and the venerable Georgetown University was first founded. Fast forward to 1960 when a Georgetown Alumnus, Richard McCooey, purchased a federal home dating from the 1800's in Washington, D.C's historic neighborhood of Georgetown and the upstairs evolved into Restaurant 1789. The classic French menu and equestrian decor soon became a favorite with well-heeled Washingtonians and so it still is...The majority of diners during my visit last October were celebrating a Graduation from nearby Georgetown University or a Wedding Anniversary and as far as I could tell, there were many beautiful memories being made that night.

Today, the Restaurant's culinary future rests in the capable hands of Chef Anthony Lombardo as it has since August 2011. I had a chance to talk to him over the course of my dinner a few weeks ago at 1789. What interests me in a culinary artist is not the ingredients, the techniques or any of the technical details of the craft. I want to know what drives the spirit of the Chef, what sparks the passion in a dish. After all, when we go to a restaurant we are looking for more than just food: we're looking to make memories and we want food to be transcendant, so that it's no longer a form of sustenance but a work of art.

I was impressed with Chef Lombardo's passion for creativity and even more so by the discipline and love that go into his Kitchen. I found Chef Lombardo to be charming, in love with his work and eager to share his raison d'etre with his customers, and it shows! Every bite was infused with classic craftsmanship, quality ingredients and...oh yes, love, that elusive ingredient that transports a dish to the next level of culinary excellence.

The standout dish of my meal was the Appetizer of Nantucket Bay Scallops with roasted Parsnip Puree, Kale & Oxtail Ragu. The fresh delicacy of the scallops was in stark but delicious contrast to the rich, onctuous oxtail ragu. 

My main dish was the Icelandic Cod with braised red cabbage which was equally excellent although by this point I was quite full and therefore not able to enjoy it as fully as I should have.

Prepare to spend the entire evening at 1789, it's an experience. You will leave sated and deliciously full. Especially after the chocolate profiteroles pictured below. They come in a group of three, each with a divine ice cream filling.

Trendy, hip, molecular gastronomy this restaurant is not. But if you want the Classics, food that doesn't try to be cool for the sake of it, Limoges china instead of minimalist decor then 1789 is for you. Everything from the equestrian decor down to the plates is very much as President Washington might have approved of himself. Restaurant 1789 is like a beautiful Chateau...it harkens back to a bygone era, remains faithful to its heritage and in an age of constant fluctuatons it clings steadfastly to its traditions with aristocratic restraint.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hotel Bel-Air...Luxury Oasis in Los Angeles

It's pure Hollywood glamour in its most unadulterated form...the famed Hotel Bel Air, now part of the Dorchester Collection, is where celebrities go to hide away in Bel Air's most beautifully manicured gardens. As soon as I pulled up the driveway I knew I was in for something special...this is no ordinary 5 Star Hotel, that would be an insult. Its hallowed gardens and now renovated bungalows once housed Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly...oh no, this isn't a hotel...it's a legend come to life!

What amazed me the most was the intense peacefulness that pervades every corner of the property...I felt like I was the only guest but later found out the hotel was fully booked. I strolled past the renowned "Swan Lake" nestled quietly within the property's 12 acres, observed the tropical flowers in the gardens, and sat under cupola's and secret alcoves feeling as if I had just stepped onto a Hollywood movie set...the old MGM execs could not have planned it so perfectly.

The Bel Air sign as you pull up the driveway...you know you are entering a garden paradise sans pareil

 Swan Lake...nature's ballet...

The sleek lobby...

A Suite Living Room 

 The Gardens by night...
 The restaurant...check out that incredible marble fireplace
The Grace Kelly Suite Living Room...just like the Princess herself: elegant, sleek and quietly stylish...

The Bel-Air estates were purchased by Alphonso Bell in 1922 and transformed into a hotel in 1946. Almost immediately it became a spot favored by the rich and famous and well...in that respect it hasn't changed. Even the air one breathes feels a little more rarefied at the Hotel Bel Air...it's just pure glamour...she's like a rare Madeira wine in a sleek new bottle...I can't wait to visit this vibrant but nonetheless legendary hotel once again

Friday, November 9, 2012

The James Hotel Chicago

It's sleek, sexy and modern...The James Chicago is one of a trilogy of hotels, the others are in Miami & Soho, and it has everything the young business or leisure traveler might want. A quirky mid-century modern theme can be found throughout with designer furnishings for emphasis. Situated minutes from the Magnificent Mile the location is perfect for shoppers!

My Suite had two bedrooms and a living room, a projector TV in one room and the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in! The color palette of beiges and neutral tones really set the mood for a relaxing stay in Chicago. It's a great place to come back after a hectic day and just re-group!

Service was excellent and staff was always eager to help. The hotel offers complimentary use of bicycles for guests but as it was late October and I was told they were no longer available due to the weather- I confess, I was disappointed, I had been looking forward to biking along the Chicago Lakefront. That's alright...there's always next summer!

Here are some pictures to give you a vibe for the place...

The Penthouse Suite...notice the Eames armchair...

Staircase and restaurant on the left...sleek and modern

The uber modern details...

Crisp white bedding...spartan but plush

Quirky modern decor

The Lobby...I sat here for hours as I arrived before check-in time. The gentleman at the desk graciously offered me a coffee while I waited...great service!

Mini-Bar...notice the mid-century decor prevalent throughout

The second bedroom in my Suite...can be used as a lounge or a bedroom...VERY comfortable!

Next time you are in Chicago and you want a comfortable, modern and plush hotel to stay in give The James Chicago a try. It's small enough to give you a real boutique feel but large enough to give you all the anonymous privacy you might want (I find that really important). It's a great alternative to the stuffy grand dame hotels in Chicago..it's young, hip and trendy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Jefferson Hotel in Washington, DC

Thomas Jefferson and I go way back, so to speak. When I first read about his four year sojourn in Paris on the eve of the French Revolution, we bonded via our love of all things Francophile. When I started to read his works, I began to admire the audacity of his mind. And when I found myself at Monticello, his beloved home in Charlottesville, Virginia on a research fellowship I fell in love with the same green hills he had ridden on, the beautiful vegetable gardens he had planted and the lush countryside he had so admired during his lifetime.

So, when I found myself in Washington, DC staying at "The Jefferson", a unique Relais & Chateaux property that defies the generic definition of hotel, I started to find the Jeffersonian string of coincidences that had brought me there almost uncanny...everything I thought I had once looked up to in this intriguing founding father was nothing compared to my newly found unbounded enthusiasm for the third President of the United States.

Staying at "The Jefferson" is like being personally invited in the great man's home...only better. The sumptuous decor is 1780 meets 2012 with all the intricate detailing of a Classical structure and all the modern amenities to make it worthwhile. Framed letters in the founding father's own hand are elegantly displayed along the walls along with white marble busts of the man himself. Delicate drawings of Monticello are woven into the crisp decor, modern luxury and history at the service of one another.

On any evening, important Washington types sit in luxuriously draped alcoves over a power lunch at Plume, the hotel's critically acclaimed restaurant sipping on Madeira wines dating from as far back as 1810 that Jefferson himself would have undoubtedly approved of. Discreet elegance is the goal throughout the lobby, the library and the many private spaces available to guests for business meetings. But make no mistake, The Jefferson harbors no generic overtones similar to the many conference style hotels...oh no, that is not the vibe here. Au contraire, guests will experience all the glamour of secret service like privacy and all the perks of royal treatment, or perhaps I should say presidential treatment...

The House Car aka a Luxury SUV will take you to dinner or wherever else you need to go, while suited men with earpieces hover over you as if to watch over your safety...take that, Mr. President! But enough talking...a picture is worth a thousand words!

The impressive Lobby

The Greenhouse...Breakfast or High Tea anyone?

Every corner was exquisitely decorated

The Bedrooms...Oh TJ (Short for Thomas Jefferson) how I miss you!

This wasn't my room but it looks pretty damn gorgeous!!!

Check out the drawing of Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's beloved home in Virginia) on the pillowcase...god really is in the details...

Plume, the highly acclaimed restaurant on property. Checkout the mural at the back: it's a drawing of the vegetable garden and beyond at Monticello...to the left is Montalto...

A private alcove at the Plume Restaurant...elegant, discreet...I'm in love with this place!
The Lobby

One of many private rooms...small, intimate and ultra-luxurious. Wood paneled walls, plush leather sofas, state of the art technology...the detailing was fabulous...notice the Native Indian drawings on the walls, Thomas Jefferson also collected Native artifacts, drawings and the like... 

The attention to detail at The Jefferson is incredible. If you want to be pampered in D.C. this is THE address! I don't think I could ever stay at another hotel in this nation's capital...in fact, I would rather stay home than betray my love for The Jefferson, a palatial property that defies description...