Sybaritic New Orleans: Three Days of Bananas Foster, Ritual Massages and, Yes, Old School Jazz

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International House Hotel

 

New Orleans emanates the sort of magic, myth and mystery that lures you to explore it with indelible gusto. And while we have covered its inspirational side and its spookier side, our most recent visit saw us indulging in something a bit more sybaritic.

The city has been celebrating its 300th birthday, with parties and events galore; and with dapper party hats donned, we immersed ourselves in not just its culture and history, but also its ability to seduce at every turn. We delightfully sauntered, meandered, drank, dined and indulged – especially at its ghoulishly delightful Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. Though things took a turn towards the more heady as we took in the dazzling 16th and 17th Century works of the The Orléans Collection at NOMA.

Here’s what we did.

 

A Stylish Stay

International House Hotel (IHH) was the very first boutique property in NOLA, fitted into a historic, landmark building dating to 1906 (its previous life was as the world’s first international trade center). Preserving its Beaux-Arts style, the hotel greets you with its soaring ceilings and ornate pilasters; owner Sean Cummings and interior designer LM Pagano collaborated to further imbue the space with such elegant flourishes as pressed tin ceilings, opulent chandeliers, wrought iron tables, and antique velvet furnishings – all of which evoke elemental New Orleans. Each of the 117 rooms, suites and penthouses deftly juxtapose sexy sophistication and soothing serenity. And its situated on the cusp of the French Quarter.

 

 

Maestro of Mixology

The International House’s Loa Bar (the name refers to deities or holy spirits) is a sanctuary of showstopping sips, with lasciviously rouge-y digs that are complete with sensual mood lighting. Alan Walter, the Creative Director and Mixologist – they call him “Spirit Handler” – endeavors to respect, educate and honor divine spirits through his apothecary inspired cocktail program. For special events (such as Fet Gede, aka All Souls Day, or the biggie, St. John’s Eve), he’ll get the blessings, consultation and guidance from local Vodou High Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman to craft special drinks that are tied to the celebratory ceremonies. But the Loa menu is inventive and imaginative all year round. High praise for our favorites: Cicada (Vodka, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, cucumber) and the Arabesque (reposado tequila, plantain, fino sherry, thyme).

Spiritual Serenity

The Voodoo Ritual massage at the Ritz Carlton New Orleans weaves the history and culture of voodoo into its treatments. For this unique therapeutic service, staff used locally made herbal poultices that were rhythmically and methodically kneaded over our entire bodies. It was coupled with a surround sound blend of voodoo chants and beats, as we became one with ourselves and the elements, while inhaling aromas of absinthe, vetiver, cypress and moss. We happily submitted mind, body and soul for this truly profound and culturally immersive treatment.

 

 

Tableside Martini Service

Dickie Brennan’s, one of New Orleans’ revered culinary institutions, left us in a hazy gastronomic stupor. Their steakhouse fare is given a Creole and/or Cajun twist, with feature favorites including BBQ shrimp, bone marrow pie, and prime cowboy ribeye. But even better? Glorious, bygone-era showmanship via their Tableside Martini Service. Our poison of choice? The ultra-luxe Black & Gold Martini, with Hendrick’s Gin, Cajun Caviar stuffed olives and edible 24K gold-leaf. Swank.

Epicurean Euphoria

Not to play favorites, but Restaurant R’evolution is NOLA gourmand grandeur at its absolute finest. In the heart of the French Quarter, the interior pays style homage to the classic dining rooms of the St. Charles Avenue mansions of the 1800s, from the inviting ambiance of the Market Room, to the bar themed like a French Quarter carriageway, illuminated by gas lanterns. The food is a “modern interpretation of Creole and Cajun classics,” under the direction of James Beard Award winning Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto. Gracious, thoughtful service accompanied imaginative dishes like crab stuffed frogs legs, boudin stuffed quail enveloped in a heady gumbo, seared sea scallops with foie gras, and wonderfully light sheep ricotta gnocchi with lobster. Dessert was also a decadent treat, especially the Creole Cream Cheese Bread Pudding Crème Brûlée. (N.B. their Coravin system allows one to sample rare vintages by the glass).

 

 

Legs and Eggs

At SoBou, brunch is kicked up about a thousand notches. We loved their soulful renditions of street food classics: cracklings, pork belly baos, shrimp po’boys, and crab beignets; but we also took in their famous Burlesque Brunch show. In an homage to the popular clubs of the 1940s, sultry Bella Blue revived the beloved art form, set to live music. Meanwhile, Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez seduced us with a three course menu, complete with Brunch Hooch Punch. Our faves included the cochon de lait deviled eggs and blackened geaux fish with asparagus & corn risotto & confit garlic whipped cream. And it went without saying that we would order the cherries jubilee & white chocolate bread pudding for dessert. It’s cooked to order, and while we were patiently waiting through its 25-minute preparation, we took time to fully appreciate the ambiance – echoing its former life as a heritage pharmacy, with old bottles decoratively lining the walls.

Foster the Banana People

Brunch at Brennan’s is an institution, with pillowy, fluffy biscuits, spiced turtle soup, and lip-smacking fried chicken with cornbread waffles. But it was the tableside bananas foster that we were most dazzled by. Flambéed right before our eyes was a gooey, boozed-up brown sugar + butter mix that’s carefully draped with vanilla bean ice cream and warmed banana slices. Better still, this star staple is getting a makeover – as Brennan’s is in the process of producing its own banana liqueur and rum. Not a fan of bananas? We also tried their fanciful rendition of black forest cake – a plump, chocolate shaped cherry stuffed with delicate mousse and placed on chocolate “soil.” It was a cherry-bomb of textures and tastes.

 

 

Brunching + Biking 

Over at the new hotel The Eliza Jane, on-site restaurant Couvant‘s brasserie-styled space offers sophisticated yet approachable regional French cuisine – with a seasonal, locally sourced menu conceived by Chef Brad McDonald. Here, we happily tucked into buxom brioche slathered with homemade ricotta & jam, hearty granola (oats, pecans, roasted peaches), soft & sexy omelettes stuffed with chevril, chives and tarragon, and gloriously golden-brown pain perdu farci, stuffed with bird’s custard. We “rode” it off with one of the city’s Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours, which offers guided cycling through beloved NOLA neighborhoods. We highly recommend the three-hour Garden District Tour (with gregarious guide Teddy), where we got to eye a few celebrity homes (Peyton Manning, Sandra Bullock), 19th century Antebellum mansions, Lafayette Square, and Coliseum Square Park… to name a few highlights.

French Quarter Photography Fix

Since 1973, A Gallery for Fine Photography has been a landmark fixture in the French Quarter. Independently owned and operated by photographer Joshua Mann Pailet, it features two floors of visionary, meticulously curated collections, with a rotating gallery of featured photographers. The more than 3500 photos include works by legends like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams. The perfect antidote to the “fast photos” of social media, we felt as if we were immersing ourselves in the whole history of photography – and left with a profound new appreciation for the art form.

 

 

Authentic NOLA Souvenirs

The city is certainly not lacking for talented artisans/craftspeople. And we visited Hazelnut for New Orleans Toile fabrics and other authentic home goods; Krewe, where NOLA native Stirling Barrett crafts killer shades and colorful handmade eyewear; and Mignon Faget, hand-crafted jewelry whose family roots stretch back to the 18th century.

Spiritual Retreat

Spearheaded by the aforementioned High Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman, the New Orleans Healing Center is a holistic, safe, sustainable space that aims to “educate, heal, fulfill and empower the individual and the community.” Eager to understand more about the Vodou religion, we learned that it relates to “promoting physical, nutritional, emotional, intellectual, environmental and spiritual well-being.” Her Fet Gede Celebration is a procession centered upon feeding and honoring the dead, or as she explained it, “By honoring the deceased, we embrace the meaning of our own lives and open space for generations yet to come.”

All That New Orleans Jazz

We made a point to soak up the live sounds at the historic Preservation Hall, where, since 1961, they’ve endeavored to “protect, preserve and perpetuate traditional New Orleans Jazz.” Every night, NOLA’s finest channel the city’s musical legacy, stretching all the way back to the genesis of jazz itself. Best of all, no phones are allowed; it’s one of the rare instances where the musicians implore you to be present in the moment and just enjoy their vibrant living history. From Dixieland to swing tributes, the spirit of Louis Armstrong lives on gloriously in this place.

 

 

 

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Autumn Cocktail Recipes from the Newly Revamped DIEGO at the PUBLIC Hotel

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As the leaves change, the drink menus change… that’s what they say right? Ok, no one says that; but it’s out with the old and in with the new for DIEGO, PUBLIC Hotel New York’s sophisticated and newly revamped cocktail bar.

Those in the know definitely know that the PUBLIC is one of the most swanky and buzz-worthy hotspots below 14th Street. What they might not know? The LES hotel just got a little more exciting: its top floor lounge, with its live jazz and worldly cocktails, has a new, reimagined cocktail selection created by Ivy Mix.

 

 

Crowned American Bartender of the Year at the 2015 Tales of The Cocktail, Mix drew inspiration from namesake Mexican artist Diego Rivera (husband of Frida Kahlo). As Rivera and Kahlo spent the peak of their careers trotting the globe, traveling to cities with some of the most sought after spirits, the new and very international drinks menu at DIEGO takes you on something of an epicurean world tour, via the flavors of Mexico City, Rome, Paris, Madrid and beyond.

We especially loved the mezcal-spiked Desert Wind, for example. With its delectable flavors of añejo tequila and honey, you might just imagine that your post-night-out stroll through Tompkins Square seems more like a saunter through Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park.

We asked Ms. Mix to share with us the secrets behind a couple of her most popular new cocktail creations.

 

Desert Wind (pictured above)

0.5 oz Mezcal
1.5 oz Añejo Tequila
0.25 oz Honey Syrup
0.25 oz Palo Santo Syrup
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Glassware: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Orange Twist
Method:Add all ingredients into ice-filled mixing glass. Stir until well chilled. Strain over ice into Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with orange twist.

 

Red Vespa

1 oz Contratto
0.5 oz Sweet Vermouth
0.5 oz Dry Vermouth
Can of Tecate
Glassware: Highball
Garnish: Orange Wheel
Method:Add Contratto, sweet vermouth and dry vermouth to an ice-filled highball glass. Top with Tecate. Garnish with orange wheel.

 

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Seasonal Fall Recipes From Yves Chef Alex Baker

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For many young chefs, taking over an existing kitchen is a heady mixture of nerves and exhilaration; especially when the stakes are as high as they are in flashy Tribeca, where the clientele pretty much knows exactly what they want.

Yet for Alex Baker, the current chef at the highly regarded Yves – a stylish corner bistro that is bright and sunny for brunch or power lunch and intimate for dinner and innovative cocktails – there was an even greater opportunity: “I was excited to put my own dishes on the menu, of course. But, I think mostly I was eager to cultivate a kitchen environment of my own, and to teach less experienced cooks.”

That sentiment trickles down to the menu itself, encouraging clientele to expand their palates, without over-concepting the dishes. Of course, Chef Baker’s classic French training certainly doesn’t hurt when to comes to realizing seasonal creations like rabbit blanquette. As she explains, “classically, this dish is done with veal; but I love putting items on my menu that challenge the diner a little. I like to use proteins that they normally wouldn’t order or come across. It opens their eyes to new things.”

 

 

While some favorites like coq au vin chicken meatballs still grace the menu, Chef Baker certainly isn’t afraid to shake things up – to wit, celery root velouté with brown butter, walnuts, black truffle & chive, or grilled monkfish with sauce amèricaine, celery, baby leeks, cress & lime. What’s on offer “changes with the seasons. I’m very much into going to the farmers market and having things on my menu that are being grown and sourced locally.”

What’s new for the autumn? According to the chef, it’s all about “a fall bitter green salad with local apples, delicata squash, and farro. And I think our Spanish mackerel escabeche is great – it’s served with baby turnips, carrots, and potatoes.”

Young female chefs have been notably shaking up the dining scene of late in New York City; which she enthusiastically acknowledges. Yet she admits she’s faced the same challenges as her male colleagues. “I’ve worked hard to get where I am,” she insists. “And have never felt like my gender has been an issue.”

 

Exclusive Autumn Recipes from Yves Chef Alex Baker 

 

Rabbit Blanquette

1 whole rabbit
1c water
1c heavy cream
1 onion, large dice
5 button mushrooms, cut in half
1 carrot, large dice
1 celery stalk, large dice
1T salt
pinch of nutmeg
1T crème fraiche or sour cream
Have your butcher cut the rabbit into 6 pieces for you. Put all of the ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Then turn down to a simmer for about 1 hour or until the rabbit seems to be tender and almost falling off the bone. Cool and strain the rabbit out. Put the liquid back in a pot and reduce it until it is thick – about halfway. Add the crème fraiche or sour cream and season to taste if it needs it. Meanwhile, pull the rabbit off the bone and save the vegetables. Mix the sauce, vegetables and the rabbit together and serve over rice or with pasta.

 

 

Mackerel Escabeche

1 garlic clove, sliced thin
1 shallot sliced thin
1 onion, sliced thin
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 fennel, sliced thin
2 baby turnips, cut in half
2 fingerling potatoes
3 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
pinch of red pepper flakes
1T salt
10g honey
1 cinnamon stick
1c. white wine
1c. water or fish stock if you have
4T white wine vinegar
4T olive oil
2 Spanish mackerel fillets
Sweat first 5 ingredients until translucent in a large pot. Add spices and toast. Add honey and toast. Add white wine and cook until alcohol is cooked off. Add water, white wine vinegar and olive oil. Bring to a boil and pour over fish. Cool an serve with grilled bread.

 

 

 

Mixologist Me: Liquor Lab Wants You to be Your Own ‘Startender’

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You order elaborate cocktails at your regular tippling spots – only to come home and pour yourself another boring vodka-soda. Liquor Lab isn’t happy with that either, and now they’re doing something about it.

Indeed, founders Freddie Sarkis and Owen Meyer’s new Dollar Cocktail Club offers cocktail kits that are available a la carte ($15) or as a subscription plan ($12 per delivery). Perfectly measured, they allow you to perform instant mixology magic, whipping up anything from spicy margaritas to hot toddys to old fashioneds – there’s even mulled wine for the holidays – just like your favorite celebrity startender (mercifully, suspenders are not included).

Each kit comes with all the premium ingredients and detailed instructions – i.e. a recipe card for those who would rather drink than eat – needed to make 12 cocktails. You supply the booze, of course.

So, whether you’re often the hostest with the mostest or you just fancy a spur-of-the-moment dirty martini on a Tuesday evening at home, never again will you have to experience the crushing disappointment of having to settle for what’s left of that mediocre Chardonnay sitting at the back of the fridge.

 

Epicurean NYC Staycation: The James New York – NoMad Hotel

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When some or other real estate person dreamed up the new Manhattan neighborhood of NoMad (North of Madison) in 1999, it was mostly still wholesale bead shops and discount perfume outlets. Several trendy shopping and nightlife options later, the amorphous area between The Flatiron and Murray Hill has surprisingly not actually become overrun with upscale chain stores, but instead has cultivated a particularly appealing restaurant scene – while its main cultural attraction, the Museum of Sex, now curates some of the most fascinatingly provocative exhibits in the city.

 

 

We recently checked in to the area’s newest hotel, the James New York – NoMad, a you-would-never-recognize-it update of the old Carlton. The boutique hotel brand was actually launched with the opening of the James Chicago a decade ago, followed by a Soho NYC edition in 2010, which became an instant scene for its happening rooftop bar Jimmy (D.C. is on the way).

The NoMad outpost is a decidedly sophisticated overall experience, with none of the nightclubby vibes of some of its neighbors.

Here’s what we did.

 

The Rooms

Taking “understated style” to a whole new level, repro-retro mid-century style furnishings make for clean lines and casual refinement. All the rooms are on the large side for Manhattan – and the 640 sq. ft. James Suites are surprisingly reasonably priced, considering the apartment-like dimensions.

 

 

Wellness

It’s literally built into your television at the James. The Four Bodies Wellness program, in partnership with Ruby Warrington of The Numinous, offers guidance in the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of guests, all before you even start your regular day. Especially great if you’ve just enjoyed a late night of cocktailing at The Seville (see below). We also did a sound therapy session, a tarot reading with Tara Carrara, and there’s even a dedicated meditation room downstairs, in partnership with Be Time.

The Neighborhood

Make the shopping rounds at Rei Kawakubo’s bleeding edge Dover Street Market fashion emporium, check out the vintage finds at Thrifty Hog, then get your Scandinavian design fix at Marimekko, before setting aside at least an hour to peruse the urbane reading selection at Rizzoli Bookstore. For a contemporary art fix, hit the 511 Gallery, Casey Kaplan Gallery and Ashione, the latter exhibiting museum-quality African art. Do not by any means miss the LEONOR FINI: THEATRE OF DESIRE, 1930-1990 exhibit at the Museum of Sex, a stunning survey of the feminist-surrealist’s provocative life and career.

 

Museum of Sex

CBD

You sorta knew this was coming: CBD room service. For those of you not familiar, cannabidoil is a legal cannabis extract that is known for its stress relieving qualities. And noted CBD chef Andrea Drummer has crafted an uncomplicated menu, from pear gorgonzola salad to spicy meatballs to caramel ice cream sundaes – so it’s well beyond “munchies” fare. And you can also order up beauty products like Ambika Ubtan Beauty Scrub and CBD For Life Eye Serum. You can even mellow out your canine travel companion with Bark Avenue Granpaw’s Dog Hemp Treats. Wooooof…

Scarpetta

After 10 years as one of New York’s most innovative and exalted Italian restaurants, Scarpetta made the move from MePa to NoMad, and the new location has been jumping ever since. In an absolutely gorgeous space with marble bars, arched ceilings and moody lighting, indulge in exquisite handmade pasta dishes like duck & foie gras ravioli (almost indescribably delicious) and black tagliolini with lobster and chorizo – as well as creatively turned out duck, venison and seafood creations. The live jazz brunch is one of the best Sunday scenes anywhere, with everything from ricotta pancakes to strozzapreti with saffron and pork shank…and a whole lotta soul.

The Seville

Indisputably one of NYC’s sexiest hotel bars, it’s possessed of a furtive basement location – yet somehow manages to be hopping from its 4pm opening time on. Combines plush, sensual style with great taste in music (The Ladies of Seville regularly man the decks), and lusty but unfussy cocktails – invigoratingly spicy margaritas, signature bourbon-vanilla manhattans – to rapturous effect.

 

Images, from top: Scarpetta; The Seville 

 

Catalonia Chic: BlackBook Weekends at Barcelona’s Glamorous Hotel Arts

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There are the obvious reasons why Barcelona is the 6th most visited city in Europa. It’s temperate climate, of-the-moment cultural institutions, renowned architecture, and exceptional Catalan cuisine add to its general play-over-work spirit to make it a sybaritic dream for epicurean travelers. But what keeps us returning again and again is that Barcelona never rests on its marquee attractions, yet rather has a spirited taste for the new and challenging.

We were recently beckoned to the sea-facing Hotel Arts, a Ritz Carlton property, to take in its “hotel within a hotel experience” called The Club. Encompassing a selection of rooms and suites located on the highest floors, we were able to bypass the ground floor lobby and head straight up to a private reception and check-in. (N.B. If you’re in possession of the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, and have reached Platinum Elite Status, The Club is at your service in every way. And by the way, the card earns 6x the points for each dollar of eligible purchases for staying at the Hotel Arts, one of the 6,700 participating SPG and Marriott Rewards hotels).

The lounge area serves – no kidding – five gourmet buffets (and bottomless champers) throughout the day. So when we were feeling peckish, but didn’t need a full meal, it was the perfect stop in between sightseeing, spa visits and dips in the infinity pool – which sits right alongside Frank Gehry’s surreal giant fish sculpture (pictured above).

 

 

Needless to say, Enoteca Paco Pérez, the hotel’s signature restaurant from exalted, eponymous chef (a two-time Michelin Star recipient) is not to be missed. With an emphasis on locally-sourced produce and the freshest seafood, the tasting menu began with a medley of prawns, razor clams and octopus. And we could hardly resist the langoustines in a creamy rice (think: Spanish risotto), while the Mediterranean tuna and squab in thousand-day mole sauce with dumplings entrees quickly vied for our attention.

A unique plate of truffled brie crunch was something utterly new to our taste buds – and oh so magically delicious. And it perfectly represented what we like most about dining in Barcelona: gastronomical twists on traditional dishes. Enoteca’s extensive cellar of over 700 “Protected Designation of Origin” Spanish wines made it a thoroughly holistic experience.

We were then given a sneak peek at the penthouses located on Hotel Arts’ very top floors, light-drenched and obviously boasting the most breathtaking of views. For those with an entourage, they feature up to three very tastefully appointed bedrooms (and zero paparazzi access). The suites’ extraordinary services include your own personalized concierge, and even the use of a Mini Cooper Cabrio. What could be cooler than that?

 

 

But we did manage to tear ourselves away from the hotel. And while seeing a Antoni Gaudí creation for the first time makes a breathless impression, returning again (like us) to the architect’s most hallowed works, never tires. This time we carved out an afternoon at Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s major accomplishments, alongside what is considered his masterpiece, the still-under-construction but nonetheless spectacular Sagrada Familia cathedral. The surreal park’s abundant gardens, signature tile-work and whimsical flourishes seemed to fuse effortlessly with an intentional functionality.

It can’t be forgotten that Park Guell (named after its promoter, Count Guell) was originally designed as a residential development which never got off the ground. Gaudi himself moved his family into one of the two model homes on the property – which he actually did not design – and lived there from 1906 to 1926, when it was officially opened as a public park. In 1984, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site. Hire a guide, so you won’t miss any of the park’s unique design details and the stories that go with them.

 

 

We later meandered through the hip Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), for a little historical immersion. But tired from a day of walking, we booked restorative treatments at the hotel’s exquisite 43 The Spa. (BTW, they use only our favorite Natura Bisse, Barcelona skincare products.) We can genuinely highly recommend the Sublime Diamond Journey Treatment; it’s a body scrub with, you guessed it, actual diamond dust (oh, the luxury). We loved how our skin really looked brighter and firmer afterwards.

The spa is located atop the hotel, with two separate bathing areas for men and women. We were delighted to discover the hydrotherapy pool, dry sauna, steam bath, shower, relaxation area, and another dazzling outdoor terrace.

Of course, Catalonians know how to live. And the city’s restaurant scene is at once vast yet invitingly intimate. Full of hole-in-the-wall tapas joints and sidewalk cafes, we opted for something a bit more grandiose in Marea Alta. Occupying the top floor of the Torre Colom, it’s designed to resemble the interior of a ship, in bright whites and blues. The maritime-heavy menu proved a seafood-lovers paradise. (Squid and oloroso tartare, Luis Mari’s wild turbot…).

 

 

On our last evening we were called to experience something new to Barcelona’s already booming nightlife scene – and W Hotel’s Wake Up Call music festival series was gearing up just as we arrived. Before diving in though, we fueled up with tapas on the outside deck at BRAVO24, indulging enough delectable, locally-produced jamon to carry us on into the night. (N.B. the W is another fabulous beachfront SPG + Marriott property).

The Wake Up Call evening’s lineup brought together some of the world’s best DJ talent, drawing an eclectic, dressed-to-impress party crowd. Martin Solveig got things going, with electrifying sets also by the likes of Cassius, Pete Tong, Edue Natored, Kunta K and Melvo Baptiste, revving up all three of the hotel’s buzzy nightlife venues.

Ebulliently drained from dancing all night, we retired back to Hotel Arts for an inspired nightcap by the talented mixologists at the elegant P41 Bar & Coctelarium…marveling at how we could never possibly tire of this glorious city.

 

The Luxury & The Majesty: Le Château Frontenac Turns 125

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In this, the Instagram age, to what more relevance could a hotel possibly lay claim than the distinction of being “the most photographed in the world”? But let’s be honest, calling the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac a hotel is sort of like saying a vintage Rolls Royce Silver Shadow is just a car. And lording with irreducible majesty over the oldest burg in North America – Quebec City, that is – it has been celebrating its 125th birthday this year…though, really, she doesn’t look a day over 25.

We popped up for a visit to join the les festivités, and were straight away taken with the sheer magnificence of le Frontenac – which prior to us has hosted the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Paul McCartney…even Prince William and Kate. And as we pulled up to the entrance, it did sort of feel as if we were popping round for a visit with our favorite royal chums (though it should be noted, egalitarian Canada doesn’t actually have a king or queen).

 

 

Dramatically entering the lobby, we noted straight away that its glittering halls were lined with glittery, upmarket shops, and galleries intriguingly selling genuine Picasso and Dali prints (though as far as we know, neither of them actually ever set foot in Quebec). And there was very modern health club on site that belied the Frontenac’s weighty historicism, with an indoor pool, spa and Technogym workout machines.

In fact, if you chose to do so, you could pretty much never leave the premises (though we experienced a hallowed moment strolling the lakeside promenade at dusk) and yet be endlessly, thoroughly amused. For our part, we fell head over heels for the rooms, with their elegant understatement, plush furnishings and views that might just mesmerize you into missing your sunset dinner reservations. (Insider tip: the river view accommodations are pricier, but we would vigorously recommend requesting one overlooking the Chateau and the upper town – as you might just get the feeling you’re an 18th Century Burgundian nobleman.)

 

 

Admittedly, though, we were actually on something of a epicurean quest in Quebec Province‘s comeliest city. And while the Frontenac has been the central foodist destination here for decades, it has also risen of late to the occasion of the city’s new culinary renaissance, shaking off the traditional for a genuinely exciting wave of innovation.

First, it should be noted that, for those not in need of such a grandiloquent dining experience, the hotel’s buzzy Bistro Le Sam is there to satisfy more quotidian cravings – lobster salad, duck leg confit – complemented by an impressive seasonal batch cocktail menu. And we loved pairing les fromages du Québec with a local sparkling cider at the sceney 1608 Wine Bar – whose cool circular design made for excellent people watching and meeting. (If you’ll pardon the generalization, we do love making new Canadian friends.)

But eagerly seeking incisive insights on the region’s contemporary culinary essence, we made a point of sitting down with Stéphane Modat, the exalted (and impressively tattooed) chef at Frontenac’s glorious Champlain restaurant. Considered as he is one of the leading lights of the Quebec food revolution (though he is originally from Perpignan, France), he fittingly oversees the exquisite proceedings with a confident self-possession.

 

 

“The city is a lot more vibrant,” he enthused. “There is a desire to put Quebec on the culinary map. People here are more open-minded…and visitors are usually open to trying new things.”

Regional regulations, however, had posed some challenges – like being restricted to farm raised animals, even though, as he insists, “the meat is better if it reflects where they actually live.” Still, the local bounty speaks for itself: “Charlevoix is know for their lamb, which is better even than it is in Morocco.”

Later, after being greeted at the door with a kir made with local cassis (such attention to detail…), we were whisked through an elegantly rustic-contemporary dining room – warm woods, chicly mismatched furnishings, a handsome grand fireplace, and spidery, gossamer chandeliers – to a window table overlooking the majesty of the St. Lawrence River. It was surely one of the best tables in all of Canada.

With monsieur Modat working his magic behind the scenes, we proceeded to wend our way through the ethereal Experience Modat tasting menu, which on this particular night included arctic char with goat cheese cream, yuzu and ginger (paired up with a dry white from the Loire); followed by red deer tartare w/ salmon and trout eggs, red deer jerky, and a delectable Inuit mayonnaise made from pine needles (all paired with a spirited Languedoc rosé); then a singularly earthy, stunningly flavorful hare ravioli; and a highlight amongst highlights, foie gras with local berries and sea buckthorn (surprisingly coupled with a robust Greek dessert wine).

 

 

“There are surprises on the tasting menu,” Modat enlightened. “We want people to have an experience. It’s rustic by the names of the dishes, but I try to do things differently – like the tartare without the mayonnaise base.”

Without exaggeration, it was one of the most sensational culinary sojourns we’d ever experienced, our taste buds superlatively startled as every moment. Yet not one course hinted at intentional theatricality, or over-concepting for its own sake. And did we mention the river views?

Food, of course is more than ever these days a destination-driver, tempting us to new locales with the promise of life-altering sybaritic undertakings. And while Quebec City was always very much a place that all efforts should be made to visit before shuffling off this mortal coil, and Chateau Frontenac is unquestionably a once-in-a-lifetime hotel…Modat’s culinary creations made it all a decidedly zeitgesity, boast-worthy experience.

“We’re finding our own way of doing things,” he emphasized. “It’s important to go back to the basics to then go forward.”

And perfecting the basics, while being surrounded by such refinement and majesty, is exactly what made the overall Chateau Frontenac experience everything we had hoped it might be – and, if you’ll excuse the cliche, even more.

Happy 125th…and many more.

 

Above images: Champlain; 1608 Wine Bar

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Peter, Bjorn & John on Melancholy, Climate Change and What They Love Most About Stockholm

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Photo by Johan Bergmark

 

Despite their significant international success and recognition, Peter, Bjorn & John have always been dedicated supporters of the music scene back in Sweden, where they run the artist collective and label INGRID (even David Lynch and Lykke Li have been collaborators). And since their 2016 album Breakin’ Point, they’ve also been signed to that very same label.

The second such release under that arrangement is Darker Days, which is out this month. It’s a bit of a departure for them, especially in terms of the overarching mood. To wit, “Gut Feeling,” feels like somber, mid-’80s Cure; while “Velvet Sky” is chilling, melancholy noir, with lyrics to match (“There’s a sign saying ‘Don’t fear the reaper'”). But while the solemn “Heaven and Hell” sends a decided chill up the already tingling spine, “Wrapped Around the Axle” – with its more upbeat Sergeant Pepper psychedelia – at least attempts something a bit more sanguine, less bleak…to striking effect.

Proving their unending cleverness, they also released a special 3-in-1 video, which sort of pits each member against one another for attention. Spoiler alert: no one really wins. As well, they’ll launch a short, 9-date North American tour on November 19, taking them from Allston, MA to San Francisco on December 9.

We caught up for a quick chat with PB&J, and also asked them to tell us what they love most about their home city of Stockholm.

 

 

 

What was the reasoning behind releasing the 3-in-1 video for all three singles?

John: The total “band-consensus” method we used on our previous album nearly killed us. So, this time we split up the band in three parts. In every part of the process. We wrote, sang and produced our own songs separately. We even choose to wear our own clothes in the press-photos this time. And, the 3-in-1 video was a natural extension of this process.

So it ties in conceptually with the album itself?

John: With PB&J you always get three for the price of one; but this time it’s personal…

What were you influenced by when recording the new album?

John: Swedish winter darkness, American political darkness and private mid-life darkness. I’m selling this album pretty badly, aren’t I?
Peter: There is no shortage of darkness to inspire in the present day. The idea behind the title was indeed mainly the Swedish winters, originally. But Trump, Brexit, old Swedish Nazis forming the third biggest party here at home, and above all climate change and the possibility that we are actually getting near the end of the world thanks to our western capitalist lifestyle isn’t exactly cheerful stuff. And it’s stuff you constantly think about; so it’s hard to keep out of songs.

It does seem the title is telling in regards to the content.

John: Yes, you can expect Swedish melancholy, Stockholm break-up mysteries and some Ingmar Bergman indie rock. There are hints of light in between all the gloom. I think it might be one of our strongest albums so far.
Peter: The lyrical content takes in ten shades of different darkness, from politics to personal. And actually one very positive hopeful song as a counterbalance. Composed, laid back, desperate and anxious indie-pop. It’s all a mess, but a good one.

What inspires you most about Stockholm?

Peter: It’s so varied. You can take a one day holiday to a part of it you haven’t been to in a while and get a completely different vibe just by looking around you. We’ve got water, nature, archipelagos, green lush suburbs and parks. And it’s got everything that a common big city offers, too: great food, exhibitions, theater, arts, lovely architecture and historical places…and lots of concerts to see.

And the music scene?

Peter: It’s wide and varied; and if we’re talking music, I get inspired by seeing musicians in different fields perform live. But also love to just talk to them and discuss and learn and jump between genres and personalities.

 

 

Peter, Bjorn & John’s Stockholm Favorites

Peter

One of the best things and maybe the most unique thing about Stockholm is the nature.That its so green and that water is everywhere. That you don’t have to go far out of the city centre to experience wildlife. To me that’s the biggest sell. As a country boy, I get the best of both worlds.
In the suburb where I live, there’s even a huge nature reservation area, perfect for strolls and running; and I’m fifteen minutes from the centre.
If you have time, take a boat out to an island in the archipelago. Or at least take a walk round one of the half-islands, like the lush Djurgården. Lots to see and do there, too.
One area where I spend lots of time is the phonily called SOFO. (South of Folkungatan, sort of like a business idea from the boutiques in the area I think –  but it is a convenient name to throw around). Some of my favorite bars, restaurants and cafes are here – like the pub Harvest Home and the Waffleplace Älskade traditioner; and there’s also the lovely Nytorget square and Vita Bergen (“the white mountains”), as well as some great record shops in An Ideal for Living and Pet Sounds. So I would definitely spend an hour or two strolling round this area.

 

SoFo

Bjorn

If anyone is into sports, I recommend going to a game with Djurgården’s ice hockey team. Their home crowd is nothing but unbelievable. The best and coolest team of course is Skellefteå AIK…but they’re located in Skellefteå.
If anyone wants to come say hi to us in the band, your best bet is probably a café called Kaffebar – it’s connected to the INGRID Studios where we hang out a lot. It also has artwork from our Gimme Some album hanging on the walls.

 

Kaffebar

 

John

We are proud of our Swedish public libraries. Some are bigger than others, though, and the Stadsbiblioteket at Odenplan in Stockholm is big and worth a visit. Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund drew this simple but fantastic cylinder-formed library in the 1920s. The outside doesn’t look that impressive, but the inside is kind of magic. When you walk in there you feel like this: “So many books, so little time…”
Siv och Åke is a superb vintage store, conveniently located between the INGRID Studios and the INGRID label office near Mariatorget. Over half my wardrobe is filled with items from here. Not sure if that could be considered to be the best selling point….but…..anyway….nice place and a fantastic staff.

 

Stadsbiblioteket

NYC Staycation: The Stylish New Mr C Seaport Hotel

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A suite at Mr C Seaport 

 

If you walked around the South Street Seaport any time within about a year after 2012’s catastrophic Hurricane Sandy, you might have wondered if the place would ever be revived. The area just below New York’s Financial District was once a surefire tourist attraction for the city (though mostly avoided by locals) – but it had been devastatingly flooded by the storm, with virtually all the ground level businesses wiped out.

Fast forward to 2018, and you’d really never know it. Now rebranded as the Seaport District NYC, it buzzes with revitalized energy, and is even angling for “fashionable” status.

 

 

The two most notable building blocks of that hoped for fashionability? The newly opened 10 Corso Como, Carla Sozzani’s bleeding edge fashion emporium, shipped over from Milan; and the glamorous new Mr C Seaport hotel, perched elegantly above the cobblestones.

The hotel brand is the brainchild of Cipriani scions Maggio and Ignazio, who opened their first in Beverly Hills in 2011, and have likely been scouting NYC locations ever since. Arriving for a recent staycation visit, we felt like we’d stepped off of Front Street and right into the trendiest new hotel in Rome, with its Euro-y style lobby of warm woods, gold accents and marble check-in desk.

Here’s what we did.

 

Mr C Rooms

We were smitten as soon as we opened the door to our room – all done up in a calming sort of minimalism, with plush touches like velvet wall coverings, lacquered wood, high ceilings, and sailing-themed artwork (there are a few with sizable terraces). Ask for a room facing Peck Slip, as the neighborhood energy coalesces nicely outside your window (and this being a European hotel, there’s actually a little smoking scene out in front). Mini-bars are eminently stocked.

10 Corso Como

All the way from Milan to the Seaport, we found the most trend-driven, fashionista-frenzying labels – Comme des Garçons, Maison Margiela, Vetements, Off-White – adorning the racks, along with exclusive collaborations like the Marni Dance Bunny pop-up, available until November 1. A smartly curated gallery is currently showing some of the most provocative of Helmut Newton’s photographs (maybe don’t bring the kids) until November 11. And there’s a restaurant/cafe with Italian specialties and sublime coffees. (N.B.  Other high-end fashion brands with shops nearby include Robert Cavalli, Cynthia Rowley and Sarah Jessica Parker’s SJP.)

 

 

iPic Theaters at Fulton Market

The future – or actually the present – of moviegoing, iPic shows the buzziest zeitgeist-capturing flicks, with a touch of urbanity added to the experience. Kick back in luxury seating, then order up sophisticated bites and cocktails to make a complete night of it. The attached Tuck Room is a nightclubby spot for killer happy hour cocktails, as well as excellent oysters and burgers.

 

 

Eat & Drink

Notably, a sizable outpost of veggie-mania mini-chain by Chloe. just opened along John Street, and has been perpetually packed with those craving their smoothie bowls, detox kale salads and avocado pesto pasta. We also loved the 5000 sq. ft. Industry Kitchen, for its clever cocktails (Pistachio Mule, IPA Daiquiri), wood-fired specialties and sprawling East River views; as well as the rustic-hip of the Bin No. 220 wine bar, where we shut the place down in deep, philosophical discussion with our bartender.

 

Bin No. 220

 

Bellini Restaurant & Bar

Mr C’s in house Bellini restaurant and bar has not yet received the full attention it deserves – but we cannot emphasize enough how utterly fabulous it is. With strikingly elegant interiors that look as if they were transported from the Via Camarelle in Capri, a well-turned-out crowd has this place buzzing every night. The cozy bar spills onto a stylish lobby lounge, perfect for an early evening prosecco. For the main event, we started with plates of Italian cured meats and cheeses, and then veritably swooned for their heavenly veal scallopine al vino bianco, and rapturous tagliatelle with saffron and pancetta. Finish with the ricotta cheesecake for a truly glorioso experience!