BlackBook Rooms With a View: The Hilton Osaka

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When you’ve flown halfway around the world to Osaka, Japan – it’s a relief to know you have comfortable dwellings at hand in which to recuperate from the jet lag. And we simply adored our stay at the Hilton Osaka – though not just for the rest and rejuvenation. Location-wise, one couldn’t be more ideally situated, being steps from JR Osaka Station and just 25 minutes from Osaka International Airport. And the striking, 35 story-high property is actually situated in the Umeda district- a bustling playground for business, shopping and entertainment.  

Of course, while it’s a tired cliché, East really does meet West in the most stylish of ways at this hotel. Considered a bastion of luxury since opening its doors in 1986, it was given a recent refresh of its 562 guest rooms (3 of which are Japanese Tatami Suites). Moreover, the attentive team at Hashimoto Yukio Design imagined each space by embedding rooms with welcome Japanese flourishes, including green tea colored rugs dotted with cherry blossoms, crimson accent pieces, use of native tochi wood, yukata robes, and shoji screens – the latter which open to reveal sprawling, awe-inspiring skyscraper views of the cosmopolitan city below.

 

 

We got our contemporary culture fix by hitting the National Museum of Art, where we thrilled to the current exhibition, Christian Boltanski: Lifetime, a comprehensive survey of the exalted French artist’s oeuvre. Then we delved into Japan‘s fascinating history with a visit Osaka Castle, a 16th tribute to the country’s unification, before hitting the seemingly limitless historic landmarks in Kyoto – just 43 km away.

But we admittedly were content to mostly hole up at the Hilton, where four of the five dining options were just given culinary makeovers. Indeed, they have conceptualized new menus for Folk Kitchen (all day dining), Centrum Grill & Wine (showcasing a worldly selection of fine labels from around the globe) and My Place Cafe (perfect for happy hour cocktails and tea time fare).

 

 

Though our two fave spots turned out to be KawaUme Japanese Cuisine & Sushi (with new menus by 2-Michelin Star Chef Kazuo Takagi) and Tenka Teppanyaki. The former is a must because you absolutely cannot leave Osaka without trying their finest seasonal ingredients such as uni and fugu, best enjoyed with their locally brewed sake. The latter is a delectable jewel, where chefs wield their skillful showmanship, ingredients are given ample respect, and guests are provided with a meticulously crafted dining experience. Enjoy creative fare like foie croquettes stuffed with seasonal strawberries, and coveted cuts such as kobe beef sirloin, and buttery A5 wagyu filet – all masterfully grilled before your eyes, and best savored with one of their more than 250 varieties of wine.

In our glorious and perpetual food coma, we were perfectly happy each night to waddle back to our king size bed and down-filled sheets – mesmerized by the glow of the spectacular Osaka cityscape.

 

Avena Downtown Opens in the Old Da Silvano Space – and It’s an Absolute Revelation

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When Da Silvano served its final meal in December of 2016, it was not just the last act for a beloved NYC dining institution – it veritably closed out a chapter of old media schmoozing. Beyond the celebrities, it was a “print media” restaurant, in an increasingly digital world.

A little more than two years on, the West Village space at last has a new occupant – and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

Firstly, the new Avena Downtown (sister to the namesake that opened on E. 57th St. in 2017) is decidedly European – though the vibe doesn’t specifically evoke Rome or Naples or wherever. The brick-walled space actually feels a bit Parisian – like you might stumble across it somewhere in the posh 7th arrondissement. But the understatedly mod furnishings, chicly distressed mirrors, and an artful, rustic-industrial sliding door – which can close off the bar from the main dining room – appear straight out of a fashionable eatery in Milano.

The bar area itself, infused with a bit of Italian Riviera cool, is a destination unto itself – and we expect to be propping it up on a regular basis in the coming months. In fact, the fab Euro-disco soundtrack was a welcome relief from all that twee indie rock clouding the atmosphere at so many of-the-moment hipster restos. It was like a bit of nighttime Capri in NYC.

 

 

But the food is, well…nothing short of a revelation. Chef Roberto Deiaco (who runs Avena Downtown with his charming wife Giselle) has fittingly manned the kitchens at some of New York’s most notable bastions of Italophile glamour: Cipriani, Armani Ristorante, and, back in the day, Palio. And while the food at Da Silvano pretty much ran neck and neck with the scene, here the culinary allure will undoubtedly eclipse any celebrity star power you might find filling the seat next to you.

We started with the flan di zuchinelle, a zucchini/flower flan over parmigiano fonduta with Perigord truffles (a bit of French influence); and we can honestly say it was one of the most sublimely flavorful dishes that has ever graced our taste buds – an absolutely perfect balance of flavors and texture.

How to top that? A simple but delicious plate of scialatelli pasta with Mediterranean seafood (frutti di mare is a house specialty) with a floral glass of Vermentino, as well as a veal osso buco that literally fell off the bone, over a bed of risotto alla Milanese – paired with a wonderfully chalky Nebbiolo. Other Avena specialties include capesante scotttate (seared sea scallops), polpo alla brace (pan roasted Portuguese octopus), and grilled branzino over broccoli rabe.

A rich chocolate fondant again nodded to France; but the cannoli duo – one with citrus, another with caramel – was a veritable dessert nirvana. We’ve actually been seeing it in our dreams.

For NYC Europhiles, Avena Downtown is the only place you need to be in the first months of 2019. For everyone else, when you’re tired of all those trendy beetroot salads and bok choy whatevers – this will be your culinary salvation.

 

 

First Images: Virgin Debuts Splashy New Hotel in San Francisco’s SOMA

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Unlike those mega-corporate brands, Virgin has been distinctly more methodical in the building of its new hospitality venture. Indeed, their first hotel opened just more than four years ago in Downtown Chicago  – and it’s taken this long for the follow up.

But that second act has at last arrived, as their San Francisco outpost opens this week to significant chattering amongst the creative classes. And surely a part of that excitement stems from the reality that despite its world class cultural/culinary/nightlife status, SF has been a bit slow in crafting its new-gen hotel cred, barely registering on the international trendometer when it comes to groovy places to lay one’s head when visiting the City by the Bay.

 

 

The new hotel is located in the perpetually trendy South of Market (SOMA) district – with all of the attendant food and drink options to keep its denizens hanging about from morning ’til midnight. One can pop in for a caffeine fix at the Funny Library Coffee Shop in the AM, grab a buzzy lunch at the Commons Club (a spinoff of the Windy City original), and, starting in March, carry out some serious seeing and being seen at the Everdene rooftop bar.

Public space aesthetics actually come by way of rock star designer Matthew Rolston, and nod to both SF’s fabled 1960s bohemia and its lesser known British Victorian influence.

But amidst all the socializing, you can actually get a good night’s sleep here, if that’s your thing. The 192 rooms flaunt separate dressing areas and ergonomic lounge beds, with warm woods accented by the signature Virgin red.

if you tend towards booking the St Regis or the Westin St Francis, the Virgin probably won’t be your thing. But if you’d prefer to be where the SF wild things are, we would suggest it as your only new option.

 

Hollywood’s New h Club Launches Extensive Art Program

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‘She Could Have Been a Cowboy’ by Anja Niemi

 

Hollywood being Hollywood, there’s really never enough places for the cognoscenti to, um, rub shoulders (and perhaps a few other body parts) – to the degree that even the English are exporting their private members clubs to Los Angeles. And one we’ve had our sights on for awhile will at last open its doors March 27th in the splashy former Redbury Hotel space on Vine.  

Founded in London’s Covent Garden in 2004 by the late philanthropist / Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Eurhythmics’ Dave Stewart, h Club was conceived specifically as a gathering place for artists and assorted creative types. The new Hollywood outpost (by HKS Architects) features a quite fabulous rooftop, intimate performance space, inviting work areas, and even chicly styled bedrooms. It’s actually far more inspirational wonderland than it is merely another industry schmooze-a-rama.

But aside from all the club perks one could possibly hope for (onsite fitness facilities, parlors, bars, a member restaurant, and a screening room), denizens will also be immersed in art. Indeed, the h Club LA art program boasts well-curated works from some rather high-profile artists, like Lisa Anne Auerbach, Megan Whitmarsh, and Anja Niemi.

 

h Club Los Angeles Rooftop 

 

“It’s our visual love letter to the city,” says Ali Hillman, the club’s L.A. art curator. “We have travelled far and wide, visiting artists in their studios, listening to their ideas and insights about their practice. Those selected represent the pulse and heartbeat within these four walls.”

Local collaboration is already well underway. Next door to the club’s Vine Street location is the illustrious Capitol Records, who generously donated some newfound photos from its archives to h Club’s new gallery. The images depict the youth culture of the sixties, with nods to the famed L.S.D. album by none other than acid-dropping guru Timothy Leary, as well as Allen Ginsberg and other psychedelic luminaries.

The artworks will be scattered throughout, from the hallways to more extensive exhibits on the 5th and 6th floors. Inspiration, incidentally, is included in the membership fee.

 

‘Folded’ by Tahnee Lonsdale

‘A Thousand Little Cuts’ by Jenny Hagar

Will Sweet Reason Change the Way We Think About CBD Drinks?

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On January 18, the Globe And Mail ran a story titled CBD: The Trendy Cannabis Compound That’s Blurring the Law for Canadians. It addressed the seemingly significant gap between the public perception of its unbounded legality, and the reality that CBD is actually still highly regulated.

In Toronto, the same city where the newspaper is based, entrepreneur Hilary McCain (who had formerly worked at Chobani and the Boston Consulting Group) had been prepping for quite some time to introduce what she and her partners believed would be a new milestone for the CBD movement: an urbane, attractively packaged sparkling water, Sweet Reason, which would offer all the mental and physical health benefits of CBD, yet with the taste of a refined, upmarket soft drink product. Until, unexpectedly, Canadian regulations made it a suddenly an untenable proposition.

McCain and Co. quickly shifted their focus to the U.S., and now specialty food retailers – for instance Dean & Deluca – are enthusiastically embracing it.

The current flavors – grapefruit, cucumber mint, strawberry lavender – are genuinely a taste revelation, with an exuberant vivacity and playful effervescence…and none of that “artificial” sweetness of so many bottled beverages. And for those not familiar with the effects of cannabidiol, it offers a vividly calming, stress relieving after-effect.

So, at a time when workaday stress has us too often reach for alcohol-based or, worse, prescription med solutions, Sweet Reason can be said to be a part of an urgent, healthier revolution – one which McCain was all too eager to discuss with us.

 

 

What was the catalyst for creating Sweet Reason?

I started Sweet Reason because I became obsessed with the idea that, one day, I could replace my glass of wine with a cannabis beverage, and that it would be far healthier than alcohol. And then I discovered the incredible health benefits of CBD. It calms my mind, takes the edge off my anxiety, and helps me focus. So I decided to create a CBD sparkling water that was truly healthy and something that I wanted to drink all day, everyday. For me, that meant simple ingredients and no sugar or sweeteners, so that I wouldn’t think twice about drinking one…or five.

Were you aware that CBD was climbing its way up the zeitgeist meter?

The health benefits of CBD make it appealing to virtually everyone. Who doesn’t have some level of anxiety these days? So yes, I knew it would be a big deal. But I had no idea how fast the market would move and how quickly it would develop mass appeal.

What are some of the mental and physical health issues that Sweet Reason is addressing?

It helps calm the mind, reduces random stress, and eases discomfort. The health benefits of CBD are wide-ranging, so I encourage everyone to try it and see what works for them. Sweet Reason can be very easily incorporated into your life, since it’s a delicious sparkling water with no sugar or sweeteners and only five calories.

What benefits do you hope it can deliver when consumed on a daily basis?

I hope Sweet Reason helps people feel calm and focused.

Why is it better than just drinking water?

After drinking Sweet Reason, you’ll wonder why all sparkling water isn’t infused with some sort of functional health ingredient. There are already enough vitamins and supplements that we are supposed to be consuming everyday. Sweet Reason is a beverage that you would drink regardless of the health benefits, because it’s delicious.

Have people been surprised by how good it actually tastes?

Yes. It is very hard to find a CBD sparkling water with no sugar or sweeteners – which are typically used to mask the flavor of CBD. So people love Sweet Reason. We’re thrilled.

 

 

 

CBD is still caught up in a maelstrom of propaganda and misinformation. What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced getting it to market in the U.S ?

We have faced every startup challenge in the book, mostly resulting from the stigma surrounding hemp and cannabis and the significant regulatory change in the past year. We were originally supposed to launch in Canada.

What are the “politics” of CBD right now?

Because CBD was approved as a drug in June 2018 (Epidiolex), the FDA is still trying to find a path to allow it in food and beverage. So there are a lot of politics around that.
But also, the health benefits of CBD are unlike those you find in most plants. I think the FDA is still figuring out how to handle that. For instance, you can’t claim that something helps with anxiety unless it is FDA-approved. I think we need to start accepting that there are many different levels of anxiety, and there are many ways to reduce anxiety prior, or in addition to taking an over-the-counter medication.

Just to clarify – no one is getting stoned off of CBD food and beverage products?

No, they should not be. But it is important to buy CBD products from a reputable company, so that you know exactly what you’re getting.

But it can genuinely alleviate stress?

It helps calm the mind and reduce random stress. I find it helps take the edge off and keeps me focused.

Do you think it might catch on as an ingredient in creative cocktails? Have you created any based on specific Sweet Reason flavors?

Definitely. People have been obsessed with our Cucumber Mint with Gin, and our Grapefruit with Vodka.

What is the ultimate “manifesto” of Sweet Reason?

Bombarded on a daily basis with forces that challenge our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, many people now feel stressed and anxious; and deep down they don’t feel like they can do much about it. We created Sweet Reason to give our generation tools to push back. Everything we do is driven by a simple mission: to be the most trusted partner in your pursuit of a life well-lived.

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Winter Cocktail Recipes from the Stratus Rooftop Lounge at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia

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When the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia debuted in the fall of 2012, one particular feature blared from the headlines with great new promise: there would be a very high-profile rooftop bar up on the 11th floor. Maybe not earth-shattering news in NYC or LA, but at the time Philly (already one of our fave nightlife destinations) was vividly lacking in such lofty drinking establishments.

Six+ years later, the Stratus Rooftop Lounge is still one of the sexiest spots in the city. Open year round, there’s actually something decidedly European about the overall vibe and aesthetic – as if it might be found crowning a plush hotel in Munich or Rome. It also boasts one of Philadelphia’s top drinks alchemists, in the person of Mirek Struniaski – with a cocktail program full of surprises. The Dismembered, for instance, mixes Bulleit​ Rye, crème de cacao a la vanilla, peppermint bitters, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe. There’s also a rotating selection of cocktails on draft.

 

 

The hotel itself – where we checked in just recently – apart from its location amidst Old City’s teeming restaurant scene, has much to recommend it. First, its own Red Owl Tavern does regional dishes (winter squash panzanella, lamb shank cassoulet) with an international flair in a rustic-chic setting, and is buzzing at weekday lunchtime. The Monaco also has one of those great lounging lobbies, done up in an array of smartly mismatched neo-baroque / neo-classical furnishings and zodiac artworks. The space hosts a sociable wine reception for guests every evening – we made new friends, one was a dog.

The stylistic playfulness extends to the rooms, which have baroque-detailed wall coverings and curtains, Empire style armchairs (ours was embossed with a dachshund silhouette – neato!), Chinoiserie cabinets, and dramatic 1920s-style fringe lamps. We particularly loved the dramatic view of historic Philadelphia from our window.

Still and all, it was the Stratus that really had us swooning – and Mr. Struniaski was good enough to enlighten us as to the magic behind a few of his signature creations. Try them at home…but absolutely make haste to sip them in situ at the Monaco sooner than later.

 

 

Casanova 2

 

Stratus Rooftop Lounge Signature Cocktails

 

Water Lily

Butterfly pea infused Tanqueray 10
Johnnie Walker Black
Lillet Blanc
honey syrup
rose water

 

Radiant Club

Gosling’s Black Rum
Campari
pineapple juice
lime
cherry syrup
cranberry bitters
egg white

 

Casanova No 2

Cognac
ginger syrup
cayenne (served hot)

 

BlackBook Exclusive: CBD Cocktail Recipes From the New Gitano Jungle Room

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Can’t make it to the trendy Mexican Riviera for your winter retreat this year? The brand new Jungle Room in The James New York – Soho is a hidden gem tucked away in plain sight. Inspired by their Tulum, Mexico outpost, Grupos Gitano channeled the chill, with hints of Spanish Colonial architecture and lush jungle vibes. Founder James Gardner has transformed the first two floors into a verdant oasis, with a bit of disco chic.

The Jungle Room is split into a dining room on the first level and bar on the second. A ten foot crystal cactus quirkily complements the plush velvet banquettes and opulent vintage chandeliers. A massive hanging disco ball connects the two floors via the skylight, and tempts you to get up and dance, despite the lack of a dancefloor.

The menu is filled with modern Mayan and Mexican specialities, led by exalted Noma chef Mads Refslund, in collaboration with Head Chef Yvan Lemoine. Locally sourced beef becomes carne asada, and local masa goes into the housemade corn tortillas; honey coriander lamb ribs and pot roasted cauliflower with black garlic are highlights of the ingredient-driven fare. The larger plates are all served family style, in a selection of wooden planchas and terracotta dishes. Finish off with a sweet treat of classic churros with spiced chocolate dipping sauce, nodding to a local MexRiv favorite.

 

 

But real (fake) vacation mode starts with happy hour, with a drinks menu that plays to the red-hot CBD cocktail trend. Created by Jeremy Strawn, Head Bartender (and formerly of Death & Co), who brings his knowledge of quality craft to seasonal and and very stylish liquid creations. Pairings of rosewater and strawberry, or a boozy take on Horchata, the rice milk and cinnamon specialty from the Yucatan, are little sips of paradise.

And just introduced, every day from 5-7pm will be their High Tea Happy Hour, at the upstairs Jungle Bar. It features a selection of House of Waris teas, Ladurée macaroons, and special large format signature cocktails, for the Franco-Anglophile in you.

Strawn was kind enough to share the secrets behind a couple of his best CBD creations. But we can’t emphasize enough the need to get yourself down to Grand Street to experience all of the lush magic in person.

 

 

Gitano Jungle Room CBD Cocktail Recipes 

Golden God

Created by Jeremy Strawn, Head Bartender
2oz Mezcal
.75oz Lime Juice
.75oz Passion Fruit
.5oz Chartreuse
METHOD: Shake all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker over ice, briskly, and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with fresh rosemary Sprig and 4-5 drops CBD Oil.

 

Gypsy Mule

Created by Jeremy Strawn, Head Bartender
2oz Pistachio Infused Vodka
.75oz Lime Juice
.75oz Simple
.5oz Ginger Juice
METHOD: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake hard. Strain into a Highball Glass filled with ice and top with ginger ale. Garnish with Lime Wheel and Cherry.

 

 

First Images: Nobu Hotel Palo Alto Will Become the Palace of Zen-Minimalist Extravagance it Has Always Meant to Be

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There’s enough money in the Silicon Valley corridor right now, that it’s not the least bit surprising a luxury brand would skip right over San Francisco, and plant its flag in the high tech corridor just to the south. And that is indeed exactly what Nobu did, taking over the Epiphany hotel in Palo Alto in 2017 – with plans just announced to last ratchet it up to the brand’s lofty level of zen-minimalist extravagance (with apologies for the seeming contradiction in terms), in the form of the rebranded Nobu Hotel Palo Alto.

Santa Monica based Montalba Architects, who designed Nobu Ryokan in Malibu, will oversee the upgrade. Keeping with the landscape’s natural theme, the light chiseled stone and golden hued wood will make for an elegant display of minimalism fit for a Wallpaper* magazine shoot. Guests will be welcomed via a floating stone and teak railed staircase to the second floor reception lounge, complete with fireplace, mid-century George Nakashima lounge chairs, and sculpted lighting courtesy of John Wigmore. And if it even need be said, a typically splashy Nobu restaurant will occupy two floors of the eight story property.

 

 

The 73 Asian influenced and tech enabled rooms will be outfitted with Alexa for smart commands over various fixtures (designed to impress a steady parade of Silicon Valleyites), Toto Neorest, washlet toilets, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows with private patio access. (Special bonus: views to the ethereal Santa Cruz Mountains.)

For a distinctive Nobu experience, book one of the Ryokan traditional Japanese styled rooms, which will feature high ceilings, slatted teak wall paneling, 90” televisions (especially important to Game of Thrones fans, surely), and a freestanding wood soaking tub.

Other amenities will include a 24 hour in-room Nobu dining menu, and a state-of-the-art fitness studio with Peloton bikes.

Considering all the free-flowing expense accounts, expect other super-luxury hotel brands to be currently scouting Silicon Valley locations. For its part, the new Nobu Hotel Palo Alto will be unveiled in early 2020 – with a $500- $700 price tag on the rooms.

 

The New Life House Hotel Brings Authentic Cubano Style to Miami’s Little Havana

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Say the words “hotel” and “Miami” together and thoughts that immediately come to mind are of the over-the-top glitz and glamour variety – with ‘glamour’ being entirely subjective, surely. If we’re talking SoBe we’re not talking subtle, which is fine – we love the ridiculousness of the place as much as anyone, and have had spent many a night tippling at a trendy poolside bar amidst a sea of sartorial pastel.

On our last trip south, however, we found ourselves spending as much time west of the beach as on it – in Miami’s exotic, yet down-home Spanish/Cuban epicenter, Little Havana. Distinctly distinguished from its bikini-clad neighbor by its lack of any structure over a few stories tall, and represented more by querulous, dominoes-playing old-timers in the local park than by manufactured old-timeyness and body parts, LH offers an element of authenticity to a town famous for working hard to escape it.

 

 

Yet up until recently, it also lacked what we take for granted beachside: notable hotels. That all changes this year with the opening of Life House, a 33-room boutique sleep (and member of the Design Hotels group) in a historic 1920s mansion. Festooned with design elements that adhere to the concept of hyperlocality, from the paintings and photography of neighborhood artists, to a color palate of magenta, pink, and purple that reflects the hues of the hood, Life House promises an immersion in local culture, in addition to all the things you’d expect from a happening hotel these days: Le Labo toiletries, rainfall showers, and vintage / custom furniture.

Still very new, its rooftop restaurant and bar Terras, with its promise of awesome views of the Miami skyline, will open in March. But as of now there are a pair of on-site cafe/bars buzzing with energy. While the restaurants and drinking establishments of the infamous Calle Ocho, including our personal favorite Ball & Chain, are a quick taxi or wobbly stroll away.

We’re not ones to ever really tire of a manic SoBe visit. But these days we’re likely to temper it with a few less hectic days/nights, in the more genteel environs of Little Havana. Having a bolthole to hide away in there certainly seals the deal.