Weekend in Quebec City: Hipper Than You Think…and Yes, Still Gorgeous

 

 

There’s a certain type of city – Savannah, Bruges, Oaxaca – that could easily cruise forever on its historic good looks. Canada’s entry is, naturally, Quebec City…the oldest burg in North America (she turned a youthful 410 this year). It, and none of the above, however, have ever really been known for surfing the, um, cultural bleeding edge.

Now, we’d certainly spent our share of nights out on the Montreal music scene; but this was our first touchdown in its pretty neighbor to the north. Yet what ultimately surprised us was that, although so many visitors come for the stunning historic beauty of the place (and its legendary Chateau Frontenac, where we did spend one night), QC was actually genuinely hipper than you might expect. Indeed, on our first evening, we hooked up with local electronic duo Fjord, at their stylish new Japanese restaurant Honō Izakaya, in the Rue St-Joseph area – which buzzes until late with creative energy. (Though antiques browsing along the Rue St-Paul was also a treat.)

Of course, we weren’t going to pretend that we did anything less than swoon over the city’s ethereal 17th Century good looks. But we were also their to uncover what makes it a dynamic, palpably contemporary destination.

Here’s what we did.

 

 

Hotel 71

Arriving on a drizzly day, we were instantly comforted by the feeling that we could easily have been fine with just holing up in this gorgeous boutique hotel until things dried out. The experience started at maximum enjoyment, with a glorious lunch at Il Matto, 71’s energetic, Italo-chic restaurant – where one can indulge in sublimely flavorful modern updates of classics like salmon tartare, linguine with mushrooms and other pasta and pizza specialties – all in a sleek setting with futuristic looking “cage” chandeliers hovering above.
Heading upstairs, the stylishly understated rooms were like veritable apartments in their proportions – with awesomely high ceilings, and prodigious windows framing (in some cases) captivating views of the St Lawrence River (we admit to having a thing for watching ships come in to harbors).
The lobby was a dream, a decidedly cosmopolitan spot for socializing and new-friend-making (which is always quite easy in Canada, of course). High-tech wine/cocktail dispensers allowed for the experience of fetching your own tipple (how civilized) and then lounging about on one of the fiery red couches. Don’t forget to look around – the hotel also collects art created by mentally challenged artists, and there’s a visceral honesty to the works. To wit, in the front window were Gaultier-looking corsets made from wire and bottle flip-tops.

 

 

Museum of Civilization

Since, um, civility seemed to be in exceedingly short supply back home, we were particularly drawn to the heady but approachable Museum of Civilization. Bleeding hearts that we are, we eagerly immersed ourselves in the zeitgeisty current exhibition This is Our Story, which looks at Quebec’s Aboriginal population. As immigration debates rage on, it couldn’t be more relevant.

 

 

Musee de Beaux Arts

A rather striking mix of 19th Century and modernist architecture situated amongst the trees in Battlefields Park, this is arguably Quebec City’s marquee museum. Nearly 40,000 works stretch back to the 17th Century to tell the history of Quebec art – though we spent most of our time in the excellent modern and contemporary pavilions, which offer convincing evidence of the region’s ongoing artistic vitality. Just opened is an exhibition on the work of revelatory artist Numa Amun.

 

 

Honō Izakaya

Buzzing with all sorts of buzzy people from the early hours on, the stylish Honō epitomizes the new QC spirit. Headed up by restaurateur Thomas Cassault, we pulled up a stool with he and Louis-Étienne Santais (who is his musical partner in electronic duo Fjord) one evening for a couple of hours of unapologetic decadence and excellent tunes on the soundsystem (everything from The Smiths to Felix Cartal). We were introduced to our new obsession, ouefs de caille marines, while tasting unusual types of sake  (like the sweet Honjozo, which gets stronger when heated up) and some impressively smooth Japanese whiskey. Rather than sushi, come for Japonais curry and white tuna tataki.

 

 

Le Clocher Penché

Anchoring the eastern end of the archly hip Rue St-Joseph corridor (Honō is at the other end), Le Clocher Penché – it translates dramatically to “The Bell Tower” – looks airlifted straight from a trendy little corner of Paris’ Marais. One of those rarest of restaurants with art aspirations that actually lives up to them – it’s veritably a dine-in gallery. And its charmingly lived-in atmosphere gives it an inviting authenticity…yet the crowd is as cool as they come. They serve classic market cuisine (listing all the growers and artisans on their site) like pressed Quebec lamb, raw/marinated sustainable tuna, homemade blood pudding, and some of the most divine chicken liver mousse anywhere – which for us, strangely enough, is kind of a really big deal.

 

 

L’Orygine

This is the absolute pinnacle of new Quebec City dining. There’s little reason, actually, why this hip bistro organique shouldn’t be considered one of the genuinely best restaurants in the world. First, the aesthetics. They may have actually invented “space-age rustic” here, with futuristic (and boldly turquoise) banquettes under potted plants hung from a romantically beamed ceiling. Picture windows frame the historic beauty of the Lower Town just outside, and there’s a second, more intimate and brick walled dining room.
Oh, but the food, glorious, glorious food. We took our place at the perfect-for-people-watching bar, and had our lives (and our taste buds) forever altered by the resplendent Discovery Menu. To wit, scallops in morel sauce, sunflower & beluga lentils, fried polenta with beet remoulade, red deer & hemp – all done without fuss or self-conscious over-concepting, yet with the flavor of each and every ingredient shining delectably through. And everything – everything – is unflinchingly local. Like, when we asked for a dirty martini, since no olives are grown in Quebec, it was served with a spray of shitake. Now that is dedication.

 

 

Le Drague

The sort of place that, if it was in New York, would be preeningly pretentious, Le Drague is technically a gay club. But it’s just so much flamboyant outlandishness that it is often packed with straight people, who have come to realize that this is where everyone is having more fun. The cabaret performances are uninhibited, to say the least – and there are DJs and dancing ’til the wee hours. Especially great for heating up during those cold Quebec winters.

 

 

 

 

New England Epicurean: A Cultivated Autumn Weekend in Kennebunkport

 

 

Kennebunkport is one of those quintessential New England towns which, of course, will always wear its blue-blood associations with the Bush dynasty on its sleeve. We love it all the same – and having spent untold hours in the Berkshires and Vermont of late, we decided to edge a little further north to Maine for that inimitable experience: the autumn seaside weekend.

Endlessly picturesque, Kennebunkport remains a living ode to old-fashioned Americana, which actually aligns it perfectly with the current travel zeitgeist; yet there’s more to this charming village than nostalgia. Beyond the corner lobster shacks and sandy beaches, a sophisticated hotel and food scene has emerged. Could Kennebunkport become an alternative to the Hamptons, a less crowded Cape Cod, or even the “new” Nantucket?

 

 

Although best known as a summer retreat, Kennebunkport is indeed equally enchanting in the fall. And, without the traffic congestion, the drive is a very manageable five hours from New York City. Local hospitality has undergone a renaissance in the last few years, rising to the standards of urbane urbanistas, with a number of classic inns, beachside resorts, beautifully renovated manor houses, and even enclaves of tiny temporary homes offering right-size accommodations for virtually every manner of traveller.

We hit the road on a rainy Thursday evening, arriving at the Tides Beach Club just in time for a welcome glass of prosecco by the fireplace in its coastal-chic lobby. Then we headed up to our impossibly stylish, Jonathan Adler-designed suite and slipped between the high-thread-count Frette sheets.

 

 

The next morning we awoke to a cerulean sky, offset by the burnished reds and oranges of the changing leaves. From our balcony, we watched the waves gently rolling in across Goose Neck Beach while sipping our morning coffee. The crisp air, tinged with the sea’s briny tang, invigorated us for morning yoga at The Tides’ sister property, Hidden Pond.

A collection of one-and-two-bedroom cottages, Hidden Pond is nestled into 60 acres of pristine birch forest. Each cottage is uniquely designed and features full kitchens, luxury baths, stone fireplaces, screened porches, and yes, even an outdoor rain shower. On the property are two swimming pools (one just for adults, thankfully), and a raft of amenities that included watercolor painting classes, a cutting garden, mixology lessons, guided hikes, and a fire pit with s’mores every evening. There was so much to do…or not!

 

 

The resort’s full-service spa, Tree Spa, is just what its name promises. Connected by a catwalk woven through the trees, the services are performed in a trio of tiny treetop cabins. Trust us, there’s something supremely restorative and blissful about the scent of pine and sound of twittering birds drifting in through the window while getting a really good massage.

Earth, Hidden Pond’s restaurant, focuses on farm-to-fork freshness, with many of the vegetables and herbs plucked right from its on-site garden. The farmhouse-chic décor extended to its two private-dining sheds, outfitted in antique furniture and romantically lit with candles and twinkling fairy lights (really, you can’t even imagine). Everything is seasonal, so menus change often, but the Hidden Pond Cheeseburger with smoked mushrooms, caramelized onions, and creamy Gorgonzola is highly recommended. We also loved the venison stew with creamy polenta, tart cherries, and roasted cauliflower, as well as the local haddock with braised leeks and garden-fresh chard.

 

 

And yes, it’s a cliche – but a trip to Maine should always include something to do with lobster. So, appropriately, the next day we had to do our share of sampling. Overlooking the harbor side of the Kennebunk River, the casual Boathouse Waterfront Hotel and Restaurant could not be beat for both classic Maine views and an always-on raw bar. We started with a selection of local oysters and then had to choose between a classic lobster roll, lobster mac and cheese, lobster tacos…or simply a whole butter-poached Maine lobster.

Equally delicious was Ocean, at the Cape Arundel Inn & Resort – offering a fine dining experience, with classic French-Mediterranean dishes in a white-glove setting. Having not had our fill of lobster, we started with lobster caprese – chunks of lobster, mozzarella, and heirloom tomatoes, drizzled with lemon aioli and balsamic reduction. Also unbeatable were the seared sea scallops with trout roe and ginger emulsion.

 

 

Kennebunkport’s notable craft brewery and cocktail scene were showcased at Batson River Brewing and Distilling. Its clubby atmosphere attracts a younger crowd, who lounge on leather sofas or play board games while sipping on their signature brews. Standout cocktails included the Batson G&T, subtly crafted with local lavender, and the quintessential fall tipple: an old fashioned made with Batson River’s Langsford Road Bourbon, garam masala and caramelized fig.

After a night of drinking, restorative brunch seemed the only reasonable activity…and The Burleigh at the Kennebunkport Inn served what we could only imagine was the best in town. While the menu offers a well-rounded selection of breakfast classics, like omelets and benedicts, we went with the Maine blueberry pancakes. They’re the size of dinner plates, perfectly fluffy, and so buttery you might not even need to drizzle them with maple syrup or blueberry compote (but we did anyway).

 

 

Having filled our bellies yet again, we took a stroll around town and for some very local shopping. And after checking out the galleries of Maine Art Hill, we hit the shops at Dock Square: Minka, for sustainably made jewelry, skincare, décor, and accessories, Benoits Boutique for cozy sweaters, and Daytrip Society for Pendleton blankets and cute Maine-themed décor and souvenirs.

Highly recommended is borrowing a bike from the Kennebunkport Inn, and taking a ride along Beach Avenue, for the expansive ocean views and spectacular mega-million dollar homes. We worked up yet another appetite, and so stopped for handcrafted ice cream cones from Rococo – specifically the Earl Grey rose hip jam and pistachio, the goat cheese blackberry Chambord, and ginger sour cherry jam). For something a little more hipstery, there’s coffee and the ultra Instagrammable mini-doughnuts at Satellite Donuts.

 

 

We decided to wrap up our trip where we began, at The Tides Beach Club, sitting on the front porch of the classic waterfront property sipping its only-known-to-locals watermelon cosmopolitan, as the sun cast its final golden glow across the sandy Goose Neck Beach. Having had our fill of lobster, we opted for snacks from the more casual dinner menu, including popcorn chicken with chili and blue cheese dipping sauce, Maine crab dip with wonton crisps, and savory corn dog bites. It all still seemed very New England.

There was no heading home without seeing at least one of Maine’s architectural icons, so we took a slight detour to York to visit the Cape Neddick Nubble Lighthouse. Perched on a rocky weatherworn islet, the red and white lighthouse and lightkeeper’s home is rumored to be the one of the most photographed in the world. Its rich history dates to the late 1800s, and today it remains in use as a beacon for travelers coming from near and far…including us.

 

 

First Images: The Plush New Cour des Vosges Hotel Opens in Paris’ Marais

 

 

In the last few years, Paris had been swamped by international luxury hotel brands, which have attempted to upend the primacy of Le Ritz, De Crillon, and other “palace” legends.

But we’re very much intrigued by what’s happening the next level down, where often more playful experimentation gets a proper airing. And indeed, Evok Hotels’ new Sinner property is about as provocative a hotel as we could imagine. But now the burgeoning hotel purveyor has unveiled something decidedly more elegant, with the debut of the plush new Cour des Vosges hotel, also in the Marais.

A genuinely anti-scene hotel, it has just 12 distinctly luxurious rooms, with pink and blue pastel furnishings, candelabra lamps, azure tapestries, and four-poster beds. And really, what wouldn’t you give to be able to stare out over the breathtakingly beautiful Place des Vosges from a leisurely soak in your clawfoot tub?

Downstairs, there’s Brach – La Patisserie for light bites by chef Yann Brys, a 2011 Meilleur Ouvrier de France recipient. And the plush Tea Room also boasts an outdoor terrace.

The whole experience is more akin to staying in the extravagant 17th Century mansion of a friend with incomparably excellent taste. And did we mention it looks out over the Place des Vosges?

 

Where to Go This Winter: Tallinn and Graz

Above: Tallinn Old Town

 

 

We were plenty busy in 2019, art festivals in France, hotel openings in Vienna… But cultivated Europhiles that we are, we’re always feeling the call of some of our less-trodden, yet still favorite cities on the Continent.

Nothing beckons us to Europa quite like the turning of autumn, with its exhilaratingly crisp evenings, stylishly scarfed locals, and those transcendently evocative fragrances that fill the air of each city (the latter a particular treat for those forced to breath the noxious fumes of New York and LA every day).

On our list of fave under-the-radar European cities, we last visited Antwerp and Maastricht. Next we head further east, to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, and to Austria’s second city Graz.

 

Tallinn

 

Clockwise from top left: Hotel St. Petersbourg; Tallinn streets; Kaerajaan restaurant; Kumu Museum

 

There was a moment around say 2005 – 2007, when Tallinn, bolstered by the success of companies like Skype, became sort of the new Prague: a former Soviet satellite which was now drawing young dreamers from the US and Britain. Only this time they were tech geeks rather than boho literary aspirants.

Now, we would probably love the Estonian capital if only for the fact that it’s home to the Depeche Mode Baar (quick, guess the theme). But its Old Town is as strikingly beautiful and symmetrical as any in Europe – and just strolling the streets is reward enough in itself. There’s also a bright, gleaming modern city (the City Centre) right outside the medieval walls.

On the culture tip, the Kumu Museum is one of the largest in Northern Europe, showcasing two centuries of Estonian art (with an impressive collection of Socialist Realism), as well as special exhibitions of top international contemporary artists. Cold War enthusiasts should check out the KGB Museum, actually located inside the Hotel Viru.

Tallinn is also a notable epicurean city, with chefs drawing on the considerable bounty of the Estonian countryside (their local black bread is to die for). Art Priori is the avant-garde choice, focusing on creatively realized (mostly) vegetarian dishes in a stunning, art adorned space; MEKK specializes in inventive seafood plates, and its sophisticated bar is a bit of a scene; for something a bit more…Middle Ages, Olde Hansa cooks up wild boar, elk and venison, in an interior that could only be described as 13th-Century chic.

Stay in Tallinn: Both the Telegraaf Hotel and the Hotel St. Petersbourg combine classical elegance with cool postmodern design, and each has a notable restaurant (Tchaikovsky and Tabula Rasa, respectively.) The chic Three Sisters hotel has strikingly theatrical rooms – one even has its own grand piano.

 

Graz

 

Clockwise from top left: Island in the Mur; Graz City Hall; Hotel Wiesler; Kunsthaus Graz

 

After losing its Empire in the wake of WWI, Austria pretty much keeps to itself now, content to have traded influence on the world political stage for more, shall we say, sybaritic concerns. Yet the fact that right wing demagogues have been angling for power there does genuinely matter within the scope of the wider EU situation.

The country’s “second city,” Graz, is actually one of its bastions of left-wing ideology, home to more than 30,000 university students, out of a total population of 270,000. A UNESCO City of Design, its rather imperial looking city center, with its elegant baroque edifices, is complemented by some of Europe’s most radical works of contemporary architecture.

Indeed, the Island in the Mur is literally a steel island in the middle of the river of the same name that splits the city, with a designy cafe and amphitheater; the Chapel of Rest is a stunning minimalist cathedral by Hofrichter-Ritter Architects; and the Dom im Berg is a spectacular performance space carved literally into rock. The Kunsthaus Graz contemporary art museum (by British architects Colin Fournier and Peter Cook) is the city’s showpiece, and looks like a giant blue heart and valves.

Not much of a foodie destination, Graz is more of a cafe town – and you’ll find dozens of boho spots as you stroll the streets, many packed with students. Mitte is one of the artier ones, while Aiola Upstairs has a chic crowd and awe-inspiring views. Design junkies should hit the Kunsthaus museum’s namesake cafe. For nightlife, there’s great bar-hopping around the area nicknamed the Bermuda Triangle.

Stay in Graz: The Augarten Hotel (a member of Design Hotels) has stylish, loft-style rooms, and a pool that doubles as an art gallery. The Hotel Wiesler‘s Philippe Starck designed restaurant hosts a “soul brunch” every Sunday, while the rooms have a cool-minimalism and river views. And Hotel Daniel has affordable rooms, a lobby espresso bar and Vespas available for guests.

 

 

Bourbon + Boots: An Epicurean Weekend in Austin

 

 

Last week was a big one. We all heaved a collective sigh when a whistleblower stood up to White House corruption – could the Republic be spared after all? As the pundits speculated, we were ready do what any self-respecting American would in times like these: drink bourbon. 

Turns out, Texas is the place to find it. Dan Garrison, owner and founder of Garrison Brothers Distillery, hosted us in Austin, as we experienced firsthand the process of making and drinking Texas Straight Bourbon. From red and rural Hye, to weird and wonderful Austin, we sipped, swirled, tasted, and toed the line of political discourse. By week’s end, we found ourselves enthralled with Austin’s charm, Hill Country’s bucolic farmland, and the hospitable (and decidedly un-P.C.) cast of characters we encountered along the way.

Here’s what we did.

 

 

 

Garrison at the Fairmont Austin

We started our journey at the Fairmont Austin, a 1,048-room high-rise located off Red River Street, adjacent to the Sir Swante Palm Neighborhood Park downtown. The hotel’s enormity does not eclipse its charisma, and the space echoed its surroundings with local art, design, and music throughout. Fairmont Austin prides themselves, as Texans do, on imbuing the South Central spirit wherever they can. 
We met the Garrison Brothers at the aptly named restaurant, Garrison (purely a coincidence we were told) run by Chef Jason Purcell – formerly of such temples of gastronomy as Bouchon and Aureole. Over dinner, the gentlemen showed us the bonds bourbon can forge, and the delightfully effervescent cocktails it can anchor. 
The chef’s tasting menu featured items like citrus cured snapper and a creamy foie gras tart, paired with bourbon-based cocktails thoughtfully crafted by Andrew Grenz, the hotel’s beverage majordomo. One table favorite was the “Farrah’s Watching,” a zesty concoction made with – naturally – bourbon, amontillado sherry, corn, lemon, and celery bitters. 
Beyond the name, there was a natural kinship between the two Garrisons. From the wood-paneled walls, to the restaurant’s commitment to “open flame, wafting smoke, and high-quality meats” – all signs pointed to a Texas-born bourbon pairing, and the Garrison Brothers stepped seamlessly into the role. 

 

Garrison Brothers Distillery  

The next day we found out just where this bourbon comes from. On a winding hour plus drive to the Garrison Brothers distillery, we bore witness to America the Beautiful in some of its most rural forms: broad blue skies, cartoonish white clouds, tree-lined hills, and acre upon acre of ranches bearing lone stars, wood-burned signage, and the occasional Trump banner.   
Hye (part of Hill Country) is rapidly becoming a destination for alcoholic beverage production, specifically wine, artisanal beers, and bourbon. The hills are made of limestone, which removes iron from local streams and creeks. Iron is the mortal enemy of any whiskey, which is why Kentucky makes such a great breeding ground for bourbon: the entire central portion of the state sits on a shelf of limestone. 
Garrison realized the opportunity and capitalized on it. In 2007, he released his first run of Garrison Brothers bourbon – 2,000 bottles that sold out almost instantly; it was the first made outside of Kentucky and Tennessee since Prohibition. (Bourbon has to be American-made, but it does not have to be Kentucky-made.) He knew he was on to something. They now bottle some of the finest, richest bourbon on both sides of the Mississippi. We were more than happy to confirm just that.

 

 

Pitchfork Pretty + C.L. Butaud

Once back in East Austin, we made our way to Pitchfork Pretty, a vibrant, upscale eatry embracing the city’s local quirks and newfound cosmopolitan sensibilities. Executive Chef Max Snyder relies on local, seasonal ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden down the road, and the menu offered a unique collection of experimental-meets-down-home classics like habanero vinegar–brined fried chicken and poached quail eggs. 
It was here we also met Randy Hester, purveyor and founder of Texas-based C.L. Butaud wines. Hester was yet another friend of Garrison Brothers (we sensed a theme), and for the night provided a sampling of his 2017 Tempranillo and 2018 Albariño, the latter was aged in whiskey barrels. He’s one of a few attempting to elevate Texas wine culture, and he’s got the chops to do it: he worked at some of the best wineries in Napa, including Cakebread, Realm, and Colgin. While continuing to perfect the craft in a new climate, with new growers, he’s keeping his sales local for now. But we imagine it’s only a matter of time before his labels – some designed by artist Deer Dana – start popping up in the best wine shops around the country.  

 

 

Hillside Farmacy

For brunch the following day, we hit the seriously charming Hillside Farmacy. The building where the restaurant resides was originally built in the 1950s as Hillside Drug Store. It closed in the ‘70s, but the restaurateurs swooped in to revive the space, while maintaining its classic ambiance. 
The design – white-tiled backsplashes, copper-plated bar seats, and antique china cabinets – harkens back to its ‘50s pharmacy roots, but the menu is decidedly modern and fresh. The chef indulged us with a selection of brunch favorites like buttermilk pancakes with blackberry compote, BBQ shrimp with lobster gravy and grits, and a Monte Cristo sandwich we still can’t stop thinking about. 

 

 

HELM Boots 

Brunch, as it does, inevitably led to shopping – and we were fortunate to get acquainted with a local Austin favorite, HELM Boots. Owner Joshua Bingaman sat on a floor cushion in the store on East 11th Street and told us about the inspiration behind creating HELM. A former sneakerhead (he and his brother owned the wildly popular Subterranean Shoe Room in the Mission District in San Francisco), he recalled a pair of his grandfather’s work boots. “The boots, his coveralls, and his Lucky Strikes were what I remember most.”
Much like Garrison Brothers endeavored to transform perceptions about bourbon being exclusive to Kentucky, Bingaman shows there’s more to Texas than cowboy boots. A meld of hiking boot, dress boot, and moccasin, HELM even include a little nod to sneakerheads in their design: the white rim of rubber around the sole. 

 

 

South Congress

Our journey ended at South Congress Cafe, located on one of Austin’s more renowned avenues. Bunkhouse Group’s trendy Hotel St. Cecilia, Guero’s Tacos, the legendary Continental Club, and Allen’s Boots all called this highly trafficked stretch home.
We sipped, yet again, bourbon-based cocktails over crab cakes and beignets, and talked about Austin – how it’s changing, gentrifying, and how the influx of new city dwellers bring their own cultural influence to town. Change is inevitable. And though we may not always agree, there’s common ground to be found at tables like this one – over food, laughter, and of course, Texas Straight Bourbon. 

 

Garrison Brothers Distillery

BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The New Moxy East Village Hotel

 

 

You’d be forgiven for being confused, but yes – there are now four Moxy hotels in Manhattan alone. Yet there has been a detectable sense of evolution with each, as we were made keenly aware as soon we entered the lobby lounge area of the new Moxy East Village. Here, the hotel exhibited its cool with more of a laidback aplomb, less attention-seeking brazenness.

But we were also intrigued its position along E. 11th Street, as the EVill hasn’t really had a notable hotel opening in what seems like a decade – unless you count the conversion of the Gotham into the Standard East.

Sufficiently piqued, we checked in to the Moxy EV to check it out. Here’s what we loved.

 

The Location

The Moxy is literally across the street from Webster Hall, where we misspent most of our young adulthood, watching bands like Placebo and The Jesus & Mary Chain shake polite society to its foundations. And the East Village will always be that place where the underground is still stirring things up below the onslaught of unnecessary condo towers now dotting its streets. So, when visiting, make sure to skip the twee hipster hangs, to instead catch the next David Byrne or Deborah Harry at Webster, Bowery Electric or the Mercury Lounge. Or just dance the outré night away at Coney Island Baby.

 

 

The Rooms

Hotels love to peddle those river views, or the possibility of glimpsing the Empire State Building from your bed. But to look out upon the quintessential NYC tableau, this is the place to be. The ramshackle charms of the East Village never fail to warm our hearts – and outside the Moxy’s windows you can take in the helter-skelter mix of 19th and 20th Century architecture, most of it endearingly grubby.
Inside the rooms, Moxy worked their spatial magic once again, making a comfortably manageable situation out of a relatively small amount of space, and doing it in style – especially in the retro-cool bathrooms. (Eco-conscious points for having eliminated the tiny plastic toiletries bottles.)

 

 

Alphabet Cafe and Bar

It’s true, we do go on endlessly about the awful music selection chosen for play in the endless proliferation of replica hipster cocktail bars. So imagine our thrill when we sauntered into the Moxy’s lounge area to the sounds of Teardrop Explodes’ “Reward,” a post-punk obscurity exhibiting the particularly excellent taste of anyone who playlists it. This continued on (love that Talking Heads track…) as we later pulled up a seat at the Alphabet Bar, which is essentially an extension of said lounge area.
It’s actually quite a social/epicurean scene in the space all day, from the bacon pissaladiere (courtesy of the well curated grab-and-go counter) we enjoyed there for lunch, to the perfect dirty martini served by our new favorite bartender Kimberly. And its stylish, comfy couches look out on a calmingly verdant outdoor courtyard – perfect for ratcheting down one’s Gotham-induced stress.

 

Cathédrale

Okay, sure – one wouldn’t expect the Tao Group to be planting its flag in the East Village, as their unwavering sense of theatricality might seem more suited to the Meatpacking District…or Vegas. But the Moxy EV’s glamorous Cathédrale restaurant is a totally transformative experience, with its spectacular, dramatic ceiling seeming to have been borrowed from The Vatican. But it also boasts clever Downtown nightlife references which are matter-of-factly woven into the design. As expected, it’s a total scene, with chicly adorned hostesses frantically shuffling the seating charts to accommodate the long lines. We opted for a seat on the buzzy terrace outside the bar area.
One also doesn’t expect to stumble across the Mediterranean in the East Village, either. But from the warm dates stuffed with almonds and roquefort (which we quickly added to our “dying meal” list), to the delectable grilled artichokes, to the particularly plump and tasty burrata, dinner at Cathédrale had us dreaming of our next trip to Marseille or Napoli. Oh, and please do ask for the bread – we don’t know what’s in it, but it will pretty much get you permanently back on carbs.

 

 

And Yet More…

A rooftop bar is coming in spring of 2020 – but even before that happens, absolutely make a point of checking into the Moxy East Village, if only to ride up and down in the artfully lighted elevators – which offer almost the same feeling as standing in one of Yayoi Kusama’s ethereal Mirror Rooms.

 

 

First Images: The Ethereal New Standard Maldives Villas

 

 

Despite a reliable stream of boldface name visitors – Gwyneth, Sophie Turner, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Victoria and David Becks – the Maldives is by no means a scenester destination. Rather, those seeking serenity and de-stressing visit for its quiet, ineffable beauty.

Into this comes The Standard, Maldives, debuting next month. And despite the hotel group’s reputation for galvanizing the party crowd, that is not quite the hook of this ethereal new property. Rather, the 115 colorful villas (located at the Raa Atoll on Huruvalhi island, a quick sea plane ride from Male) is selling relaxation, and a lot of it. Jutting out into the crystal clear Indian Ocean, rooms are done up in playful, breezy chic – with soothing, light woods and plush, platform beds. Each has a private lounge deck and plunge pool.

Acknowledging the destination’s spirit-feeding seclusiveness, the Standard will feature six restaurants, from BBQ to local cuisine; and there’s also a glass-bottom nightclub, BeruBar, which surely promises excellent dancing-celeb photo ops. While in between diving and snorkeling runs, the The Standard Spa offers yoga classes, an aroma steam area, and personal treatment rooms.

The official opening will be sometime in November. But advance bookings are being taken through December 20 at a special rate of just $481.

 

Report From Aloft Live: Troye Sivan’s Insider Guide to Perth, Australia

 

 

Until recently, Perth lurked in the shadows of sister cities Sydney and Melbourne, due to its remote position on the West coast of Australia – though it is naturally blessed with over 270 days of sunshine a year, refreshingly fresh air, beautiful beaches and a significantly laid back lifestyle. In recent years it has experienced an economic and cultural boom, however, and with that the emergence of hip, burgeoning neighborhoods outside the city center.

Recently we had the chance to experience Perth through the eyes of Australian pop sensation Troye Sivan, as he returned home as part of the Live at Aloft Homecoming Tour, giving an intimate concert on the rooftop of the Aloft Perth hotel.

“Being able to return home and connect with my fans in Australia is always a really special experience for me,” he enthused. “And being in my hometown of Perth, where my musical journey began, is truly magical.”

 

Aloft Perth

 

The Homecoming is part of Aloft Hotels‘ continuing efforts to cultivate a dynamic music program, pivoting between established and relatively unknown artists. In conjunction with Universal Music Group, the eight stop tour takes artists back to the places they came from, and gives the fans that supported them from the beginning a chance to see their hometown heroes in a genuinely intimate setting.

Sivan continued, “I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of Aloft’s Homecoming Tour and share my music with both the community that shaped me and with the music-loving travelers staying at Aloft.”

Hoping to get to know his home city a little better, we asked him to give us the real 411 on Perth.

 

Northbridge

What was formerly considered the skid row of Perth, Northbridge has undergone a major makeover and has become the center of Perth’s vibrant nightlife scene. Just north of the Central Business District, the area still maintains a gritty feel, but the graffiti has now morphed into Instagrammable street art, which decorates the concrete buildings that are now home to galleries, independent boutiques, bars, nightclubs, outdoor cafes and restaurants.
As the neighborhood borders Chinatown, Northbridge is considered to be Perth’s melting pot, where you can find different cuisines from around the world, such as Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Indian, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, Italian, and Mexican. As you pass through CBD to Northbridge, stop by Perth’s newest outdoor cultural and retail plaza, Yagan Square, also the hub of the recent Perth Fashion Festival – which attracted Australia’s top designers and newcomers from around the world.

 

 

 

Brunch in Leederville and Mount Lawley

One of the favorite weekend pastimes of Perth is brunch. And two of its coolest neighborhoods, Leederville and Mt. Lawley, are home to five of the city’s best brunch spots. The Eat the Street Brunch on Beaufort tour takes you to all of them, sampling local delicacies and meeting with the chefs and restaurant owners.

 

 

Fave Restaurants

Embodying a breezy, 1970s-Los Angeles vibe is Henry Summer, an urban indoor/outdoor cocktail and wine bar that always feels like summer. Bask in the sun amidst a lush décor of plants and colorful furniture, with a farm to table menu that changes seasonally, featuring classic Australian grilled specialties or delicious veggie packed salads. It’s a perfect spot to grab a rosé, sangria, wine spritzer, or mojito to get into the spirit of summer. (N.B. Australian summer runs from December 1 through the end of February.)
Load up on carbs before a late night on the town at the hidden gem Francoforte Spaghetti Bar, known for serving Perth’s best pasta paired with organic wines. For an ‘only in Australia’ experience try the kangaroo bolognese. Though the menu is small, there are plenty of other more traditional yet delicious Italian options such as an eggplant sugo, kale pesto and guanciale carbonara.

 

Henry Summer

 

Fave Nightclub

For a glam, over the top night out I head to Connections, Perth’s premiere gay and lesbian club, beginning the evening watching their extravagant drag queen cabaret show. The real party gets going after midnight, when the upper floors open to a dance club as well as an open air rooftop terrace with plenty of potent cocktails to fuel the night.

 

Rottnest Island

A protected island off the coast of Perth that is only accessible by ferry, Rottnest is a beautiful unspoiled nature reserve, home to the smallest and most adorable marsupial in Australia: the quokka. Thanks to Instagram and celebrity selfies with this cute creature, the island has seen a major spike in visitors, as tourists follow them around the island to take the perfect #quokkaselfie. Explore the coastline by boat and witness whales and dolphins swimming in the ocean in their annual southward trek to warmer waters.

 

Aloft Perth

For cool, loft style living, the design oriented Aloft Perth is the surely city’s best choice. Stylish guest rooms are decorated with well-chosen contemporary art and bright pops of color, and feature panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cityscape and the Swan River. Works by Western Australian artists adorn the hallways, embodying the unique landscape and cultural perspective of the region.
The seasonally driven Springs Kitchen has indoor and outdoor seating areas for casual all day dining – followed by drinks at the stylish XYZ bar, which also serves a light bar menu along with creative cocktails, against a backdrop of intimate live music performances.

 

 

The Aloft Live Music Series

The best thing about the Aloft’s live music events are that the performances are free and open to everyone; those looking to attend Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour should RSVP to alofthotels.com/homecomingtour. Obviously capacity is limited, RSVP does not guarantee entry, and attendance is on a first-come, first-served basis. However, a Marriott Bonvoy credit card gives one VIP access to cut-the-line, plus attend meet & greet events with the talent.

 

BlackBook Exclusive: Brooklyn’s Grindhaus Embraces Japanese Influence, Shares Revelatory Recipes

 

 

It was one of the great New York City restaurant stories…ever.

Erin Norris’ Grindhaus was about to debut in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy came along and wiped the place out. Two years, intensive post-storm construction, and a Kickstarter campaign later, it was securing Two Stars from the NY Times – and became an immediate Red Hook / Brooklyn staple.

Today, in the midst of an exciting new second culinary act, the hip but welcoming restaurant is newly embracing Japanese influence.

“I suddenly found myself chef-less in the middle of the summer,” Norris explains, “and sickened by the summer heat, I craved lighter fare. Chef John McCarthy (formerly OKA, wd-50, and Crimson Sparrow in Hudson) happened to pick up my psychic plea.”

Now, despite – or perhaps because of – its relative inaccessibility compared to neighborhoods with actual subway stops, the still cobbled streets of Red Hook continue to exude an exotic charm apart from the rest of NYC…which has been fast losing any sense of the individuality that made it so special.

 

 

Not that developers haven’t been reworking fish warehouses into fancy condos there for years; but at a seemingly much slower pace than, say, Greenpoint. It is thus still possible to walk said streets at a slower pace, pausing to window shop at a quiet gallery, or grab a relaxed beer at the 125-year-old Sunny’s Bar.

It was into this close-knit community that music PR maven turned restaurateur Norris at last opened the doors to Grindhaus in 2013. No carpetbagger she, Red Hook is also her home.

For the five years since, their creative New American cuisine has been a local and critical hit. But with new eateries opening at a startling pace, Norris felt the urge to reinvent. So she and McCarthy teamed up to introduce the aforementioned Asian accents to the menu to absolutely remarkable effect. And indeed, though the interior décor of Grindhaus remains charmingly Red Hook casual, on our last visit we found the new culinary direction to be nothing short of a revelation.

Norris makes a point of the, “lighter and brighter flavors and textures. There are four vegan dishes on the menu…and you wouldn’t even know they were unless you asked or I pointed it out.”

 

 

Part of the magic of the new menu is that while the limited items (the current offerings max out at 13) sound slightly familiar in regards to ingredients, the experience of eating them is anything but. zucchini noodles, chili oil, and wasabi greens, for instance, are all words we’ve seen before – yet when combined here make for an incomparable flavor bomb. Likewise the fried cauliflower with red curry, coconut, and lime, and Japanese caesar with nori, parmesan, and bonito; we’ve eaten similar dishes, but never anything quite like this.

“And let’s not forget the saké!,” Norris enthuses. “We can pair the hell out of your meal with sakés which you can glug like Japanese mountain water, to the full bodied, complex and brow raising slow sippers.”

To celebrate their exciting new direction, Norris and McCarthy were gracious enough to share the secrets behind a pair of their most inimitable creations. But we strenuously, absolutely recommend experiencing Grindhaus in person.

 

 

Miso Granola 

Ingredients
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons white miso paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
¼ cup white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 cups rolled oats
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup pistachios
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Maldon’s Sea Salt (to finish)
Directions
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cook the butter, brown sugar, honey, molasses, miso paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the butter melts and the sugar and miso dissolve, about 3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and stir in the sesame seeds, sesame oil, 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Let cool for 3 minutes.
Toss the oats, almonds and pistachios in a large bowl. Drizzle the miso mixture over the oat mixture, and stir until everything is well coated. Spread the granola in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes for even toasting. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with Maldon’s Sea Salt. Let cool and store in airtight continer.
Uses
This sweet and savory granola can be used for a great many dishes. For example, use with vanilla ice cream as a topping or add it to baked butternut or acorn squash for an additional flavor and textural element to your dishes.

 

 

Yeasted Sunchoke and Salmon Roe 

Recipe and Procedure
 
Yeasted Sunchoke
Ingredients
2.5 lb. Sunchokes
500g Whole Milk + 250g Milk
80g Butter
100g Dry Yeast
Salt
Procedure
Peel the sunchokes and rough chop them. Add milk and 40g butter and dry yeast to a pot. Gently warm the mixture. Add the chopped sunchokes and simmer until the sunchokes are soft. Remove the sunchokes and add to a Vita-Prep, reserving the milk mixture. Add some of the milk mixture and puree the sunchokes. Mount with butter and season the sunchoke mixture. Pass the mixure through a tamis and check seasoning. Cool the puree.
Sunchoke Chips
Ingredients
200g Sunchokes
Peel and slice the sunchokes on a mandolin into water. Blanch the sunchoke slices in milk and remove and dry on papertowels. Fry the chips in 275 F oil. Remove and drain on papertowels. Season with salt.
Dashi
Ingredients
82.5g Kombu
125g Hanakatsuo Flake
4.5 quarts water
Procedure
Bring the cold water and kombu to 120F to 140F and maintain the
temperature for 1 hour. Remove the kombu and bring the water to 140F to 160F and add the bonito flake and maintain the temperature until the bonito is fully hydrated and settles to the bottom of the pot. Strain. Reduce and season.
Marinated Salmon Roe (Ikura)
Ingredients
250g Salmon Roe
75g Dashi
5g Soy
5g Mirin
Mix the marinade ingredients. Gently dress the roe and allow to marinade before use.
Assembly
In a bowl, place two tablespoons of the puree on one side of the bowl. Add a tablespoon of the marinated salmon roe on the other side. Between the two ingredients, place sunchoke chips. Serve.