Just An Ordinary Weekend At Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel

I never thought I’d be attracted to a piece of meat. But at 3:25, on an afternoon at Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel, it happened.

The meat was oversized, blown up on a screen that covered an entire wall of the Borgata’s Music Box theatre, where several hundred people watched the hamburger patty sizzle and sweat in a pan on the stove. Over the patty reigned Geoffrey Zakarian, otherwise known as “the guy who won The Next Iron Chef” or “the cute chef with the glasses.”

With his gift of gab (which he attributes to his mom: “She was bitingly sarcastic,” Zakarian says), the bespectacled chef serenades the crowd at his cooking demonstration with his Italian accents, self deprecation, and meat innuendos. After two hours of cooking a hamburger (“no sauces or spices, it’s all about the meat”), a ginger and golden raisin-inflected coleslaw, and a raspberry soufflé – the crowd was sold – and so were his cookbooks.

Zakarian is the culinary lifestyle consultant of The Water Club, the more luxury hotel branch inside the Borgata resort. And the term “lifestyle consultant” is really just a fancy name for someone who checks in and okays all the activities involving food and drink consumption.

And wowee, did a lot of that happen during my recent stay at the Club. The portions are three times the size of any entrée at most NY restaurants (yep, I’m looking at you, Izakaya’s peanut butter-chocolate-crispy sushi roll) and it’s the options themselves – choosing from the Borgata’s 12 restaurants – where a decisive appetite becomes more valuable than some chips at the poker table.

Lines like shoelaces – full of day-trippers and vacationers craving all-you-can-eat – loop around the corners of the Borgata Buffet, while dinners at Bobby Flay Steakhouse on a Friday and Saturday night necessitate reservations made days in advance. I dined at the resort’s Japanese restaurant Izakaya, and most notably the southern Italian restaurant Fornelletto, and let’s just say it’s inspired this strange dream about a plate of potato gnocchi with sage and brown butter, lifting into the heavens, on top of a dish of their heavenly vanilla ice cream.

But people don’t come to Atlantic City for the food. They come for the party. And on – oh, just an ordinary weekend in Atlantic City – two celebrity DJs were spinning at the Borgata’s mur.mur nightclub and MIXXSamantha Ronson (aka Lindsay Lohan’s ex) and Steve Aoki. So when you pair these two rockstars with the Zakarian visit, the Borgata suddenly becomes an oceanside celeb hub.

But for me, the star of the show was definitely the Immersion Spa, where I headed for some much-needed recovery. A masseuse named Elyssia somehow managed to restore my late-night pancake and vodka-stuffed self into a viable, blissed-out human being. The whirlpool also helped.

Now, I’m not going to tell you to go to the Borgata and stay at, more specifically, The Water Club. I’m all about showing, not telling, of course. But when you are, in fact, looking for a weekend that includes a view of the ocean, celebrities, and really good gnocchi, may you consider the Borgata. It’s the AC experience.

Get all the info on the Borgata’s Water Club hotel here, and follow Bonnie on Twitter.

Afternoon Tea, Reinvented at The Lambs Club

Take everything you know about teatime and throw it out the window, because The Lambs Club in Midtown has added a chic and modern twist. 

“This area is very deprived of places to have a business meetings, and we were thinking about the best way to service our guests,” said The Lambs Club co-owner Margaret Zakarian. “Sometimes you want a coffee or tea, but not with so many courses.”

So instead of a towering display of finger sandwiches, crumpets, and fruits, the team at The Lambs Club now offers small plates by chef and co-owner Geoffrey Zakarian, executive chef Eric Haugen, and pastry chef Bjorn Bottcher. You can choose one selection for $6, three for $16, or if you want to go all out for your afternoon tea, $29 gets you six of the 11 plates. The delicate choices include a beautiful smoked salmon buckwheat blini, tuna tartare, egg salad, petits fours, vanilla bean panna cotta, and of course, buttermilk scones served with clotted cream and house-made raspberry jam.

For teas, the elegant dining room has stuck to the same ones by Le Palais des Thés that they opened with, save for two new grand crus. If you don’t know what a grand crus is, think of it like the fine scotch of the tea world, and at $8 per small pot of their Darjeeling Mission Hill or the $12 for Thé Noir Jukro, you can see why. On the regular, $6 menu you can choose from a refreshing pot of Thé des Sources, made with mint, bergamot, and rose; or go for the caffeine-free Rooibos a la Camomile or their iced tea, which utilizes tea ice cubes so that your beverage won’t get watered down. 

No matter how you take your tea and scones, it’s nice to have refreshing way to do it. Plus, you get to actually see and smell the tea blends before you choose your brew. With any luck, this will just be the push tea needs to become the next hip thing.

Industry Insiders: Geoffrey Zakarian, Pressure Chop

Geoffrey Zakarian is in for a busy summer, but he’s used to the pressure. The chef, restaurateur, author, and TV personality has been a flurry of activity in and out of the kitchen since he began his career at New York’s legendary Le Cirque in 1981. Since then, he has, among other things, been an executive chef at 44, opened the Blue Door at the Delano in Miami Beach, and owned critically acclaimed restaurants Town and Country (both now closed). In addition to his work as the executive chef of New York’s white-hot Lambs Club and as a judge on the Food Network series Chopped, he’s been preparing his latest restaurant, Miami’s Tudor House, a “gastro cafe” at the newly-opened Dream South Beach hotel.

“In keeping with the Miami theme, it’s slightly more art deco than a cafe, serving cafe food at a higher level than normal,” he says. While the French-influenced American cuisine in which he specializes has modern elements, Zakarian says he’s reaching back in history more than ever, digging into 100- and 200-year-old cookbooks for inspiration. “The more I go forward, the more I go backward,” he says. “It always leads me to simpler times.”

Vincent Kartheiser Talks Rape & Dating, In That Order

Downtown types hunting for a cheap meal and canned beer won’t usually seek out the lavish Lambs Club to post up for the night, but it’s quite nice when Rémy Martin invites a few of those below-14th denizens (we’re getting far too used to those PBRs) to enjoy a perfectly curated, ludicrously luxurious evening with some true ladies and gents uptown. Last week, I was lucky to attend a so-called “intimate dinner” with Rémy Martin 1738, Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men‘s Pete Campbell), and the lovely Janie Bryant, who’s responsible for Mad Men’s award-winning costume design. Just as we were getting used to posturing as prim and proper – made difficult by the deliciousness of the cognac cocktails – Kartheiser offered up his special brand of table talk and dropped the “rape” bomb.

There’s a time and a place for everything, much like our dinner in the discreet, landmarked room known as The Stanford White Studio within The Lambs Club. The perfect venue for the kind of evening Rémy Martin was hoping to have. Call me quaint, but beginning the night with a short chat about rape over a painstakingly constructed meal by Chef Geoffrey Zakarian isn’t the most suitable dinner conversation to have—especially amid a group of wide-eyed writers and reporters. But I say: Kartheiser, bring it on.

“It’s not rape after the first 5 minutes,” Kartheiser mused as he explained the type of women he attracts. I breathed a sigh of relief and picked up my glass of cognac—I was now free to drink without restraint. “I mean, I’m no Pete Campbell,” he admitted when another guest at the table asked him about the infamous au pair rape scene, a question that seems fitting when the man who plays Pete Campbell is talking about rape. “It was written in the scene that she was supposed to kiss me back, and I kept saying to her,” he continued between clenched teeth, “kiss me back, damnit! But she wouldn’t.” After the scene came out, Matthew Weiner was confused about the negative press the scene was getting. “Why are they saying you raped her? You didn’t rape her—it wasn’t supposed to be rape!” Kartheiser mimicked. “The course of Pete Campbell changed, and it was all because the actress wouldn’t kiss me back. We dated after that.”

More looney talk: Vincent wears Pete Campbell’s wedding ring in reality because “It attracts the right kind of women.” His view on life: “I like money and women, though not in that order. I like women, and women like money.” Bottom line: Kartheiser is a perfect party guest. He gives great speeches, says what’s on everyone’s mind, breaks the ice first, gets a rise out of people, enjoys it all thoroughly, and may or may not go back to his hotel room with someone after it all (that’s all hearsay). More importantly, Kartheiser knows how to get an event some good press.

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After the dinner, some select ladies and gentlemen, including WSJ reporter Elva Ramirez and Food and Wine blogger Michael Mohammadi, headed over to The Bar located in the opposite wing of the Stanford White Studio to continue the festivities. That explains why I’m just now filing this report.

Openings: The Water Club

imageTragically, Atlantic City has enjoyed little reflective glow from the 21st-century re-glamming of its Western cousin, the chic and sparkly Vegas. (The only upside is, of course, that in AC, you can probably still find a cheap hooker.) But the Water Club, the new Borgata-branded palace of luxe-cess, should go a long way to mitigating the AC’s vice-city image when it opens in June. Arguably the NJ gambling mecca’s first serious visit from Dr. Design, the WC goes so far as to completely eschew unsightly in-house gambling facilities, in favor of fashiony retail (Just Cavalli, La Perla, etc); a zen lobby lounge, the Sunroom, complete with tranquil reflective pool; and a decidedly cosmopolitan spa. With 800 rooms and four pools, its claims of “intimacy” might be a stretch; but the interior aesthetic is, nonetheless, distinctly boutiquey. And in a particular epicurean coup, Geoffrey Zakarian will oversee the hotel’s culinary arts. Not for the surf and turf set, obviously.