Hotel Packages: A Ritzy Park Escape

I have summery public parks on the brain. When friends visit the city, I immediately turn into a super-tourist, heading straight for Strawberry Fields in Central Park with my wicker picnic basket (then I have to fight for a place to park it, but that’s another story). The Ritz gets that I don’t want to be dragging my foreign friends on tour buses or to a sweaty tourist mosh pit (e.g.Times Square), which is why they’ve introduced a Summer in the Park package.

Package: Summer in the Park Includes: Deluxe room, daily continental breakfast, bike and private gondola ride with The Ritz-Carlton Central Park, a gourmet picnic in the park. Option to cycle downtown and picnic along the Hudson on the gorgeous waterfront. Guests can also enjoy a tour of Manhattan by Sail with The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park. Booking: May 1st through October 16th Pricing: $725 per night at The Ritz-Carlton Central Park for a two-night stay with one full day bike rental for two, one picnic, and a Venetian Gondola ride at the Lake in Central Park. Pricing starts at $445 per night at The Ritz-Carlton Battery Park for a two-night stay with one full day bike rental for two, one picnic, and a 90-minute sail with Manhattan by Sail.

How to Get a Free Night in NYC’s Top Hotels

NYC & Company, the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization for the City of New York, has partnered up with 16 Signature Collection hotels that really want you to visit the Big Apple in high style. When you book two consecutive nights at one of the partner hotels—which ranks as some of the best in the city—you get a third night free.

This type of sale isn’t new. We’ve seen it with almost every global hotel brand, but they were struggling at the height of the recession. But these hotels are brimming at capacity during high season as it is, so getting the free night is a major bonus, considering they don’t really need to bend over backwards to fill house. We’re talking major luxury options:Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood’s The Carlyle, The Plaza, Ritz Carlton and several others with a similar pedigree. What else makes this promotion so glorious? Consider that just one night at the Ritz Carlton runs approximately $600 per night. Then again, if you’re rolling high enough to spend two nights at the Ritz-Carlton, a third night free is kind of an insult.

Egg Creams and Memories

Lit’s 8th anniversary was, as advertised, a zillion great DJs and 5 zillion great people. I met up with Ron Jeremy on 9th street at the 24 hour staple, Veselka with two very broad-minded broads. They’d have to be able to put up with our antics. We talked about how Veselka was really the last of the really good Polish/Ukrainian late night restaurants that kept eons of club denizens alive. Cafe Kiev on 7th street was the standard, but alas, the owners kept tweaking their winning formula until it just wasn’t any good anymore. In the old days, it was common to see Steve Rubell in a tux at the counter or a rock band that just headlined The Ritz and their groupies eating kielbasa and mushroom barley soup while taking turns to shoot up in the rest room. Every club employee in town fueled up before they crashed out. Kiev was the after hours for the after hours clubs and a very big part of nightlife. Although always a tamer version, Veselka still delivers great food. Ron and I talked about many a night eating way too late after way too much fun. After dinner we did the walk of shame fame to Lit just three blocks away. Three blocks from the stuffed cabbage and horseradish beets and the polite stares from diners who wanted to say hey to Ron but whispered and giggled instead.

We whisked into the party like we were walking onto a yacht. My hat was strategically dipped below one eye but my scarf was not apricot. I did have one eye on the mirror as I watched myself walk by, but then the only two frat boys in the place went nuts over my porno pal. They bellowed and laughed and shook his very used hand and Ron was a great sport about it. We went to the back to the Fuse Gallery and I introduced Ron and the entourage to Lit proprietor and cool, cool friend Erik Foss. Foss rushed to greet Ron and used his correct nickname “the hedgehog”. I gave Foss a cub scout knife from the ‘50s that I’ve had for a very long time but seldom appreciated. I told him now that as he (Lit) had turned eight, he was old enough to have my old treasure. At 4 a.m., he texted me to thank me for the knife and for the hedgehog intro. Apparently, they were still hanging out. Thank god I wasn’t a fly on the wall for this one.

I cut out with my new friend Amanda to get some air, as it seemed to be scarce inside. We walked over to Gem Spa to get their chocolate egg creams, the best in town. Egg creams are a lost art. Years ago you could get them anywhere. Clubbers going to the Mudd Club (off White and Broadway) would stop by Dave’s on Canal and have one or maybe two. Maybe a crisp hot dog as well before destroying their bodies and brain cells. Now there are only a few joints in town that do it right. The proprietor/counter man has been slinging egg creams for 30 years at Gem Spa off a recipe and technique and tradition he inherited from excellent egg creams for 70 years before. I explained to Amanda that the key is to have the chocolate, the seltzer and the milk at the same temperature so that it mixes right. The professional nodded in agreement and showed us the egg creaming equipment. Most places that still offer this very New York delicacy just offer chocolate milk and a splash of club soda. The egg creams help me get some sleep as my days are becoming more hectic than ever.

It was a cold driving rain outside, almost enough to have me pine for Miami…almost. Let’s not get hysterical. Amanda and I perused magazine covers as we sipped nirvana from a waxed paper cup. One periodical caught my eye. The cover image of a wispy gal in a tattooed white blouse and ornate bodice intrigued me but the continued egg cream chatter and the proprietor’s conversation about the history of Gem Spa and the egg cream kept me distracted and fascinated. It was a cold rainy night and the egg cream and Lit’s goings on and the tasks of Tuesday had me longing for my pillow. I headed home and don’t remember closing my eyes.

My doorbell and frantic puppies woke me at 8 a.m. an hour after my alarm had failed me. When the bell rings that early, it can’t be good. In this case, it was. A delivery of two mysterious brown paper-wrapped packages. After a blurry signature, I opened one up. The wispy gal in the tattooed white blouse and ornate bodice stared at me from the book’s cover. It’s been rare lately that the same girl that put me to sleep was there in the morning to welcome me. Even though she was only 2-D, it felt fabulous. Most of the people I date these days are extremely 1-D. The tome was not really a book but an ambitiously thick magazine with a hard cover. The second issue of Grey was indeed a wakeup call. The fine-printed Spring/Summer ‘10 offered me optimism, even though I could hear frantic taxis splashing all too familiar rain on my daily frenzy. Grey is the work of my jet setting pal/editor, Brantly Martin, and his wife and editor in chief/fashion director, Valentina Ilardi Martin (and, I’m sure, many others). Brantly used to work in clubs as a model wrangler/promoter type and in management. He left in a storm of rumors that were completely untrue except that he had fallen in love and settled in Italy. I ran into him in an obscure deli a few months back as he was passing through New York and he told me then about the new issue. It’s stunning straight through and a wakeup call to finer things and elegant ideas/. You can get it a Gem Spa (and a very excellent egg cream too).

Industry Insiders: Chef Ed Cotton, Running the Market

Laurent Tourondel has passed a gastronomically reputable torch to Chef Ed Cotton to run BLT Market, Tourondel’s kitchen of the Upper West Side’s Ritz-Carlton-based restaurant. A fresh blend of market-inspired delights is what this Boston-bred chef brings to the table. After years creating delectable dishes at Daniel and Veritas, as well as working the ovens of the lightening fast-paced Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef America, Chef Ed’s dishes brings new meaning to your average food shopping at the market.

What do you do as chef de cuisine at BLT Market? I’m in charge of running a kitchen with a crew of 12 people. I do all of the ordering and purchasing. I try to find the freshest ingredients and produce. I run service and control the pass. The pass is where the tickets come in, so I can call out the orders, orchestrate them, and then assemble everything on the plates.

How do you go about designing the menu? Laurent and I meet every season and go over what foods are in their peak for that time of year, their availability, and what’s cool. One of us will have gone out to dinner, and we’ll say, “I tasted this great cheese, and it’s from Hudson Valley, and I want you to try it.” We try to find local farmers who are really passionate about their products. We go over the menus and discuss every detail together. I listen to him and he listens to me until we come up with something.

Describe the cuisine of BLT Market. French/American bistro. The name of the restaurant is BLT Market, so it’s definitely market-driven.

What is your favorite dish on the menu at the moment? Right now, I’m doing a house-made spicy lamb sausage with broccoli rabe, pomodoro sauce, and rigatoni. I like making pastas. That dish is brand new, so I’m really excited about it.

What sort of clientele frequents BLT Market? Tony Bennett comes in here a lot. We have a large amount of the Ritz-Carlton hotel guests who come down from their rooms too. Mainly, it’s the Upper East Siders.

How’d you get your start in the restaurant business? I’m a second-generation chef. My father graduated from same culinary school as I did, the Culinary Institute of America. He was an executive chef outside of Boston while I was growing up. So, I basically grew up in the kitchen.

What was the first restaurant you worked in, in New York City? I worked for a lady named Patricia Yo who owned two restaurants, AZ and Pazzo. It’s ironic because now those two restaurants are BLT Fish and BLT Steak.

How’d you get your position as sous chef to Cat Cora on Iron Chef America? When I was cooking at Daniel years ago, a good friend of mine who was working for Iron Chef told me Cat was looking for a replacement. I emailed my resume to Cat’s assistant, and literally 15 minutes later, they called and said, “It looks great. Do you want to meet Cat?” I met with her and have been on the show now for three years

What’s it like cooking on television? After watching the show for such a long time, to actually be in Kitchen Stadium was kind of weird. I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually here.” I was super nervous the first time, but then you get used to these guys running around with cameras while you’re cooking, and cables all over the place. I’m really comfortable with it now.

Favorite restaurants in New York? After work, I like to go to Landmarc in the Time Warner building because it turns into an industry hangout after my working hours. There are so many people that work late that go there. They have a great wine list. I also like going to Nougatine at Jean Georges for lunch. It’s a great deal, and the food is super tasty and awesome.

Who do you admire in the industry? Guy Savoy. He’s a very well-known chef, and he is super-talented. I had the privilege of eating at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas with my old boss Daniel Boulud, and it was a really memorable meal.

What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in the hospitality industry? The food styles keep changing. The way food styles keep evolving is the reason why I moved to New York from Boston. There are so many different restaurants. I don’t know if that even answers your question, but it’s true.

Any negative trends? Everybody is doing molecular gastronomy. I do respect it, and I’ll even use a little of it. But as far as using powders and chemicals, I’m not a fan of it.

What is something that people might not know about that goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant? Before service we always get together to talk and brief each other about what is going on that night, like how many reservations there are and how many are VIPs coming in. Here at BLT, between the front of the house and the back of the house, we always have a little pre-meal staff meeting to try and let everyone in on what’s going on.

What do you do for fun when you aren’t in the kitchen? When the weather is beautiful, I’ve been going to Central Park for the whole day and just hanging out and relaxing. Also, I obviously like to go out to dinner a lot.

What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs? I’d say you have to really, really love it. You can’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I want to be a chef.” It really has to come from the heart. You were born with this feeling that cooking is what you want to do. Young aspiring chefs should understand you’ve got to work a lot of long hours, and it’s hot in the kitchen. But you know what? If you really want it, absorb all of that and just do it. Have fun and don’t get discouraged. Keep asking questions and always listen to people with experience. Be a sponge.

What’s your dream spot for a project? I’m torn between NYC and Boston because I really love to be challenged, and New York is definitely a challenging city. Restaurants open and they close, they open and they close. But I could go back home to Boston where it’s a smaller scene, so it might be a bit easier to have a successful restaurant. I just want a cool, funky, straightforward restaurant that serves well-executed food. I want it to be fun and not pretentious with a great wine list. I’d say French/Italian food with handmade pastas. A very industrial-looking place instead of soft seats and plush leather.

Actress Rose Byrne on ‘Knowing’ Religion & the End of the World

This was Rose Byrne’s introduction to American audiences. Not only did she get to make out with a nude Brad Pitt in an ancient greek fantasy land, but she got to do it after he spent months in the gym preparing for his role as Achilles in the swords-and-sandals epic Troy. I know–yowzas, right? You’d think one’s career would tumble downhill from there, but not so for the Australian beauty. Since then, she starred as French aristocrat opposite Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette, an astronaut trying to reignite the sun in Sunshine, and an army medical officer in the zombie horror film 28 Weeks Later. And while cultivating her film career, Byrne has been putting in a Golden Globe-nominated performance alongside Glenn Close in the hit FX legal drama Damages.

Her latest project is Knowing, a supernatural thriller costarring Nicholas Cage. The film was directed by fellow Australian Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) and is at times terrifying, at times baffling, while asking some profound questions about determinism, fate, and the apocalypse. So when I met Byrne at the Ritz-Carlton last week, our conversation helplessly veered towards religion, the cosmos, and the end of the world, even though all I really wanted to know was what Brad Pitt’s biceps actually felt like.

What excites you most about the film? I think Alex Proyas is a real visionary. So if you’re a fan of his work, then it’s a real exciting thing to add to his body of work. I think it’s really, really smart. And he creates a tone in the movie which I think is just so foreboding and eerie, and then progresses to be quite surprising and revelatory.

Did watching the disaster set-pieces scare you as much as they scared me? Oh yeah. Did you get on the subway since then? The action is so real. Often action is a confusing device and it doesn’t make sense, or it’s just absurd. But it’s not like that at all.

You had to audition for this film. Is that strange, considering you’re a Golden-Globe-nominated actress, and the filmmakers already know who you are? Well I’d known Alex before, so I was happy to come in because I’d always wanted to work with him. In a way you get to see if you fit the role and what you can do with it. It’s never a pleasant experience, auditioning. It’s a bit traumatic. I’d never wish it on anyone. But I’ve been doing it forever so I’m used to it.

Did you audition opposite Nicholas? No, I actually auditioned with the little girl who plays my daughter.

You’ve said rejection breaks your heart every time you don’t get a role. Is that still the case? Oh, sure! Absolutely. I mean, if you’re desperately dying to do it, then of course. But there are other parts that you go “Oh, I wasn’t meant to get that.”

In the film the Earth is threatened by a scientific force I was never aware of before. Do you know if that’s even possible? I’m not particularly scientific so I don’t have an incredible knowledge in terms of those things. What do you think?

I’ve never heard of it before. And if it’s possible, I think it’s very scary that it could happen at any moment. What about the Mayan theory that it’s all over in 2012?

Um no, but the trailer for the movie is quite cool. Wait, there’s a movie?

Yeah, it’s called 2012 and the teaser is really creepy. Wow really?! Oh my God, so it’s about the Mayans?

Yeah, in the trailer, it looks like a huge tidal wave does us in. Well the calendar just stops. It starts before Christ, and then it just stops. There’s no indication as to why it stops or how. It just ends there. Thom Yorke thinks it’s going to be the end of the world. That’s why he named his kid Noah.

Nicholas Cage’s character wrestles with the reason we’re on Earth—whether it’s all just a cosmic coincidence, or whether there’s a greater purpose. Do you ever think about those things? I did a film called Sunshine with Danny Boyle and we actually spent a lot of time talking to scientists about all of these sorts of things. And it got me thinking that just the fact that we are here is a miracle.

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That’s two “sun” movies you’ve done. Yeah, I was thinking about that. Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo and I have this relationship with the sun. But yeah, we had a whole education on the sun. And how the amount of gravity we have here is the perfect amount with part oxygen so everyone can breathe.

But do you think life is a result of random chemical reaction? Strange, because the fact that we are here is such a miracle. So is it purely chance? And that’s it, that’s the miracle? I do believe it’s a series of chemical accidents. That’s the type of way I choose to believe. Maybe because I’m not religious. Were brought up on religion?

No, I wasn’t. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist, but more agnostic. Yeah, I’d say I am agnostic. My parents are atheists. Well, my mum is. I’d say my dad was agnostic. But I think that I’m probably agnostic, yeah. I think the fact that there are so many different religions in the world immediately makes me suspicious. How can you know which one is right? Do you know what I mean? Is the Jewish religion right? Or is the Christian religion right? Or is the Hindu religion right?

And it’s those kinds of questions that leads to violence on a massive scale. Yeah, that’s a huge discussion. I actually have a friend who thinks it’s not religion’s fault, but that it’s our fault as a race for not using religion as a tool to guide us through life.

There are a lot of things left unexplained in Knowing. Was that on purpose? Definitely, to create conversation and foster these sorts of discussions about spirituality, and about your beliefs and the future of things, environmental things. I think it’s definitely tapered in that direction.

The ending of this film will leave a lot of people scratching their heads. What did you think about it? Well it’s strange because obviously it’s such a turn. But I think it’s definitely a testament to Al that he set, for me, the tone early that there was something rotten here. So it wasn’t so radical at the end. You knew the whole time there was something stranger going on.

What do you think is the scariest movie that you’ve done between Knowing, Sunshine, and 28 Weeks Later? Sunshine I don’t think was too scary, but the third act was pretty eerie. 28 Weeks is pretty scary, but it’s more of a jump shock. And Knowing is an eerie, foreboding film. You slowly start to get really scared. It depends on what scares you too. Because Knowing is more of a psychological thriller, and Weeks is more traditional horror shock.

Industry Insiders: Jeff Gramm, Island Man

Jeff Gramm, owner of Cayo Espanto — a private island off the coast of Belize — reveals how you go about buying your own island, what to do once you’ve picked up three, and the new destination you need to hit up in the Bahamas.

What do you do? I manage and own the Cayo Espanto in Belize, and my US reservations office is in North Carolina. I also live in Atlanta, so I do marketing, PR, and oversee the property

How did you come to own an island? I bought the island raw, a swampy little island in the mid 1990s, and built it from scratch. It had one coconut tree, and now it has 600. I had a mail-order company, and that’s how I could afford an island. I was so lucky to have the design team that did everything from the Four Seasons to the Beverly Hills Hotel and my little island — and from that point on until 1998, all I did was work on it.

What mainland establishments do you frequent? My favorite restaurant is La Famiglia in Paris. It’s an Italian restaurant with high-end food, and it’s a family restaurant. The maitre d’ tells you that mama’s in the kitchen making pasta. I used to go there a lot when I went to the French Open. Another great one is Nava in Atlanta. I love the southwestern food, and the service is great.

Who do you admire in your industry? I would say Bill Marriott and his father. I just think that they are in it for the right reasons, and they like to make money. They combine the two and the family style, and they now own the Ritz-Carlton and respect the brand. They’re definitely among the best in the industry. In addition, they offer the lower and the higher ends of the market. And there’s Richard Branson. He has an island. He does it his way and does what he wants to do. He can afford to take a big leap of faith, bigger than I wanted to do. When I bought my island, the most expensive room there was $150 a night, and now we do it for $1,200 a night.

What positive trends are you noticing in the hotel industry? Service. The future is all service. Technology is the exciting part, but service reminds us that we do things that are ridiculously wonderful. When the waiter brings an iced towel and a warmed towel, it’s ridiculous. Your staff is proud to work there. I would say the biggest trend we are seeing right now is an increase in family travel. Due to the private, secluded nature of Cayo, it’s always been a popular romantic getaway, but now we see things shifting. People want to experience luxurious travel accommodations and superior service with the whole family. Parents want to snorkel with the kids and teach them how to fish. It’s not only about an escape, but about the experiences they can have together. Because Cayo Espanto offers such guest-specific amenities, it always helps to have more time to plan for our guests. Each villa has a personal houseman who creates personalized meals and beverages for the guests. We like to go over and beyond for our guests, more time to prepare always helps. I’ll celebrate the New Year in Exumas, Bahamas. It’s an up-and-coming Caribbean destination with authentic island beauty. The Exuma islands span over a hundred miles of blue water with spectacular underwater preserves. The national land and sea park there has underwater caves, blue holes and limestone reefs. It is quite a place.

What is something that people might not know about you? That I took my first vacation on Cayo Espanto this past summer with my daughter and her friends. It was the first time in ten years I took a vacation — I went to the office for five minutes.

What are you doing tonight? Tonight, I have just said goodbye to my daughter. I’m recently divorced, but tomorrow I’m taking a look at another island for sale. I own three islands, and I’m doing a new project in the Bahamas. Tomorrow is another island.