NOLA Chic 2018: Bedding Down at the Stylish New Eliza Jane Hotel

Share Button

 

We never really tire of visiting New Orleans. But we were lured once again recently by the notable opening of its newest boutique hotel, The Eliza Jane – which we found to be a pretty groovy addition to the already happening NOLA hospitality scene.

The intimate digs are tucked into the heart of historic French Quarter, with the block-long brick facade gracing Magazine Street being the result of seven traditional “shotgun style” warehouses joined together. The former Peychauds Bitters and The Daily Picayune, which blossomed in the 1800s, are among the most recognizable.

Of course, at a time when the sanctity of the press itself is under incessant attack, the hotel-as-homage-to-the-printed-page is particularly zeitgeisty. It’s right there in the name, actually –  Eliza Jane Nicholson being the first female newspaper publisher in the United States. The Press Room bar, outfitted with cranberry wood and crocodile leather stools, plays to the theme in the classiest way possible.

 

 

Designed by Stonehill Taylor (part of the Moxy Times Square team in NYC), the hotel is part of the Hyatt Unbound Collection; and the focus was clearly on maintaining aesthetic authenticity in relation to the historic neighborhood. The space doesn’t disappoint. An open atrium is done up with massive wooden beams and exposed brick, all part of the original foundations, resulting in a hotel, bar and restaurant that all marry French joie de vivre and New Orleans iconoclasm. We also loved the geometric tiling, and the lush velvet couches tucked into seemingly every corner.

The bedroom interiors share common threads of rich woods, gold trim and whimsical shower curtains covered in costumed Mardi Gras revelers from Napoleon’s France. Those same shower curtains, by the way, are already on back order. Small, sweet touches like that abound: Peychauds Bitters is memorialized in custom-made wallpaper, featuring decades of print ads.

 

 

Couvant in French means “smoldering” – and the French brasserie on the ground floor lives up to its name, but with hints of old Southern charm. Breakfast and lunch are served in a sunny room with lush banquettes and mosaic tile accents.

Dinner, though, becomes a candlelit affair, where local oysters nestle in a bed of crushed ice, followed by moules frites or filet au poivre in single serve cast iron pots and clean white plates – but they’re easy to share. Crispy house made frites pair perfectly with the rich sauces, and no one minds if the silverware lays forgotten on the table. Other excellent classic French dishes include Lyonnaise salad, foie gras ‘au torchon’, skate a la Grenobloise, and, most importantly, a killer filet mignon steak frites.

 

 

But its worth mentioning that the surprise star of the show is a simple dish called the Grand Aioli: perfectly plump local shrimp, hand shaved country ham, a selection of baby carrots and radishes all garnished with a pot of creamy rich aioli ready for dipping. For the French, it’s been a long time picnic staple; and when the weather makes it feasible, it’s the  perfect dish to share with friends on the hotel’s verdant outdoor patio – preferably sipping an absinthe frappe.

That same terrace is something of hidden work of art itself, with yet more of the aforementioned geometric tilework, and an alluring sculpture tucked into the back corner. It’s a luxuriously bathing woman with the word “bisous” lip up in neon letters just above. It translates simply to “kisses” – and when our stay came to an end, we checked out of the Eliza Jane feeling loved as only the French know how to love.

 

 

 

 

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

Share Button

 

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. Anglophiles that we are, we eagerly immersed ourselves in the zeitgeisty current exhibition London Calling, which runs through March 2019, and explores Blighty’s capital as a global hub of creativity. As the Brexit debate rages on, it couldn’t be more relevant. Also check out Medieval Europe – Power and Splendour, which runs through January 20, and features 200 fascinating artifacts on loan from The British Museum.

 

 

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 White Mirage, an homage to the aesthetics of winter, as told through some 70 photos and paintings – a treat for those special people who are at their happiest between December and March (that includes us).

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Report From London: Diane von Furstenberg Designs this Year’s Claridge’s Christmas Tree

Share Button

 

Last year, we unabashedly swooned for Karl Lagerfeld’s provocative upside down Christmas tree for Claridge’s – which, no surprise, provoked some rather strong reactions.

Of course, the storied, celeb-magnet London hotel enlists a different towering style talent each year for what has come to be seen as one of the season’s most coveted honors. And 2018’s guest designer, the inimitable Diane von Furstenberg, has – as we might have guessed – conjured something decidedly more…ethereal. Titling it, quite unambiguously, “The Tree of Love,” it stands majestically, glitteringly beside the grand staircase of the hotel’s gorgeous Art Deco lobby.

“Claridge’s is my favorite hotel in the world, and my home in London,” DVF enthuses. “I was so excited to be invited to create its legendary Christmas Tree. My tree is ‘The Tree of Love,’ celebrating all aspects of love and life.”

 

 

Collaborating with artistic set designer Stefan Beckman, artist and illustrator Konstantin Kakanias, and astrologer Shelley von Strunckel, her inspiration for the fantastical tree came from a distinctly metaphysical place – as one might surely have imagined from the prominently spiritual fashion icon.

“Its’ roots come from the earth, its’ branches extend to the sky,” she explains, “The flowers become fruits, the color of the leaves reveal the seasons. Home to birds, shade for children, and shelter for lovers. It is the symbol of strength, enlightenment and life…every tree is the ‘Tree of Love.’ I wish everyone happy holidays.”

All are welcome to stop in and see the tree. But it’s also a great excuse to pop in for a holiday cocktail at the hotel’s glamorous Claridge’s Bar – which comes with some of the best people-watching in London.

 

Sleeping on a $40K Bed? The Villa at Estate Yountville is Napa’s Most Extravagant Splurge

Share Button
Images by Will Pryce

 

If the walls in The Villa at The Estate Yountville could talk, they’d probably be bragging. A lot. Do you have soaring 20-foot ceilings flanked by prodigious windows overlooking a private pool? What about not one, but two $40,000 Hästens beds? While the surrounding Estate, which includes the recently renovated Hotel Villagio and sister property Vintage House, goes pound for pound when it comes to style and charm, nothing quite compares to this private five-bedroom, 6,600-square-foot respite in the middle of thriving Yountville.

Utilizing Restoration Hardware furniture (amongst other brands), the design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates successfully paired touches of glam throughout – like the neon that says ‘Take me home turn me on’ – with natural woods, exposed brick, and old-world furnishings.

 

 

You might have to draw straws for the master suite, or the second largest bedroom. Both have the aforementioned Swedish Hästens beds – all hand-stitched and perfectly plush. Though all five bedrooms do have luxurious king-sized beds.

Just outside the master is the grander “salon” space with custom pool table, sitting area, stone fireplace, and spectacular kitchen. Made with culinary greatness in mind, the kitchen features an Officine Gullo refrigerator and a French La Cornue oven, as well as plenty of counter space. If cooking on vacation isn’t your idea of, well, vacation, Villa guests can request that an Estate chef design a custom menu featuring fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Or, of course, French Laundry is just steps away – as are half a dozen other acclaimed restaurants lining Yountville’s epicurean Washington Street.

 

 

Outside, away from the European appliances and 20-foot-ceilings, there’s a private pool and hot tub for Villa residents only. And if so inclined, guests can wander beyond the walls of the Villa. Within the larger Estate Yountville they’ll find 22 acres of hotel properties (including the Hotel Villagio and Vintage House), a 2-acre vineyard with seating and fire pits, and the Marketplace, a retail lifestyle shopping and dining complex housed in the former 147-year-old Groezinger Winery.

Estate Yountville also curates a variety of wining and dining experiences for its guests throughout Yountville and greater Napa.

At $10k a night, it’s the perfect way for you and your friends to spend those holiday bonuses in a most glamorous way. Now all you need to decide is exactly who to invite – and who gets that master suite.

 

The Coolest European Cities You Don’t Know, Part II

Share Button
Above: Tallinn Old Town

 

We’ve been plenty busy in 201830, museum-hopping in Paris, flirting in Rome and clubbing in the Berlin Kreuzberg underground. 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 winter, 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).

Part I took us to 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 considerable 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 Heritage, 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.

 

 

Thai Puppets, Vanishing Spies & One Very Glamorous Party: BlackBook Returns to Bangkok, Part II

Share Button

 

(Continuing on from Part I…)

 

During our visit to Thailand’s urban jewel, we must admit that we spent a great deal of time taking advantage of everything the glamorous new Waldorf Astoria had on offer. Even breakfast each morning at the upper lobby’s Brasserie presented us with a double-sided buffet: one with eggs, bagels and cheeses that were of course familiar, the other with Thai dim sum, rice, and spices that were less so…and where a dark, jellied, century egg was our chicken embryo option.

Across the lobby was the stately, light-filled, lounge/tea room Peacock Alley, where we did indeed have afternoon tea. Rising a couple of floors brought us to the magnificent 16th floor outdoor pool and spa where we spent a few hours before sunset watching a dramatic, monsoon season storm blow by, before indulging in a traditional Thai massage, which felt like doing yoga while lying down, and assisted. Naked.

 

 

Silk, and textiles in general, have played a large part in Thailand’s evolution; and inarguably no one had a greater impact on the Thai silk industry than the American businessman Jim Thompson did in the 1950s and 60s. His eye for design, and idea to employ thousands of stay at home Thai women as weavers, brought his company huge success. Adding an air of mystery to his legend, Thompson, at various times also a spy, architect, and military officer, disappeared into the Malaysian highlands in 1967 while on simply an everyday walk. His body was never found.

Before that, however, he completed his pièce de résistance in the form of a massive residence created from the bones of six old up-country Thai houses, which he used to display the impressive collection of antiques and valuables he’d collected over the decades. Our tour of his house/museum, and the surrounding Baan Krua neighborhood, where we saw small home silk factories in action, was fascinating and eye opening; and a stop at the onsite gift shop where Thompson silks were on display in abundance was a big win for us…and for the gift shop.

 

 

Back at the Waldorf, that night’s dinner was at the 56th floor restaurant Bull & Bear, a traditional, dark paneled and Deco themed bistro that specializes in the surf and turf staples of Wall Street watering holes – hence the name and eponymous recreation of the famous statue. While dining we were entertained by a floorshow performance of Hun Krabok, or Thai puppets. (Note: it’s quite possible that this was part of the opening week celebrations, so please don’t blame us if a 4-foot long wooden marionette doesn’t try to make out with your girlfriend when you’re dining there.)

One of the more unexpected, and welcome, experiences we had in Bangkok was a tour of the thoroughly modern and western influenced Creative District. We started with a delicious lunch at the Brooklyn-hip Thai Fusion restaurant The Never Ending Summer, in the Jam Factory arts complex – the neon Beatles lyric over the kitchen was the idea of Richard Branson, who happened by one day and ‘suggested’ the modification to the décor (And really, who was owner/architect Duangrit Bunnang to say “no” to Mr. Virgin?).

A short boat ride across the river had brought us to said district, and with local Foundations Director David Robinson leading us, we explored the Bang Rak, including the soon to be renovated customs house, OP Garden, the street art area, and galleries along Charoen Krung 36 Alley; we were especially digging the photography exhibit at Serindia Gallery. At creative incubator Warehouse 30 we had a glass of wine with artist P. Tendercool in his studio, where he creates custom tables and doors, and even ping-pong tables, apparently, from 100-year-old reclaimed wooden panels.

 

Jam Factory

 

 

Finally the big day, or night, had come. With invites out to all local celebs and fashionable types, and even rumor of a possible royal attendee, the opening party of the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok promised to be one of the most talked about events in recent memory. And it didn’t disappoint. Models in dresses of flowers – not just floral patterns – more black ties than the Oscars, and every bar and restaurant in the hotel lavishing delights on those worthy enough to have been on the guest list – we felt a tinge of importance – the event certainly made its point in declaring the ‘hotel’ (more like a #lifestylegoal) the most enviable new destination on Thai soil. A modern Grand Palace, if you will.

Following hours of excess that would make the forthcoming wake up call a difficult situation, we retired to our sumptuous suite for the last time.

Our early flight the next day required a reality reset; did we really have to leave? We were already missing the jovial banter we had with the head bartender at the glamorously decadent Loft bar the night before…and even the concierge seemed genuinely sad to see us go. The drive to the airport in the black Mercedes was a subdued affair, but we weren’t totally out of Waldorf hands yet: a suited handler with a WA pin met us curbside and escorted us to security where we finally bid adieu to the exhilarating Thai capital.

 

 

 

Weekend in Yountville: Could Wine Culture be Getting Fun and Flamboyant?

Share Button
Del Dotto Estate

 

A friend and trained sommelier scoffed when we told her we were heading up to a wine and food extravaganza in Yountville, Napa,

“But you don’t know shit about wine,” she said.

That’s, um, not entirely true – though we’re far from a connoisseurs. As luck would have it, we didn’t need to know much of anything about wine in order to fall madly in love with Napa and its storied viticultural charms. Not to mention, the once “insidery” attitude of the higher reaches of the wine world is rapidly becoming…passé.

Part of that seems due to the overwhelming variety of vineyards and vintners, increasingly aware of their own brands; standing out seems imperative to survival. But what was also visibly evident from the moment we arrived in the Bay Area: times – as in the climate – are-a-definitely-changing.

The fires were still blazing not far from where we were, though the harvest was blessedly spared this year. A place this beautiful, that relies almost entirely on agriculture for its livelihood, has to reckon with the cruel realities of nature. Now is surely the time to get creative, and part of that is welcoming a new set of revelers.

 

JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset

 

Yountville wants to be “more accessible” – and so does wine culture in general, according to the people working in Napa’s illustrious wine industry. There’s the breathtaking landscape, a history of farming and agriculture, new restaurants and famed older ones (like French Laundry) – and also several stylish hotels to accommodate the perpetual influx of newbie weekenders. To wit, the new Hotel Villagio, of the larger Estate Yountville (they also own Vintage House) decidedly injects a fresh hipness into the area’s hospitality scene.

Also on those same grounds – all walkable – guests can stumble into Michael Chiarello‘s Bottega, Platform 8, or Ottimo restaurants. Just up the road, drink and dine under lavish chandeliers and a fire-pit-studded patio at Restoration Hardware’s new restaurant concept, unfussily titled RH. (Restoration Hardware also furnished all of Estate Yountville’s hotel properties.)

But back to the reason we all came…the wine. If you come to Napa you can’t escape it, nor should you try. Here we highlight four winery tasting rooms that are genuinely doing it differently.

(Bonus: Estate Yountville and its umbrella properties all organize epicurean tasting tours, and can put together a day of wine drinking for you and yours, with exclusive rates for guests.)

 

Hill Family Estate

Fifth generation California farmers, the Hill Family maintains over 600 acres of vineyards across Napa Valley. They supply grapes for big name winemakers like Stags Leap, Mondavi and Cakebread – but it was their own label that captivated us most. After one of our tasting guides successfully sabered a bottle of sparkling rosé amidst a burnt-orange sunset in the Hotel Villagio’s vineyard (all true), we stepped into the cozy lobby for a sampling. The Sauvignon Blanc, crispy with hints of oak, and the “Like a Hawk” Cab-Syrah blend were table favorites. Hill Family Estate does all their dealings direct to consumer, so you won’t find them in a local wine shop; but their wine club makes it much easier. Membership includes three bottles of their choosing four times per year, and the option to add in more of your own picks.

 

 

 

JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset

Just a little further up the road from Hotel Villagio, Boisset’s shop and private tasting room takes wine flare to new heights. It’s like Game of Thrones meets Vegas. One half of a wine empire (he’s married to Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery, California’s largest exporter of wines), Boisset is undoubtedly the emperor. His uniform of pink socks, drapey scarves, and velvet smoking jackets match the ornate tasting room – decked in gold-framed mirrors and glimmering cases of rosé bottles. He also owns Atelier Foods next door, a fine foods grocer that offers a wide selection gourmet picnic fare.
All of Boisset’s wines are categorized by number, which represent something autobiographical. The No. 1 and No. 10, both Cabernets, are indicative of being Number One and a Perfect 10. As a Frenchman from Bordeaux in Napa making a 100% Cab in Cab country, Boisset wouldn’t settle for anything less.

 

 

 

Silver Trident

The cozy living-room-feel of Silver Trident’s tasting room owes its aesthetic charms to Ralph Lauren, who furnished the entire space. If you’re in need of a silver serving tray or crystal scotch decanter, both have a price tag on them. You’ll also need to purchase your wine here (or give them a call)- like Hill Family, Silver Trident prides itself on its smaller-run, direct to consumer approach. The winery was co-founded by Bob Binder, founder of Oceania Cruises, and Walter Jost, hence the name Silver Trident. We were particularly fond of the Apollo’s Folly Rosé and Pinot Noir, playfully titled the “Benevolent Dictator.” The Pinot, we discovered, is made the old-fashioned way: winemaker Kari Auringer stomps the grapes herself before sending them to fermentation.

 

 

Del Dotto Estate Winery & Caves

By far the most ostentatious and aristocratic feeling of the four, Del Dotto’s tasting room is located on the vineyard, a sprawling and gorgeous retreat just off St. Helena Highway. They do things like using French oak barrels just once before discarding – or selling. “French oak is where our palates are at,” our guide told us. They even have a Carrara marble barrel that cost upwards of $10,000 to make…for what reason, nobody’s really sure. The wine, the views, the pairing menu all feel similarly decadent, in the best possible way, of course.

 

Dali, Hogfish and a Century-Old Grand Hotel: Three Days on FLA’s Glorious Gulf Coast

Share Button
The Dali Museum

 

Winter weather makes everything harder, especially in New York where, even at the best of times, the simple act of getting around town just isn’t that simple. Add freezing temps, slippery subway stairs, and some of the grumpiest people in existence, and the world becomes a Sisyphean nightmare. So the chance for an escape to Florida’s sunny Gulf Coast was not just welcome, but imperative.

Simplicity in all forms abounded throughout our quick three-day getaway, except, ironically, when it came to pronouncing the name of the town in which we were staying. First settled by Scottish explorers in the 1850s, Dunedin is a dialectical interpretation of their beloved Edinburgh. So, just for the record, it’s…Doo-Need-in.

 

The Fenway Hotel

 

Our home base was the Fenway Hotel. Originally built in the 1920s, its storied history includes time as a radio station and a school; but for the last decade or so it sat dormant, a grand dame in quiet disrepair. A few years ago, it was snapped up by the Taoist Tai Chi Society of the USA, who hoped to turn it into their headquarters. But that idea proved too ambitious; so a partnership with a major developer resulted in the subsequent relaunch of the hotel…and it’s quite the attention grabber. Surrounded by palm trees and lush greenery and overlooking the Gulf, the Fenway is a decidedly grandiose presence.

Our arrival coincided with one of most important times of the day in Western Florida: sunset! And the Fenway boasts the perfect viewing platform in its Hi-Fi Rooftop Bar, where we sampled signature Mai-Tai’s and did indeed mark the fiery star’s descent into the waves, before heading downstairs for dinner at the hotel’s HEW Parlor & Chophouse. The light and airy space features an open kitchen with a 22 seat ‘chef’s bar’ in front, where we indulged in locally inspired signature dishes including crab soup, and seared scallops with barbecued pork belly and parsnip & apple salad.

 

Hew Parlor & Chophouse

 

The following day we headed out to explore Dunedin, and the neighboring Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands. One of the more practical and scenic attractions of the area is the 40-mile long Pinellas Trail, a fastidious walking and biking path which we took up-and-down the coast on surprisingly fun electric bikes, courtesy of Pedego. We can’t overestimate the sheer joy we experienced when hitting the throttle, which would rev the bikes up to 20 mph. (OK, not quite the same as our vintage Triumph).

After parking the bikes we took a short ferry ride, during which we were followed by an inquisitive dolphin, to Caladesi Island State Park – we were lucky enough to have it almost entirely to ourselves. Its miles of pristine sand and shallow sandbars meant we could walk hundreds of yards out to sea without messing up our hair for out next Instagram post. Taking a break from the beach, we rented a kayak for a mesmerizing paddle through the neighboring mangroves. Across the sound was Honeymoon Island, whose lush vegetation we biked through, all the while on the lookout for some of the numerous species of birds of prey that call the place home. Seeing a swooping kestrel with lunch in its talons was a fascinatingly gruesome highlight.

 

Caladesi Island

 

Later that day we found ourselves bar-and-restaurant hopping in the vicinity of Dunedin’s Main Street. After lunch at Hog Island Fish Camp, where we did in fact sample fried hogfish (land bound hog was also on the menu), we strolled the picturesque streets of Dunedin, stopping to quaff a few handcrafted specialties at Dunedin Brewery, as well as the quaint, dog friendly 7venth Sun Brewing, and Woodwright Brewing, which is also part wood shop, minus the hipstery pretensions.

That evening’s dinner was at the enormous and wildly entertaininCasa Tina, whose authentic take on traditional Mexican cuisine was in danger of being overshadowed by its Aztec décor, and its floor shows of hula hoop twirling acrobats…but not quite. The dearth of great Mexican in NYC means that we know the real deal (sublime chiles en nogada, and arroz cabezon) when we taste it.

After a long day of exploring, the Fenway’s smart and cozy rooms were a delight to come back to.

 

Casa Tina

 

A trip to neighboring St. Pete was on the agenda for day three. An easy 45-minute drive south of Dunedin, it’s the area’s cosmopolitan city – although at a third of the size of San Francisco, still very much like a town.

After breakfast at the waterfront farmers market we explored the hallucinatory Dali Museum, which houses the largest collection of the surrealist master’s work outside of his native Spain, and left us with a much deeper appreciation of his genius; indeed, it’s not all about the melting clocks. Lunch was at FarmTable Cucina, inside the fabulous gourmet food hall Locale Market, which bills itself as a curated grocery market experience. FarmTable’s family-style Italian menu also included a delectable signature burger of 30-day dry aged beef, and a Florida grouper BLT.

In the merciless Florida sun, we clung to the shady side of the street while on a tour of local street art, which, in part due to a beautification initiative to transform the once gritty streets, is plentiful in St Pete. Local artist Derek Donnelly led us down alleyways while pointing out some of the city’s more influential murals, including a few of his own.

 

The Dali Museum

 

Continuing our downtown explorations, we strolled St. Pete’s Central Avenue of hipness, stopping to browse through the vinyl racks at 30 year old music mecca Daddy Kool, and the paperback racks at Florida’s largest bookstore, Haslams, before motoring west for a pint at the amazing bar-cum-canine-park Dog Bar, which is indeed a mashup of both. Gives a whole new meaning to “hair of the dog.”

Back at the Fenway we dressed for dinner and set off across the peninsula to quaint the Safety Harbor, on the Tampa Bay side, for our final repast. At Pizzeria Gregario we met with owner Greg Seymour, who fascinated us with an explanation of the process he uses to create the amazing biodynamic sourdough, wood-fired pizzas they specialize in – with the bottom line being you don’t feel like a stuffed hog after eating one. They are sublime.

We were up early the next day for a walk along the beach and simple breakfast at the Fenway, before heading back on the easiest of Delta flights to LGA, where we immediately missed the laid back attitude we’d just spent three days cultivating.

 

Dunedin Marina

 

 

The Luxury & The Majesty: Le Château Frontenac Turns 125

Share Button

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 125th…and many more.

 

Above images: Champlain; 1608 Wine Bar