Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Website Address

Hewhotravels has now moved to

This website will no longer be updated. Thanks!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring Cleaning - Food Porn

Found under my bed, a stash of food pornography circa 2001. Issue 1, No. 1 of Gastronomica plus a few other issues from the 2000's. Things like Gastronomica are why Kindle and iPad will never replace print publications: there is something kinesthetically-satisfying about lifting the printed page. Take in Lya Lys caught in a sensuous frame from Luis Buñuel's L'Age D'Or on the cover. Learn how Ferran Adrià makes soup. Where else can you read about Sicilian cheese in medieval Arab recipes along with a page from the original 14th century cookbook?

I'm not sure when I stopped getting Gastronomica. But I have to restart my subscription!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Heston Blumenthal - Black Forest Cake

Planet Green has just started airing episodes of In Search of Perfection, a BBC television series from 2006 that features Heston Blumenthal's search for perfection in various forms of food. Really wonderfully-produced series, and you get the definite sense of the creativity that drives the chef. I'm surprised by his pejorative description of "molecular gastronomy" which he disavows any connection with, "I take a different approach to food. People have called it molecular gastronomy, but I disagree. I just like to think its good old fashioned cookery, but with a bit of science thrown in for good measure."

This week, Heston tackles the formidable Black Forrest Gateau. Of course, this requires a requisite trip to the Black Forrest to sample an authentic cake from its source, after which he reflects, "It might be one of the most difficult things I've ever tried to do, thinking about it!"

The secret: it's all about the Kirsch!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Orson @ SF

Another wonderful lab lunch on the sun-soaked terrace of Madera restaurant at the Rosewood hotel in Menlo park! During lunch, my research assistant Abby mentioned that she recently had dinner at Orson, Elizabeth Falkner's new place in San Francisco. Definitely added to my "must try" list. Predictably, the desserts were not good. Abby actually didn't finish hers, "dry" is what she called it. I've never been a fan of Falkner's desserts at Citizen cake, the cakes and pastries are definitely dry, at least all three times I've been there to try them. However, I've always enjoyed her cooking, which is ironic because she is best known for her pastry work.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Per Se @ NYC

The remarkable thing about Per Se, is not that it exists in what is essentially a giant shopping mall. The remarkable thing is that you are taken back to Yountville, for a moment, as you gaze at Central Park amid the craziness that is New York.

The Salmon Cornet is what tugs at the taste-memory. I still remember because I managed to drop mine on the table in Yountville on my first visit to French Laundry in 2002. The rest of my table of eight waited anxiously while the waiter rushed to the kitchen to get me another. Yum.

Things went considerably more smoothly this meal. After a weekend of heavy meals, and expensive ones (I had dined at Masa the previous night), I was having second thoughts about making it to my Per Se reservation. Staying at the Mandarin Oriental helped. I hopped out of bed and into the dining room within minutes.

The highlights of the meal were the Romaine Lettuce Veloute, the Atlantic Fluke, and the Truffle Custard: pure clean flavors with twist, whether it be delicate cubes of Meyer Lemon flesh unexpectedly at the bottom of the bowl of veloute, the cold white flesh of the Atlantic Fluke against cold avacado ice cream, or the single chive leaf laminated between two paper-thin potato sheaths tucked upright into a rich and unctous Truffle Custard.

The best part of the meal was the end. I was given a tour of Per Se's massive kitchen, which is actually three or four kitchens. They have a main kitchen that has the garde-manger, hot lines, etc. However, they also have an equally-large back kitchen for prep work, a fully-staffed 24-hour bakery, a pastry kitchen, and even a chocolate room where they make all their own molded chocolates.

As a final reminder of Per Se's connection to French Laundry, I was shown a large plasma television mounted to the wall in front of the Chef, conveying a live video feed of the French Laundry kitchens back at Yountville. Now if they would only patch that through to the Food Network: imagine what you could learn!

Salmon cornets
Romain Lettuce "Veloute" - Hakurei Turnips and Meyer Lemon
"Oysters and Pearls" - "Sabayon" of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar.
Tartare of Atlantic Fluke - Hass Avacado, Pickled Jalapeño and Petite Cilantro with Lime Coulis

White Truffle Oil-Infused Custard - "Ragoût" of Black Winter Truffles
"Pressé" of 24 Carrot Farm's Rabbit "En Persillade" - "Ragoût" of Rancho Gordo Pole Beans, Pickled Garlic and Celery Branch Salad with Horseradish Jus
Crazy selection of salts available for tasting.
Two types of butter.

Main Diver Se Scallop - "Fondue de Ris de Veau, "Braised Swiss Chard, Granny Smith Apples and Black Winter Truffles

Elysian Fields Farm's "Côte D'Agneau" - Wilted Arrowleaf Spinach, Hadley Orchards' Medjool Date Purée and Greenmarket Carrots with Madras Curry Emulsion
Coffee and Doughnuts - Cinnamon-Sugard Doughnuts with Cappuccino "Semifreddo"
"Mont Blanc" - Chesnut "Génois," Swiss Meringue, Chocolate-Juniper "Crémeux," Rum Parfai and "Marron Glacé with Chocolate Ice Cream
The most delicious Pot de Creme, ever!
Small sampling of house-made chocolates chosen from an enormous tray.
More housemade candies.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Eleven Madison Park @ NYC

Dinner at Eleven Madison Park started with Gougères and a glass of Rosé champagne.
Amouse bouche.
Trying too hard here. Spherified salmon with caviar. Why would you do this to perfectly good salmon. The spherification adds nothing. I bet they had to extract out (or emulsify) some of the fat so that it would spherify correctly--fat has the flavor here!
Everglades Frogs’ Legs
Sautéed with Parsley and Porcini Custard
Foie Gras
Terrine with Golden Pineapple, Pickled Pearl Onions and Rum Raisin Brioche

This was a disappointment.
Scottish Langoustine
Poached with Cauliflower, Toasted Almonds and Raisins

Milk Fed Veal
Braised Cheeks with Celery Root and Black Truffles

“Soda Pop”
Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pomelo and Lemon

Milk & Chocolate
Variations of Flavor and Texture

Friday, March 05, 2010

Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués - Opening Review

Please click here to view the video review.


Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués is an intimate luxury pool-villa resort built on the cliffs overlooking Acapulco, Mexico.


The resort has architecturally Asian themes that are typical of Banyan Tree resorts, such as the Asian-style pavilion design. As in Mayakoba (Banyan Tree’s other resort in Playa del Carmen) they have incorporated traditional Mexican elements in the handiwork and crafts displayed in the public areas.


We were picked up at the airport by a private car we arranged with the resort. The airport itself is very small and easy to navigate. Our luggage was taken quickly and we were whisked away in a very comfortable Escalade, with cold towels and water available.

I have not been to Acapulco before, perhaps because I associate the locale more with cruise ships rather than a luxury resort destination. The geography of the area is interesting to me. As we descended into Acapulco, I could see vast stretches of sandy beaches. However, the area we entered as we approached the hotel resembled in many ways what I imagine the Amalfi coast might have looked like if it hadn’t been developed until modern times and had palm trees. The resort is literally built on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. At night, the coast twinkles with lights in the way Positano looks at dusk. It really is a captivating setting.


The lobby area is smaller than Mayakoba, but appropriately reflects the scale of a resort with only 45 villas. Where Mayakoba feels grand, Cabo Marqués feels exclusive and unique. The first “wow” moment you encounter is the blue horizon of the ocean peaking through the lobby and pulling you toward the welcome pavilion with its endless views of the Pacific Ocean. Here, we were offered a welcome drink called tuba, which is a type of fermented beverage made from palm juices.


The resort’s public areas include a welcome/reception area and pavillion, the Visitas bar on the top level and La Nao restaurant on the lower level of the main building. La Nao spills outside to a terrace and ends where the pool area begins. There is a large infinity pool that provides dramatic views of the cliff-side villas and the Pacific Ocean.

In an adjacent pavilion there is also a Thai restaurant, Saffron, that will open soon. The chef flew in from Thailand a few days ago. There is also a fitness center and spa pavillion. I did not have an opportunity to visit the spa. We had a spa pavilion in our villa where we could receive treatments instead. At the far end of the resort is Las Rochas, an ocean-front restaurant built overlooking the dramatic rock formations that occur at the base of the resort. They are in the process of building a small sand beach for guests who wish to enjoy some sun and sand at ocean-level. The beach area is adjacent to a very rocky area and so will not be suitable for swimming in the ocean.

Getting around the resort involves negotiating narrow roads built into the hillside on a golf cart. Guest can walk the paths as well, but due to the very steep nature of some of the hills, I would recommend calling for a cart to take you any distance more than a few hundred yards. Las Rochas was certainly walkable from our villa, but we would not have dared to walk to La Nao in the main Pavilion from our villa–that would have been too much exertion for our leisurely stay.

Spa Pool Villa

There are five spa pool villas on property. They can be recognized by their three pavilion roofs: one for the main villa, one for the pool cabana, and one for the spa pavilion that provides two massage tables and equipment to perform spa service in your villa. There is an extra bathroom and shower in the spa pavilion.

Each villa is slightly different given the diverse terrain in this hillside resort. The villas are definitely smaller than those at Mayakoba, and there is a good reason: they are built on stilts! Because the villas are built into the hillside, you really do have unparalleled views of the coast and ocean.

We entered our villa by taking three flights of stone stairs down to the villa itself. In the middle is a heated infinity pool (heated to almost hot-tub temperatures, definitely comfortably warm at all times!). The spa pool villas in Mayakoba have hot-tubs, but the pools themselves are unheated. I did much prefer the heated pools here in Cabo Marqués. They are fantastic!

The infinity pool has an adjacent wooden deck that supports two outside sofa/daybeds for lounging as well as a dining table to take meals al fresco. And, you will definitely want to take your meals outside by the pool. Having breakfast everyday while watching the sunrise is simply a must!

The Spa pavillion has a separate bathroom and two massage tables that enjoy dramatic ocean iews.

The main villa itself opens to dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean and the Acapulco coast. Above the bed is a central vaulted ceiling that has accent lighting at night. There is a work desk that was surprisingly well stocked with a plethora of stationary supplies that I certainly appreciated (I always do a little work while I’m away, even here in Acapulco!). Even though this is definitely a leisure resort, I really did appreciate the free wifi and convenient power outlet access throughout the villa for my laptop. Sitting in bed, looking at the ocean views, hearing the ocean hit the shore while surfing Flyertalk–what could be better?

The villa has an iHome iphone/ipod music player and flat panel television (that we never used). There were three telephones in the room: a wireless model at the desk, one at the bedside and another in the commode. The bed itself is very comfortable, and the pillows and bedding are very high quality.

The bathroom was well-stocked with an amenity kit that contained dental and shaving kits, mouthwash, nail kit, sewing kit and lotion. Noticeably absent from the bathroom were Q-tips and cotton balls. Four robes are provided, two heavy bathrobes, and two lighter evening robes.

The shower itself is a rainshower type, with very hot water at good pressure.

The bathtub filled very quickly and was very nice to enjoy in the evenings looking out at the ocean. Unfortunately, the shower did not have a steam function as is found in Mayakoba.

The commode was adequate. I will comment that there is considerable noise that is made with each flush.

Each villa has a daybed with ocean views. The windows can be opened to let in the ocean breezes, however we opted to enjoy the cooler air-conditioned air during our stay.

Food & Beverage

I was nervous about the F&B at BT–CM, mainly because I’m a picky eater. Driving through the Cabo Marqués complex (like Mayakoba, the Cabo Marqués development is a secured residential complex), I didn’t see any obvious luxury dining options. And, I wasn’t a big fan of the spa cuisine offered at Tamarind when Banyan Tree Mayakoba first opened. Was I going to starve? Luckily, I enjoyed some really wonderful meals! I was very pleasantly surprised.

La Nao Lunch and Dinner

The La Nao restaurant is named after the large trading vessels that took supplies from Mexico back to the Orient. I was surprised to learn that there is a long history of links between Mexico and Asia from the 1500’s when Spanish Galleons would sail from the Philippines and the Chinese mainland to bring back spices and other goods.

The cuisine at La Nao definitely respects the local culture and has a wide offering of Mexican dishes, sometimes with an Asian twist. There were some standout dishes, including the soft shell crab tacos, the duck confit tostadas, and the mole tamales. Seafood also seems to be a specialty of the region, owing to its costal location. We enjoyed fresh fish dishes each evening, the salmon, seabass and scallop ceviche were all quite excellent. I did have a tuna dish that I didn’t quite like, mainly because I had tuna the previous night before coming the Banyan Tree and I think my palate wanted something different. The fish itself seemed properly cooked.

The dessert selections were about average, what you might expect from resort cuisine. I’m very picky about sweets though, I really could have been a pastry chef in a former life. The crème brulé and crepes Suzette were all quite serviceable. But, desserts at Twist, this was not!

My overall impression of La Nao is that the menu is pretty good, with some excellent dishes. Even though Saffron and Las Rochas were not open, La Nao managed to provide me with three days-worth of meals and I was not bored at all!

In-villa Dining

In-villa dining will be quite important during a stay at Cabo Marqués. You really won’t want to leave your villa for the first few days at least. I didn’t want to get dressed and go up for dinner one evening and we elected to have in-villa dining bring us our dinner. We wanted some healthy American food, so we opted for hamburgers and pizza! Yes, very healthy (and tasty) indeed! The thin-crust pizza came with Mexican sausage, and the hamburger came with a very unique Oxacan cheese. Yummy!

Breakfasts are wonderful to take in villa and I highly suggest that you do as many times as you can. The experience of taking a beautiful plate of fresh fruit, pancakes, and Muesli while gazing at the beautiful ocean in the morning sun was breathtaking.

Our final night we enjoyed the in-villa barbeque. I had enjoyed the experience at Banyan Tree Mayakoba and was eager to repeat the experience here. The staff brought a grill down the stone stairs into our villa where they set a beautiful table by the pool and lit the coals until they glowed red. A red snapper was presented, which was then grilled while we enjoyed our salads. They found squash blossoms and added them to a beautiful asparagus and fennel salad. A very unique watermelon salad was presented sashimi style, cut into bite-sized blocks and garnished on four sides with black sesame seeds. A play on seared tuna salad, I’m sure. Very fun, and delicious.

The grilled snapper was served with a variety of salsa garnishes, hand-made tortillas and a selection of grilled vegetables. This was followed by grilled pork chops that were marinated in a red chili sauce that was flavorful and mild.

A simple selection of Mexican-style petit fours was served on a three-tiered platter, including peanut brittle, marzipans and a local coconut macaroon like confection. A selection of tropical fruits completed the meal.

Service Assessment

I was here on a pre-opening stay, so there were some areas of the resort still undergoing finishing touches. Overall, I found the service generally to be excellent, but this might also be due the fact that there are very few guests at the resort right now and what happens when the resort opens to higher capacity may not reflect my experiences. Therefore, please understand that my comments about service reflect the fact that the resort isn’t running at 100% capacity yet.

About eight of the staff at Cabo Marqués came from Mayakoba, while the rest are ostensibly new hires. I was very much impressed by the level of service during my entire stay. Pancho Llamas, the GM from Mayakoba and David Cayela, the GM of Cabo Marqués were both very present on property my entire stay and they both made me feel extremely welcomed. Indeed, there is very much a sense of pride from all the staff in the opening of this resort, and we received personalized welcomes and greetings from the F&B director, front-house manager and La Nao restaurant manager and chef during our stay. The chef came to our table several times during our stay to ask how we enjoyed the cuisine.

At the same time, privacy and discretion seem to be very apparent as well. At the pool, my cabana was set up within moments and then the pool attendant disappeared allowing me to enjoy the infinity pool in seclusion. Yet, the moment I stepped out of the pool, he was back to wrap me in a huge beach towel.

Housekeeping was also functioning at a very high level. Clothes were folded and placed neatly away. Shoes were put away in the closet. The chambermaid took the time and effort to lay down small towels next to each sink, where our toothbrushes, combs and other accessories were very neatly organized. Turndown service, in Banyan Tree tradition, included fresh flowers and a small gift. Toilet paper was even folded every service and turndown (a pet peeve of mine that shows attention to detail, and a first in a long line of recent stays that included Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas and Crosby Street hotel).

I was greeted by name by the telephone receptionist and staff throughout the resort–even staff I had never previously met such as other buggy drivers we passed on the road while we were being driven around the resort. I was repeatedly asked (in an unobtrusive manner) how I liked my stay and if there was anything additional they could provide for my enjoyment.

One example of a thoughtful extra by the staff was a digital photo they took of us at our in-villa barbeque our last night. At checkout, we were presented with a framed photo of the occasion and a card on the back signed by the F&B director and her staff. A tangible memory of a special night!

The only significant critique of my entire stay at the resort is that some of the waiters need to acquire better English skills, especially to help answer guests’ questions about he menu. We accidentally ordered a vegetarian dish that we did not want, because we misunderstood the conversation. However, this is a problem that should be addressable with further training.

Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués is dedicating the month of March to a pre-opening phase where their staff can practice and perfect their service on other employees and invited guests. As I was one of the first guests to arrive at the resort, I can tell you that a month of further practice should perfect what is already excellent service. The question shall be if they can maintain that level of service in the face of higher occupancy levels. If Mayakoba is any indicator, I feel strongly that the answer will be yes. Banyan Tree Cabo Marqués is an exciting new resort that will appeal to couples seeking a private, romantic tropical getaway in a breathtaking coastal setting. For me, there is now a compelling reason to go to Acapulco.

  1. Intimate coastal landscape;
  2. Privacy inherent in an intimate pool-villa setting;
  3. Gorgeous ocean views that do not end;
  4. F&B excellent, especially Mexican dishes (soft shell crab tacos and the tamales are a must);
  5. Overall excellent, personalized service with an attention to detail;
  6. Heated in-villa pools
  1. Golf carts are needed to transfer from Villas to main areas of the resort owing to the steep Cliffside nature of the resort.
  2. I do not think this resort would be suitable for families (unless the Presidential villa is taken)–this resort seems ideally suited for couples.
  3. Villas are notably smaller than those at Mayakoba, and they are all single-pavillion except for Spa Pool villas that have a spa pavilion.
  4. Small beach that isn’t suitable for swimming. This isn’t at all a concern for me. However, those seeking to open their front door and plant both feet firmly in sand will do well to look elsewhere. That said, the resort is working on arrangements to provide private beach service for guests at a neighboring property.
  5. Fewer nearby cultural activities or excursions compared to Playa del Carmen. This may be relevant for longer stays where guests may consider excursions off property. My understanding is that the resort is in the process of developing daytrip excursions to nearby cultural sites.
About Me (Because people ask)
I’m a regular person. I’m a professional in my thirties who enjoys luxury travel. I do not work in the hotel or hospitality industries. I write reviews for my own enjoyment. The resorts and hotels I review don’t know that I have a blog or that I write reviews. I don’t get paid by hotels or resorts to write reviews. If I occasionally receive upgrades or invitations to resort openings it is because of my relationships with managers or GMs who know me as a regular person and valued guest at their properties. My photos aren’t altered or manipulated and I make my own videos. If they look good, it’s because I use a Mac—not because I’m any sort of professional PR person! I do not have a background in advertising or photography. The music I use in my videos is all by Kevin Macleod.

Happy luxury travels in 2010!