Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Amore Patisserie @ MO LV, Las Vegas

The last time I was at the MO LV in January, I bought several pastries for A. who just gave birth to a beautiful baby girl (congrats A.!). When I returned today, I found these cupcakes, this one happens to be vanilla. The Red Velvet cupcake was not photographed because it was eaten too quickly. But it is authentically made with vinegar and cocoa powder. Astonishingly, the clerk not only remembered me, but remembered what I had ordered and who it was for. The service at the MO LV is truly amazing. Where do they find these people?

I do recommend you stop by Amore. Make sure to try their gelato: chocolate strawberry is highly recommended.

I'll have tap water please...

Watch the Blue Gold documentary about the water wars. This is why I always ask for tap water at any restaurant in the United States (Obviously in other places I travel, such as Mexico, it simply is not an option). Don't be evil--don't drink bottled water unless you must.

At the same time, the documentary provides some fascinating evidence about the dangers of "virtual" water exports through the global agriculture trade. Support sustainable agriculture, buy local, and don't build a house where you can't drill a well (did you hear this, Las Vegas?).

Learn more at the Blue Gold website.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Twist @ MO LV - Second Visit

My second visit to Twist was much more approachable than the tasting menu I enjoyed on my first visit--which I thoroughly enjoyed--but may be too adventurous for some eaters. For those eaters who are afraid of excessive innovation, I suggest the a la carte menu, for which there are excellent choices that should please everyone at the table.

Tuna Chantilly and Japanese rice cracker amuse bouche.
Bread is baked by Bon Breads Baking Company in Las Vegas.
The Scallops starter entree.

The fillet entree ordered a la carte from the tasting menu.

Gaignaire's pomme puree, not as rich as Robuchon's--which means you can eat more than a spoonful. Yum.
Fillet carpaccio stuffed with foie gras, on top of a beef Bolognese.
The fillet, perfectly cooked.
My waiter brought this dessert for me because I raved about it from the last tasting menu, even though I didn't order it. Yum!
The red ring dessert, almond on puff pastry and cream.
Bathroom break. Wow!
Meringues and cookies.

Lunch at Olives, Bellagio, Las Vegas

I was trying to keep it light for lunch in anticipation of my dinner at Twist tonight. Todd English's Olives was the perfect choice. It has gotten mixed reviews in the past, but the location is perfect and I was feeling adventurous. I found that despite previous reviews of poor service, my server was excellent and the views of Lake Bellagio are wonderful. Definitely sit outside if you can.

I opted to start with the Beef carpaccio, which was surprisingly gigantically proportioned. The presentation could definitely scare a vegetarian, but don't let that scare you. The huge mound in the middle is a wonderfully-dressed salad with perfectly acid dressing to accompany the unctuous beef. There is tangy earthy cheese that adds complexity to the flavors. And, when you think you have dug through the dish, a square of perfectly pan-seared polenta reveals itself.

The perfect bite.
The shrimp scampi polenta was also very flavorful, and the garlic chips weren't at all bitter.

A great lunch, and value at $45.00.

Mugaritz Burns

Darn. Mugaritz, Andoni Luis Aduriz's two Michelin-starred Basque-country restaurant has suffered a massive kitchen fire and closed. "The construction begins from the foundations," their website says.

Luckily, nobody was hurt. There is a relief fund for the stagieres' who lost their knives in the fire.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Carne Vino @ Palazzo, Las Vegas

The house-made Pastrami is really excellent, especially when the yolk of the egg is broken and mixes with the meat juices to create an unctuous sauce with the butter lettuce. Yum!

The sweetbreads are not to be missed! Served on a bed of pureed parsnips and accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and a microgreen salad. Perhaps a little more acid on the salad or some citrus could help break through the richness of the deep-fried sweetbreads. I would have also loved a generous portion of shaved fennel. But this dish is about as close to Offal for the Masses as you can get: even Auntie Minnie from Kansas will love them--just don't tell her what they are!

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas Dynasty Suite

Here's a look at the Dynasty Suite at the MO LV, my new favorite hotel in Las Vegas. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Crosby Street Hotel Review (with Video!)

(Click here to view video)

Crosby Street Hotel NYC Review (with Video!)

The Crosby Street Hotel (CSH) is located in New York’s SOHO area, within convenient walking distance to prime shopping areas and the Prince Street and Spring Street subway lines. It opened a little over four months ago, and was one of only sixteen properties in the world to receive one of Andrew Harper’s 2010 Grand Awards.

Kit Kemp, is the owner (along with her husband Tim) of the Firmdale group of hotels, which are notable for their London properties, including the regarded Covent Garden and Charlotte Street Hotels. Kit is also the design director of the hotel, and has a unique contemporary English style. She was named the Andrew Martin International Designer of the year in 2008. The Crosby Street Hotel is Firmdale’s first US property.

The hotel is new construction, having been built on the site of a former parking lot. It is 12 stories tall, and has 86 rooms (two more than the Mercer). It has a fitness center and private screening theater. It does not have a pool.

I arrived in the late afternoon by town car and was assisted immediately with my luggage. I was escorted to the front desk where I had to wait several minutes for service. I was helped by Jenny, who was very friendly and efficient. She is from the Charlotte Street property in London. Jenny provided me with vouchers for two complimentary cocktails or glasses of champagne at the Crosby bar and informed me that I had been upgraded one room category to a Deluxe room on the 8th floor of this 12 floor hotel.

The lobby of the CSH is intimate and curated by Kit Kemp with an elegant and contemporary collection of artworks. The collection is eclectic with a modern steel sculpture of a human head made of letters of the alphabet by Jaume Plensa matched along side a paper lamp shaped like a dog. Kit must be a dog lover because dog portraits fill the public spaces, along side Warhol-esque portraits of the Queen.

Deluxe Room (350 square feet)
New York hotel rooms are small. I except that. CSH is no exception. My deluxe room was 350 square feet, but felt much larger due to the floor to ceiling windows that dramatically amplify the space. The room itself is well planned and functioned well during my two night stay.

Kit Kemp has said in interviews that she doesn’t work with a formula and that her work seeks to have a sense of quirkiness and fun. I have to admit I was a bit worried by photographs of the furnishings on the hotel’s website that portray the rooms with almost gaudy fluorescent colors. I have to say I was relieved to find the colors in real life are very pleasant and elegant. The furnishings are of exceedingly high quality and they do indeed provide a sense of surprise. A nightlight the shape of a dressmaker’s form must be Kitt’s homage to the fashionable shops that make SOHO their home.

The bathroom is very small, but well appointed. Fixtures are by the English firm Lefroy Brooks. I’ve never seen so much nickel and chrome polished to perfection. The shower is brisk if not brutally strong and instantly hot. The towel warmer keeps the bathroom comfortably toasty at all times. Amenities are house-branded Miller Harris.

Bathroom Amenities
Shower Gel
Hair Conditioner
Soap bar (two)
Lotion (two)
Hair Dryer
Bathrobes (two)

Work desk
The work desk is very small, but adequate for a laptop computer. I give a big plus for the bedside electrical outlets for iPhone/laptop chargers. I’m glad to see hotel designers incorporating these intelligent and thoughtful practical matters into their designs.

Turndown Service
Turndown service is rather basic, no mood music or mood video program is available or played. Toilet cover left up and TP was not foiled or folded.

Turndown Amenities
Voss 330 mL bottle of still water and glass at Bedside
10 ml bottle of Sleep Well aromatherapy spray

Service in General
The service in general was good, but not excellent. I attribute this to their new staff, but that may be generous on my part. The members of staff I encountered were previously from the Mercer and Mandarin Oriental hotels in NYC or one of Firmdale’s properties in London—ostensibly well trained. I will note Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas has achieved World-class service levels in a shorter period of time, so this is an area where Firmdale should strive to improve.

While the staff were very friendly, guest recognition by greeting was conspicuously absent. Nobody seemed to have bothered to remember me or my name. And I do love being greeted by name. Telephone service calls were also answered without greeting me by name, and several times they got my room number wrong (ostensibly hotels have telephone systems that track this sort of information when a guest rings).

There seems to be only one doorman most of the time. This often results in one opening the very heavy air-locked door by one’s self when the doorman’s attentions are elsewhere. Because Crosby Street is a narrow cobblestone road, taxis have to be hailed from nearby Spring Street by the doorman, and this takes several minutes. Meanwhile, nobody is manning the door.

Sloppiness was also apparent at times, such as when my server spilled coffee while pouring it and then left without apologizing or cleaning up the mess. My coffee cup went empty at breakfast more times than I care to remember. This morning, a server took my plate before I had finished eating.

Food and Beverage (Crosby Bar)

There is no big name chef attached to the dining room at CSH, and that seems fine to me. I don’t need a big name chef, but I do want the food to be good! Their F&B needs work. I had two breakfasts and one dinner in the restaurant. Breakfast was spotty on both occasions. The steak and eggs on my first day were alright, but the hashbrown potatoes were an inedible brick. I’m a hashbrown lover, but I couldn’t enjoy what was served, which was a hardened mass of congealed potato starch. The second day I had eggs benedict which was a very basic preparation of two English muffins, very thinly sliced ham and two perfectly poached eggs. The Hollandaise sauce had partially broken. The dish itself was lukewarm and ungarnished.

Dinner was not much better. I had two dishes recommended by my server. The steak tartar was not spectacular and had several pieces of inedible tendon fibers that greatly decreased the appeal of the dish. On the other hand, the steak on my steak salad was perfectly cooked and flavorful.

The Crosby Bar also has to rework the pricing on its beverages. They are truly ridiculous in Las Vegas fashion. $35 for a glass of Laurent-Perrier's Cuvée Rosé! Cocktails start at $18. Luckily, the two drink vouchers came in very handy!

Fortunately SOHO does not lack for dining options. For breakfast, I would recommend walking half a block to Balthazar on Spring Street.

I also highly recommend trying these new tiny stuffed mini cupcakes from a tiny shop called Baked by Margaret with a pickup windown on Spring @ Mercer (just look for the huge line in the street).

Or, if you are feeling adventurous in a gritty NYC downtown way, you could get some pulled pork tacos at La Esquina a few blocks down in Kenmore Square. Don't expect fancy or even sit down. But it is the best Mexican in NYC.

The check-out process proceeded very smoothly and without surprises. My bags were promptly swept away by the bellman. I was warmly bid farewell.

Member of TabletPlus hotels, and I received all the extra amenities below:
Welcome glass of champagne/cocktails
Free in-house movies
Upgraded at check-in
Location is prime SOHO while being situated on a quiet street (unlike Mercer)
Welcome gift of Voges chocolates and personalized note
Elegant contemporary English design

Service Issues/Nitpicking
Had to wait for check-in service
Lack of guest recognition with service calls and greetings
Computerized wake-up call
F&B needs work, as noted above

Does CSH live up to the hype? Well, I think so. Kit Kemps interiors are gorgeous in a contemporary English way. The service is good, just not excellent yet. But there is nothing that would prevent me from returning. Indeed, I will be back for another stay in March.

I do feel I need to warn certain luxury forum readers. This is not the Peninsula (we are not in Midtown folks) nor the Four Seasons where everything is pleasingly beige nor the Mandarin Oriental where one can float above the city with expansive views. I will not speak of the Plaza except to say that it is not even in the same league. There is no pool.

This is SOHO. The location will not appeal to everyone. However, for those of us on the luxury forum who enjoy the Downtown area, CSH brings a fresh new luxury property we can call home. I personally try to split my NYC trips between uptown (favoring the Peninsula’s newly renovated rooms) and downtown. The Mercer used to be a favorite, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth and I do enjoy the quieter Crosby street location, gorgeous Kit Kemp designs, and gigantic windows that bring the excitement of NYC into my room.

Friday, February 19, 2010

McNulty's Tea and Coffee, NYC

Today, I went to McNulty's, the place where I buy coffee. I have one of those machines in my office where you feed in whole beans and expresso and the like pop out. It's just too convenient. I drink a lot of coffee. So, I switched to decaf (or really "quarter caf"). The problem is that no decaf coffee tastes good to me. Then one day I went to McNulty's to look at their teas (it's like stepping back into time, one would think this place hasn't changed since the 1930's!) and I start talking to this lady who's been going there twenty years. Turns out, she's there to pick up a batch of her special "quarter caf" blend that she's developed to her liking and which they make special for her. I said, "I want that too!". And they made some for me. So good. They are really known for their teas, but the coffee is really, really good. These guys are Blue Bottle's great grandfather. They don't have fancy siphon pot extractors or Clover machines. Just giant drums of really dark roasted gorgeous beans.

La Esquina @ Kenmare Square, NYC

I was trying to be good tonight because I had a 10PM dinner reservation at Eleven Madison. But I got too hungry, so I went to my favorite Mexican place in NYC. It is only two blocks from Crosby Street Hotel, another reason why I love this place! La Esquina is one of those awesome places that do things really well, but look like you wouldn't want to linger too long. It has a gritty NYC charm. It's a walk up and order, eat at the counter type of place. But they really do have the best authentic tacos in NYC (the cochinita pibil is amazing! even after the suckling pig last night). Really good grilled fish tacos, and the elotes callejeros is not bad. I don't really care for their carnitas, though. They set the bar in a city that isn't very knowledgable about Mexican food (where the locals get excited about the "Mexican sodas"...eye roll..). However, here's the secret: if you happen to go there at about 5 or 6pm, a woman walks through a steel door that says "No Entry" or something like that, carrying a walkie-talkie. She then plops down a stool in front of the door and waits while people start lining up. Talking to people in this line, it turns out they have a "fine dining" restaurant in the basement that is supposed to be amazing. It's a funny scene...guys with their girlfriends try to get in as walk-ins...asking to talk with the Maitre d'...the woman on the stool with the walkie-talkie points to the video camera in the corner, "See, they are watching me. If your name is not on the list, we cannot let you in". I love the immigrants turning the table on the elites! Sí, se puede!

Baked by Melissa Spring St. @ Mercer in NYC

It was a sunny warm 40 degree day so I walked back to the hotel along Spring street and found the next greatest thing: stuffed mini-cupcakes. I have a friend who is terrified of getting fat (I on the other hand, gave up long ago). He will eat half a cookie, and throw the rest away! Yikes! Well, this place is for those kinds of people, who just want a taste of sweetness, or for people like me who like to try lots of different flavors. The cupcakes are about the size of a half dollar, and about half an inch tall (see how the sugar grains on the red velvet cupcake look so big? it's because the cupcake is so small!). A perfect recession-sized mouthful!

Dinner at Mailino, NYC

I'm ashamed to say that I ate this entire basket of bread at Maialino tonight. It was that good.

But not as ashamed as I am of eating the suckling pig that was later brought to the table despite my protestations (I tried so hard not to think of the poor baby pig). There are no photos of the pig--which like the Ortolan (I've read) should be eaten with a napkin over your head to hide your shameful pleasure.

So good. So bad.

I love eating in NYC.