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What does Relais & Chateaux really mean?

May 27th, 2011 3 Comments

Is it a chain of hotels like the Four Seasons? Is it a seal of approval like Michelin? Is it a travel guide like Fodors?

None of those descriptions are accurate.

Relais & Chateau is a collection of the best hotels and restaurants around the world with extraordinary gastronomic experiences. The brand signifies luxury accommodations and Michelin-caliber food.

For the last two days I have experienced a local Relais & Chateau resort - Dos Brisas – and can hands down say chef Craig Shelton, who equates to Joel Robuchon and David Bouley, lives up to the honor. Surrounded by green pastures and star-filled skies, I was in complete heaven. The picture-perfect casitas coupled with the organic farm-to-table menu has made for an amazing getaway.

My point with his post is for you to understand what you should expect from a Relais & Chateau. Because they’re all over the world, I can’t explain what each will look like, but every dish presented to you should be a work of art.

Take a look at these masterpieces I devoured in the last two days:

Seared tuna with fresh out of the ground lettuce. Sauce I can’t remember, but it was amazing.

More fresh out the ground lettuce with sliced pears, smoked trout, and dijon dressing.

“Almost every vegetable we have on the farm” soup topped with herbs and a mussel I never dreamed I would enjoy.

Pork tenderloin unlike any other I’ve had (if I only I had written down all of the descriptions for these dishes!)

Soft shell crab in paella with escargot.

Lobster and tuna over a cabbage and onion deliciousness in with a light paprika sauce.

My favorite dish during my entire stay! Fresh blueberry mousse!!!!!!

Pineapple almond tart with creme fraiche ice cream

Chocolate caramel tart with candied pecans. I’ll be posting a video with the pastry chef soon!

As you’ve probably noticed, the plates are small, but the courses are numerous! This is probably only HALF of the dishes I’ve had in a day and a half. Don’t even get me started on their fresh breads…

The best part about most of the Relais & Chateau resorts is that you pay a substantial amount for the room, but most of the food is included. At Dos Brisas, the room rate takes care of your breakfast delivery (fresh baked scones, coffee, granola with yogurt, fresh oj, and coffee) and a four course lunch.

If you’re a foodie like me who consults Food+Beverage or Wine Enthusiast before you travel, I highly recommend looking into the R&C properties. I won’t vouch for all 475 of them. I’m just saying, take the name into consideration when you travel.

(Full Disclosure: Dos Brisas graciously hosted me to review their property honestly.)

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One of my favorite views in the world

May 20th, 2011 2 Comments

I can’t believe I haven’t posted the tour of my suite at The Rosewood in San Miguel yet.

The interior of the room was nice as you’ll set, but I fell in love with the view. It was like living in a painting for a few days.

Many thanks to The Rosewood for hosting me to review their new special place. They went above and beyond to make it look and feel authentic. Not to mention, their endeavor has really helped to boost the economy and provide so many jobs for locals.

(Full disclosure: Media rate was provided for the room.)

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“The Four Seasons of Fredericksburg” should be your Texas Hill Country Hideaway

May 14th, 2011 7 Comments

Today my review of The Fredericksburg Herb Garden ran in The Houston Chronicle.  Below is my review with snapshots.  You’ll see I absolutely love this Texas Hill Country hideaway.  (Southern Living Mag does too!)

Fredericksburg, Texas is a one horse German town that Houstonians escape to for R&R and a little antiquing.

There’s a single main road lined with antique shops, boutiques, and little cafes.  Locals have built houses and churches surrounding this vein that pumps tourists through regularly.  Sounds lovely doesn’t it?

About a month ago, Mom and I visited for a much needed retreat.  One of her best friends Rosemary has been living there for over two decades setting up cute hotels (the famed Hangar Hotel) and restaurants.

(Rosemary and Mom)

The Fredericksburg Herb Garden, her latest venture that I was unaware of, has taken over 4 years to complete and I’ll be honest, it was well worth every bead of sweet, stream of blood, pretty penny, and even a black eye (can you see it in the pic above!).   It’s strikingly different than anything else in the area.

Below is my review that just ran in The Houston Chronicle.

I can’t stand B&B’s and country cottages for one simple reason.  It looks like someone let their grandmother loose with a roll of floral fabric and a Hobby Lobby catalogue inside.

You know what I’m talking about – the pastel quilts, fake flowers, crouched pillows, and potperri pots on anything that will stand still.  On a recent search for a place to stay in Fredericksburg, Texas, these stereotypical B&B’s were all I found.
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to call longtime friend and owner of The Fredericksburg Herb Farm, Rosemary Estenson before my hunt.  When I did make the call, she informed me they had expanded the property to include 14 cottages, a garden-to-table restaurant, and an all-natural spa.  Admittedly, my first thought was pessimistic; as nice as it sounds, I’m sure it was grandma-chic just like the others.  Of course I went to their website immediately to check it out.  Even though the layout was archaic, I could tell the decor was pleasant and minimal.

After the five hour drive north to Fredericksburg, I found that my low expectations were almost embarrassing. This place was like the Four Seasons of bed and breakfasts!  I soon found out that Southern Living Magazine concurred, naming FHF one of the best Hill Country destinations of 2011.

My little house was beautifully appointed with rocking chairs on the patio, a few antiques mixed with modern pieces, a lovely headboard, a flat screen tv, a shower with a stone reflexology floor, delicious herbal bath products, and free wifi.  Wait, there’s more.

The bed that was made with hand-ironed sheets was undoubtedly more comfortable than the beds at the Four Seasons, Peninsula, and Ritz Carlton.  Getting out of this heavenly cloud might be difficult if I didn’t know that the most delicious homemade cinnamon was waiting for me in my mailbox outside on Saturday morning.



We all know that visiting Fredericksburg is usually more about strolling the town than staying in your hotel.  But in this case, I found myself perfectly content to spend a day tucked in the hideaway.  The herb garden was almost in full bloom and offered the perfect place to curl up with a book in the morning and enjoy a good girls’ conversation over a bottle of wine at sunset.  I spent an hour, no joke, sniffing all of the different herbal soaps, lotions, and perfumes they make on the property and sell in the Poet’s house.  If you’re a Jo Malone and Kai fan like I am, you’ll find this place offers your favorite scents for a fraction of the price.



Of course they use the same products in the spa, which I admit is surprisingly extraordinary as well.  They offer what I would call intuitive services considering what your body needs, not what you’ve historically had in the past.  The Thai massage, which I renamed the”Rescue and Recovery” massage, involved Mateo (the spa director) rubbing insertion points, stretching out my limbs, and walking on my back.  It wasn’t always pleasant, but I absolutely needed it.  The herbal pedicure is unique in that they use warm herbal wraps instead of water to moisten your skin while you sit in one of the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever had the pleasure of sinking into.



Last, but certainly not least, is the restaurant.  Rosemary stole chef Asa Thorton from the famed Barton Creek resort.  An amazing acquisition because he’s beyond talented.  The man makes all of the bread (do not pass up that basket), smokes and cures all of the meat, and prepares a variety of flavorful dishes daily.  The menu is notably meat heavy, but he’s accommodating to everyone.  Just let him know your how to accommodate your palate.

Bottom line:  FHF exceeded my expectations and I have no doubt you’ll fall in love with it too.  Venture to this hideaway for the weekend for much needed R&R and indulgence.
Rooms start at $179.  830-997-8615 www.FredericksburgHerbFarm.com

(Originally published in The Houston Chronicle – May 15, 2011)

Wait….

A few snapshots I loved from the trip.  This little town is quintessentially southern and charming.

 

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Oh. My. Goodness.

April 29th, 2011 7 Comments

The view from my room at The Rosewood!

I have to say I was a little disappointed San Miguel isn’t on the beach, but sitting on my terrace (which is bigger than one of my NYC apartments), is pretty amazing.  It looks like Italy!!

No clue what those purple trees are called, but I’m going to find out.  Wow….

(Full disclosure: Rosewood provided generous media rate in exchange for an honest review.)

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My review of the W Hotel Hollywood in today’s Chronicle

April 24th, 2011 3 Comments

In today’s Good Life Section of The Houston Chronicle you’ll find my review of the new W Hotel Hollywood. On the corner of Sunset and Vine, the compound seems MASSIVE, but inside it’s a small hotspot for rockers and rappers.  Included below are my pics too!  (Tumblrs click through to see the pics embedded in the article.)

“Shack up like a Rock Star in Hollywood”

After staying in W Hotels all over the country, l know what to expect when I walk into the trendy chain: The lighting is dim, the color is gray, the furniture is modern and the techno is pumping. Always.

You can usually find hipsters, celebs and a handful of randoms who desperately want to be cool enjoying this manufactured chic setting. The scene is like a Vegas lounge that seduces you to stay inside because the best party is here, right? I’m not a fan.

Which is why I was shocked and pleasantly surprised with the new W Hollywood. When creating this new hot spot, the designers embraced the California lifestyle and let the sun shine in.

Flooded with natural light thanks to three-story floor-to-ceiling windows, the lobby and lounge are the hub of the action in the hotel. A prominent chandelier and sprawling red carpet show reverence for classic Hollywood amid an otherwise contemporary dé cor. Within just a few months, rock stars, rappers and other elite members of the music industry have embraced the hotel as their stomping, romping and relaxing grounds. After visiting, you might want to join the band.

 

If you’ve ever been in a W Hotel room, you know they all follow the same formula, using white, modern and minimal furniture with splashes of color here and there. Cozy would not be an appropriate adjective to describe the aesthetic, but I enjoyed tucking in there for a few days. The rooms have a lovely little bay window bench where I sipped coffee and read the paper with a view of the Hollywood Hills.

(Love this big tub AND it’s fully stocked with Bliss products!)

When visiting Los Angeles, Houstonians usually opt to cozy up in Beverly Hills at more traditional hotels such as the Peninsula or Four Seasons, then venture out to find the latest hot spots. At the W Hollywood, you need not go further than a few floors from your room to find it.

As you would expect, the rooftop pool is where the fit and fabulous trendsetters hang out. Imagine a Dolce & Gabbana photo shoot come to life, complete with beauties in designer bikinis and actors with rock-hard abs perfectly posed on the chaises.

At night, the doors open to the adjacent Drai’s nightclub. Use your assets — and Benjamins – to jockey for a table, then enjoy an atmosphere that would make any New York promoter’s jaw drop.

If you’re attempting to find an element of reality in this rock star fantasy, sink into a wicker chair at Delfine. Decorated in beige and linen, the restaurant at first feels ridiculously out of place but ultimately offers the serenity of a Cote D’Azur café amid the chaos.

 

(Their selection of boutique beer is respectable…probably one of the best in town.  The food is also super fresh.)

For another means of escape, visit the Bliss Spa, where you are guaranteed a solid massage and could luck into a mani-pedi next to Ashanti or Timbaland. Neither the restaurant nor spa are phenomenal, but they help the hotel be a one-stop Hollywood shop.

 

Bottom line: The W Hollywood is for those looking for a good time. Sleek, chic and cheaper than comparable hotels in Beverly Hills, this compound offers you a place to rest or rock out anytime of day.

W Hotel Hollywood: 6250 Hollywood Blvd.; 323-798-1300

(Full disclosure: Only lunch and spa treatment where generously comped while I was there. Many thanks for hosting me!)

Originally published in the Houston Chronicle here.

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Hotel Sorella ups its game in Houston

April 8th, 2011 2 Comments

On Sunday, The Chronicle published my review of The Hotel Sorella‘s new penthouse suites.   Conde Nast has recognized Sorella since it opened as one of the country’s best hotels.

Here’s a peak inside and my article follows.

 

The ultra-chic Hotel Sorella in CITYCENTER has just upped its game.  Last month they opened 11 new penthouse suites to attract a “global clientele.” As a Houstonian, my first thought was, “this space is perfect for a party!”  Amongst the jewel-toned furniture and textured modern art, the main feature of these one to three bedroom condos turned rentable rooms is the full kitchen.

I’m not sure how many Europeans and Japanese business travelers want to shop at Kroger and roast a chicken breast when only 11 floors below there are plates full of local fare to satisfy their hungry tummies.  I was unaware that so many of our favorite restaurateurs set up shop out there.  The eateries in CITYCENTER include Eddie V’s, Ruggles Green, RA (which is exponentially more respectable than its Highland Village sister), Bistro Alex, Straits, Red Mango, Cyclone Anaya’s, The Tasting Room, and The Yard House.

Entertainment is not something extended-stay guests would have to worry about either.  The Monnalisa pool bar showcases live music Thursday through Saturday.  While the nearby Town and Country houses every American chain retailer you can think of, the CITYCENTER has curated local designers and boutiques to make it a unique place to shop.

For one night or as long as your heart desires, you can book a suite starting at $550.

**If you’re not a Houstonian, you should know that CITYCENTER feels like the “Outskirts” to me.  I recommend checking to make sure it’s in the area you need to stay before booking.  That being said, it’s one of my favorite hotels in town.

(Full Disclosure: No media privileges were extended for this article.)

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The new Vegas is sleek and chic — City Center Part 1 of 2 — Aria

January 7th, 2011 5 Comments

While in Las Vegas for CES, I’m touring the new City Center to write an article for The Chronicle.

With the Aria as the heart and soul of the 18 million square foot compound run by MGM, the aesthetic is nothing like you’ve seen in Vegas before.  Natural light streams in from all angles, the decor is modern and sophisticated, and only 2% of the property is casino.  You’ll appreciate that the ventilation system works beautifully and pumps in a sweet vanilla smell to mask any signs of smoke.

Admittedly, the prices at the restaurants are steep, but room rates start at $150-$180 at the Aria and Vdara – their boutique hotel that feels like a private VIP tower.

In the City Center but run separately is The Mandarin Oriental that brings the luxury and VIP experience of The Hotel (by the Four Seasons in Mandalay Bay) to the center of the Strip.  More to come on that next week.

Bottom line: The Aria is truly unique for Vegas and actually pleasant to experience. It does feel a little cold and unapproachable in comparison to the warmth of the Wynn.  I never thought I’d say I don’t like natural light, but there’s something about it always being the same time of day when you’re in Vegas that is oddly settling.  Overall, I really like the space for being beautiful, clean, and affordable.

Here are snapshots from my tour so you can see for yourself.  I really love the space.

THE HOTEL

The rooms are contemporary, cozy, and hooked up to a touchscreen motherboard remote to control every feature with the touch of your little finger.

There are 3 pools and one adult pool that has a party to compete with the infamous TAO scene.

SPA

Not pictured here is the spa and gym which is sizable, but in my opinion not particularly noteworthy.  I’m a huge fan of the Canyon Ranch spa that is housed in the Venetian/Palazzo.  It’s a more comfortable atmosphere.  The one thing that is cool about the full-sized gym at Aria is that admission is free for guests, while at some resorts, you have to pay a day fee.

FOOD

On to my favorite part: The food!  The collection of restaurants here is by far the best on the strip.  They’re all helmed by famous chefs that have successful spots at The Bellagio (the Aria’s sister property also run by MGM).

Above is Sage, my favorite for decor and food in the Aria.  It’s quiet, so don’t expect a scene.

For a more lively atmosphere head to American Fish from Michael Mina.

They have 4 different preparations for fish, each unique and not overpowering.  Last night I devoured the smoked Dijon mustard cod and sea salt blue prawns.  They don’t look like anything special, but both were definitely some of the best seafood I’ve had in Vegas.

The other popular spot is Lemon Grass – authentic Thai helmed by the exec chef from The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.

Next door to Lemongrass is Blossom, which also boasts authentic Chinese food.

Other notable restaurants are Jean-Georges Steakhouse, Siriano (Italian), Todd English Pub, and Julian Serrano that serves up tapas in a colorful and quirky atmosphere (pictured below).

They served me up a little bit of everything, and it was all truly delicious.

What I love about all of these spots is that have a nice bar scene – great decor, good looking people, and not too rowdy.

SHOPPING

The name of the “shopping experience” (management asks that you please do not refer to it as a mall) is called Crystals.  Designed by David Rockwell who is on the commission for the new World Trade Center, it’s modern and angular structure is quite stark.  Although you’ll see all of the same brands you will in the Bellagio, Wynn, and other hotels, the Tom Ford, Cartier, the largest Louis Vitton in North America, Donna Karen, and other designer stores all carry collections exclusive to Crystals.

VIVA ELVIS

Elvis is alive in well in the Aria making appearances nightly as the resident performance.  I’m not much for shows, but apparently it’s popular.  Next door, the Gold lounge is decorated with tons of memorabilia.

THE VDARA

A boutique hotel without a casino in the lobby, the Vdara is truly the gem of the City Center and the Vegas strip.  It’s hidden in the back, but you can get to the Aria and Bellagio by tram or foot within minutes.

It’s like the Aria and Mandarin shacked up one night and had pretty baby – chic, modern, warm, quiet, and affordable.

Each room has a stove top and mini fridge so you could actually stay in and cook or warm up leftovers if you wanted (not a bad idea considering the price of eating out in Vegas).

OTHER INTERESTING NOTES

The whole thing cost $11 BILLION to build, which makes it the largest privately financed development in the US.

There are residences called The Veer Tower, which they claim is 60% occupied.

Both the Aria and Vdara hotels are LEED certified and use environmentally friendly features like faucets and showers to conserve water.

If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see tons of amazing art on the walls.

The Harmon hotel was built completely, but incorrectly so now they’re going to have to tear the whole thing down PIECE BY PIECE.  Can you imagine?!!  What a waste!

There are two clubs here, both of which have a great scene and pump the best of pop and hip hop until the wee hours of the morning.

(Full disclosure: Media rates and comped meals provided for me. Many thanks to MGM for your hospitality and Shaunt for the very informative tour.)

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A Tour of My Suite At The Capella Pedregal – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

November 28th, 2010

A week ago today I was leaving The Capella Pedregal in Cabo, obviously against my will :)  As promised, here is a tour of the suite I enjoyed (immensely) for 4 days.

When you see the ocean, it’s relatively calm.  The waves are usually a lot bigger.  In fact, the current is so strong, they don’t allow swimming on this part of the beach.  The wind at night can get pretty chilly too.

Just so you know, all of the rooms have ocean views, the big tub, a plunge pool, and fire pit.  Rates for a standard room start at $499.

My official review to come next week.

(Full Disclosure: The Capella generously comped airfare and accommodations in exchange for a review.)

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