Hotels (Part 2)

September 29th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

De luxe. (HG loves that phrase. Very reminiscent of the 1930’s). Super luxury. And, that’s what HG/BSK experienced on some of their trips abroad. (Of course, there were some clunkers). An HG/BSK favorite is La Mamounia in the colorful city of Marrakech, Morocco. Splendid lobbies and lounge areas. Beautiful bedrooms overlooking the lush gardens where Winston Churchill once painted. HG/BSK breakfasted on their room’s terrace. Exquisite. Exercised with personal trainer, Abdul. Swam in the giant pool. Poolside lounges were occupied by attractive Frenchwomen in topless bikinis. Eye candy for HG. Savory Middle East buffet in the pool area’s dining section. Spectacular. Vacationing at Mamounia is expensive. Worth it. Another de luxe establishment is the venerable Savoy in London (never liked the equally sumptuous Dorchester and Claridge’s). Wonderful bedroom with super mattress on bed and linen sheets. Giant tub in bathroom, perfect for pre-theater bath. HG/BSK were very fond of the Savoy Grill. Glamorous art deco interior and superb food. Never slept at The Connaught in Mayfair. Decades ago, HG/BSK often dined at the hotel restaurant. HG can state, without reservation, this was the best restaurant in the world. Beautiful antique decor with comfortable seating. Gentle lighting. Nicely spaced tables. Impeccable, warm and professional service. The food was beyond superlative. Great French dishes (critics said the best French restaurant wasn’t in Paris, it was London’s Connaught). HG/BSK concentrated on the English classics: Oysters, smoked salmon, Dover sole, mixed grill with souffle potatoes; steak and kidney pie; boiled silverside with pickles and hot mustard, etc. Restaurant “modernized” its cuisine in recent years with unfortunate results. Too bad. London’s Hotel Wilbraham near Sloane Square was HG/BSK’s home in their frequent visits to the city long ago. Not luxe at all. Just comfy, inexpensive and shabby genteel. As expected, it has been refurbished and is now very expensive and posh. The old character has been lost. HG/BSK have forgotten the names of two hotels –one in Berlin and one in Tokyo–that were very memorable. Both super modern hotels with dazzling upper floor views. The breakfast buffet at the Berlin hotel was dazzling and extensive. Every variety of egg dishes.. Pancakes. Waffles. Jams, jellies and syrups. Numerous yogurts. A multitude of cereals, hot and cold. Fruits, both fresh and cooked., Salads. Breads, rolls, croissants, brioche, muffins, crackers. Smoked salmon and other fish. Scores of cheeses. Bacon. Ham. Many sausages (some, German specialties). Cake. Cookies. Pies. Pastries. Coffee, tea, fruit juice, wine and champagne; Bloody Marys and Mimosas. All available. HG/BSK would begin their day with exercise in the hotel gym and swim in the pool. Shower. Then, with raging appetites, attack the buffet extravaganza. Worked off the calories with long bike rides through the Berlin streets on the way to museums and landmarks. In Tokyo for the marriage of SJ and Exquisite Maiko, HG/BSK occupied a high floor bedroom with panoramic views of the city. Made New York look like a small village. The bathroom had the usual Japanese wonder toilet. Excellent gym and soothing hot baths. Thankfully, breakfast was English/American. HG loves Japanese cuisine but doesn’t fancy the traditional Japanese breakfast of grilled fish, miso soup, rice and pickles. Bleakest hotel room ever was in Prague soon after the Czech liberation. Didn’t matter. Prague was a glory.

Dessert Gold from Around the World

August 16th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

HG is not a big fan of desserts. Usually prefers to end a meal with a cheese platter and red wine. However, HG recalls with fondness desserts HG enjoyed in New York of yesteryear. Number one, of course, was the hot fudge sundae at Rumpelmayer’s on Central Park South. This was also loved by young SJ and Lesley R. when HG took the youngsters to New York for a “treat day.”. Another great ice cream dessert was the vanilla ice cream ball rolled in toasted coconut. This was served at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. Other sweet splendors: Frozen banana daiquiris at Fornos; Nesselrode pie at Grand Central Oyster Bar; pots de creme at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel; cheesecake at Reuben’s (and Lindy’s); coconut custard pie at the Automat; strudel at Eclair. Ed Berberian’s Balkan-Armenian Restaurant on E. 26 Street served a wonderful middle eastern treat–Baklava with Ekmek. The Ekmek was a cross between ice cream and dense whipped cream. Perfect with the sweet pastry. HG is very fond of Paris bistro desserts: Tarte tatin with plentiful creme fraiche; creme caramel; ice cream (from Berthillon) and ile flottante (the best is at Le Stella). Favorite dessert in London is chestnut puree with whipped cream at Gay Hussar. When HG has a sweets craving on Prince Edward Island (which seems to be often, notes SJ), HG opts for Lebanese halvah or vanilla ice cream with Island maple syrup.

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First Trip To Europe: London

September 16th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

1966. Spring. Following Paris, HG/BSK (and enchanting two-year-old Lesley) were off to London. First order of business was a trip to Carnaby Street, then the mod fashion center for swinging London. Lesley was outfitted with striped bell bottoms, a safari jacket and other cutting edge duds. The little fashionista dazzled. Had some of the wonderful experiences London has to offer. (In 1966, London was very English, affordable and not the theme park for oligarchs which it now resembles). Shopped for silverware on Portobello Road. (“It’ll shine up something lovely, Ducks.”). Art at the Tate and National Gallery. Walks in Hyde Park. Window shopping on Bond Street. Strolling the beautiful squares and admiring the stately architecture of Belgravia and Mayfair. Roast beef at Simpson’s on the Strand. Oysters, smoked salmon and Dover sole at Wheeler’s. Afternoon tea at Brown’s (the excellent sweet things much enjoyed by Lesley). A too brief visit. Many more visits during the next 49 years. Stayed at the Wilbraham Hotel off Sloane Square (For years it was HG/BSK’s shabby, comfy, genteel retreat. Refurbished, it is now now super posh.) Rented many pleasant apartments and had great luncheons at the best French restaurant in the world (which happened to be in London): The Connaught Restaurant in The Connaught Hotel. London theater was always a treat. Joyous memories of after theater dining at Rule’s (for port and welsh rarebit); J. Sheekey, (oysters and Dover Sole); the glamorous, art deco Savoy Grill (smoked salmon and mixed grill). We’ll be back to London again even though it will put a dent in the HG/BSK credit cards.

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The Gay Hussar

March 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Troubling news from London. The future of The Gay Hussar, one of HG’s favorite restaurants, is in jeopardy. The hotel group that owns The Gay Hussar claims the restaurant has been losing money for some years. They are threatening to close it down. As HG has written in an earlier post (“Perfect London Days (and Nights)”), the restaurant has long been the favorite dining spot for Britain’s Labor Party and various left wing journalists. Patronage fell off during Tony Blair’s administration. (Blair’s two sins were his support of the grossly ill-advised Iraqi War and his advocacy of “health” food). However, there’s hope. A Labor Party group is busily raising money to buy the restaurant. If successful, a spokesman said, they will offer more “light” dishes on the menu. HG’s advice: Don’t change a thing. Everything about The Hussar is perfect: The decor, the lighting, the comfortable seating and the super hearty Hungarian cuisine. HG would often start luncheon there with fish dumplings in a creamy dill and mushroom sauce. Greedy HG would then have a requested half portion of the fried mushrooms with tartar sauce appetizer. Main dish was duck livers sautéed with bacon, onions and paprika. Dessert: Chestnut puree with dark rum and whipped cream. Fruity Hungarian red wine with the meal and powerful Hungarian brandy as a digestif. (HG’s luncheon companion, BSK, ate and drank more modestly and turned down dessert in favor of strong coffee). After lunch, a long stroll through one of London’s beautiful parks was in order. Then a brief rest and a hot shower before theater. Check out The Gay Hussar website for the current menu. HG prays the restaurant stays open and unchanged so HG can overeat during a planned autumn London visit.

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Perfect London Days (and Nights)

February 25th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

In the early 1970’s, HG assisted the management of New York’s posh Hotel Pierre in solving a sticky public relations problem. The Pierre was part of the Forte international hotel group. This meant HG/BSK got a special rate when they stayed at Forte’s Brown’s Hotel in the Mayfair neighborhood of London. Brown’s was quiet and genteel. The rooms had no television or other of today’s electronic necessities. Furniture was vaguely art deco. Bathrooms were spacious with large tubs and powerful hot water showers. Comfy beds and sweet smelling sheets. The hotel’s chintz bedecked English Tea room was famous throughout London. HG/BSK breakfasted in their room. Poached eggs. Grilled tomatoes. Wheat toast. Marmalade. Pots of very good tea. Then off to a day of museums, galleries, shops and London architecture. Back to Brown’s for tea at four o’clock. Cucumber and watercress sandwiches. Scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Fruit cake. And, of course, superb freshly brewed tea. A brief rest and shower. Off to the theater. (The dollar and pound were in an attractive equilibrium in those days making London affordable). Apres theater HG/BSK dined at the glamorous Savoy Grill. Perfect smoked salmon sliced paper thin. Mixed grill with soufflé potatoes. Their other choice was venerable Rule’s for smoked salmon, Welsh rarebit and vintage Port. At some point, Brown’s got a big time “luxury” modernization. Prices went up and the rooms lost some of their charm. HG/BSK switched to the Wilbraham Hotel near Sloane Square. Eccentric, shabby, genteel, comfortable. HG/BSK eliminated high cal afternoon tea and lunched at such wonderful venues as the Hotel Connaught Restaurant (certainly in its time the best and most beautiful restaurant in the world) and J. Sheekey’s, the seafood restaurant in the theater district. HG’s spot for lunch on a grey, rainy or chilly London day was The Gay Hussar on Greek Street in Soho. A cozy rectangular room bedecked with books, mirrors and political caricatures, The Gay Hussar is the favorite dining venue for Britain’s Labor Party and left wing journalists. While the Labor Party dignitaries may attack the rich in Parliament, they do not disdain rich food. The Hungarian food at The Gay Hussar is decidedly rich, flavorful and hearty. The Wilbraham Hotel allowed HG/BSK to stock their refrigerator with ham, roast beef, chutney and salads from a nearby delicatessen (“By Special Appointment to the Queen Mother”). Thus, HG/BSK had their after theater feast in their room. Drank very good French wines. Yes, those were perfect London days and nights. Can’t be repeated. London is not the same. The unique English flavor of the city has diminished and money crazed internationalism rules.

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Wicked Treat

August 13th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

HG derived vicarious pleasure watching distinguished son-in-law Profesore Massimo R. devour a giant marrow bone at Prince Edward Island’s Terre Rouge bistro (yes, the generous Ufficiale gave HG a taste). Roasted marrow bones have long been served at old time Paris bistros. HG has relished them with a crusty baguette and a carafe of rough red wine in Left Bank rooms perfumed with Gauloise smoke. For years, the health police managed to have them banished from most American restaurants but, thankfully, marrow bones are making a comeback: In the mid 90s Fergus Henderson, the British chef and cookbook author served a dish at his St. John restaurant in London of roasted marrow bones with parsley and capers that was an immediate trend-setter and was soon replicated at New York restaurants like Prune and Blue Ribbon Bakery; now there is hardly a meat-centric New York menu without marrow bones. In older times, bone marrow found a elegant approach as a specialty of the old Oak Room in New York’s Plaza Hotel: A big scoop of bone marrow adorned braised celery which accompanied tournedos and potatoes soufflé. It was one of HG/BSK’s favorite meals. HG once had a very lusty steak, a pave, topped with almost a half inch of bone marrow at some long defunct bistro near the Place de Clichy. Memorable. Bone marrow is frowned upon by cardiologists because it is pure fat and cholesterol, a big time artery clogger. Wickedly delicious, however.

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A Nice Cup Of Tea

April 17th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

HG never drinks tea at an American restaurant. It’s vile. Sheer heaven is teatime at Brown’s or another estimable London hotel restaurant like the Savoy or Claridge’s, etc.. Ah, scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves with properly brewed tea. SKF carries on English tradition by doing tea properly. Scalds the teapot with boiling water. Adds the good tea bags to the tea pot and covers them with boiling water. Nestles the teapot in a tea cozy (SKF uses a colorful cozy knit by her late grandmother). Lets the tea steep for an appropriate period. Pours it in a cup and adds a dash of milk. Very comforting. HG’s beloved late father, Hershele Tsvi Freimann, would frown at the addition of milk. He drank strong Russian style black tea with lemon. Held a sugar cube between his teeth as he sipped the brew. Sometimes he eliminated the lemon and added a big dollop of cherry preserves to his cup. That’s the way after dinner tea was served at the Russian Tea Room on W. 57th Street in New York. Try it. Delightful.

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Rule Brittania

July 5th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Americans are amused and sometimes repulsed by oddly named British desserts: Spotted Dick, Toad in the Hole, Roly Poly, etc. They are missing a treat. Many of these desserts make ample use of expertly made custard plus dates, raisin and other good things. There is a club in London (Members are mostly “old boys” of posh schools like Eton and Harrow) which meets periodically to consume abundant amounts of these yummies. HG is fond of bangers, the rather bland but good British sausages, and Scotch eggs, the pub treat of fried and breaded hard boiled eggs. An unpleasant habit of the British is serving canned baked beans and tinned mushrooms with a breakfast of eggs and bacon (plus cold toast, of course). At “chippies” (Fish and chips eateries), the classic duo of fish and chips (French fries) is often accompanied by “mushy peas,” a vile concoction. Most of the old criticism of British cooking (bland, mushy, boring, over-cooked) no longer applies. As a foodie destination, London is on a par with New York, filled with excellent restaurants of every description and ethnicity. But, if you are on a budget, it is wise to concentrate on Indian and Korean food. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding still stars at Simpson’s on the Strand and Dover sole rules at J. Sheekey. These are two of the world’s best dishes and are unsurpassed at these historic restaurants. A very good, properly brewed pot of tea is available all over London, even at museum cafeterias. HG/BSK always interrupt their visits at the Tate Modern and Albert & Victoria with tea plus crumpets lavishly adorned with jam and clotted cream. Londoners bemoan the fact that there are only one or two traditional “eel and pie” shops (specializing in jellied eels) remaining. HG does not share their sadness.

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Celluloid Sole

February 23rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The coming Academy Awards reminds HG that dining is always treated in a perfunctory manner in films and television. Yes, there are elaborate dining room scenes in such Masterpiece Theater epics as Downton Abbey. The clothes are great and the service (butler, footmen, etc.) looks exquisite. But, what, exactly, are these aristocrats eating? And, is it any good? Drinking gets lots of attention. Much tippling but little tipsiness. Last night, however, HG discovered an exception to cinema’s superficial treatment of dining. After watching brilliant, funny Bill Maher, HG channel surfed. HG stopped at the film adaption of John Le Carre’s, The Constant Gardener. Here’s the scene HG watched: The film’s protagonist, played by Ralph Fiennes, is in London to meet with the aristocrat, Sir Bernard Pellegrin. Meeting place, of course, is the aristocrat’s venerable Pall Mall club. Nice camera work detailing all of the palatial spaces and antique detailing of the club. Into the dining room for lunch. Dark woods. Nicely spaced tables. Subdued lighting from chandeliers. And, here comes the great, cinematic food moment. Sir Bernard suggests sole. Mentions that it is available “Meuniere” or grilled. Fiennes’ character chooses grilled. There are some murmurs and then all action ceases as the camera focuses on an alluring still life. There is the sole, dusted with chopped parsley and glittering with melted butter. Nestled beside it on the plate are small boiled potatoes and what appears to be some fresh asparagus spears. The camera does not move. The food obsessed viewer has plenty of time to absorb this perfection. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the plot. Obviously, there was a food nut in the cutting room. If you want to experience a London Dover Sole experience, HG suggests J. Sheekey in the theater district. The dish will bend your credit card but is well worth it.

Paris & London: First Trip

February 9th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The year was 1966, HG and BSK were off on their first European trip. Five days in Paris. Five days in London. They were accompanied by two-year-old Lesley, their remarkably precocious, articulate (and, needless to say) beautiful daughter. The dollar was strong. Stayed at the Hotel Pont-Royal on Rue du Bac in Saint Germain des Pres. The hotel was arty, picturesque, nicely shabby (and cheap). Now it is super posh following numerous expensive makeovers (there’s a Jöel Robuchon restaurant on the premises). Steeped in intellectual nostalgia for the Existentialists HG and BSK’s first stop was at Cafe Flore. During the German occupation, intellectuals gathered at the well heated Flore rather than their pre-war cafe-of-choice Deux Magots, the other great St. Germain cafe, because Deux Magots was favored by German officers. (Little did HG and BSK know at the time that they needn’t have traveled far for their nod to intellectual greatness as the basement bar of the Pont-Royal was the hangout of the most advanced intellectuals, political engages, writers and philosophers. It was where Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir held forth when they were not pontificating at the Cafe Flore.) Little Lesley had her first Croque Monsieur. Loved it and subsisted on those sandwiches for the entire Paris visit. HG and BSK were enthralled by the style and elegance of the Parisians. It was April in Paris. The costume for young women was a vivid, clingy sheath and a short leather jacket. (These items — plus a tweedy topcoat — were immediately purchased by BSK and, of course, BSK was the height of casual chic.) In order to fit into the Paris scene, HG visited a Boulevard Saint Germain shop for some stylish suits and a blazer. The welcome to HG was cool. Then HG had an insight. HG spoke to the store manager in Yiddish. Everything changed. HG was treated like a long lost son. Received a discount. Clothes were instantly altered and delivered within a few hours. Stylishly clad in their new duds, the duo dined at the famed Laperouse, a restaurant renowned for high cuisine and discreet private rooms for amorous gourmands. HG and BSK ordered badly. Heavy, heavy cream and butter sauces. BSK became ill and was laid up for a day. HG and little Lesley explored the lovely streets and squares of the district, pausing before many enticing shop windows. Naturally, there were many stops for Vin Rouge for HG and un chocolat chaud for Lesley. Once BSK’s health and appetite returned, the trio was off to museums; Luxembourg Gardens (Lesley was delighted by the puppet show); a stroll through the Tuileries to the Louvre; a visit to a toy store an the Champs Elysee, etc. On the last night in Paris a baby sitter took Lesley to a carousel (and a dinner of a Croque Monsieur and hot chocolate, naturally). HG and BSK dined at a Left Bank bistro. A bottle of very good, young Beaujolais. The waiter brought a platter of thick, white steamed asparagus (first of the Spring) wrapped in a linen napkin. A big bowl of Sauce Mousseline (better than Hollandaise). Heaven. This was followed by gigot, rosy slices of young, roasted lamb. An abundance of perfect pomme frites. Next course was a small green salad with a wedge of ripe camembert. Dessert was bowls of wild strawberries with creme fraiche. Then, strong demi tasse and (for HG) a snifter of cognac. It was the perfect meal.

London was not an anti-climax. HG and BSK had smoked salmon and Dover sole at Wheeler’s. Traditional roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding at Simpson’s in the Strand. Afternoon tea at Brown’s. A visit to the National Museum. Strolls in the beautiful parks. An amplitude of fish and chips. For Anglophiles like HG and BSK it was the culmination of many childhood dreams. This was the time of Mod London and so a visit to Carnaby Street, the center of Mod fashion, was obligatory. Here, the proud parents kitted Lesley out in striped bell bottom trousers and a vivid safari jacket. There was universal agreement that she was the hippest, cutest little girl in Britain.

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