Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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The (Travel) Gods Must Be Crazy
Thursday, January 31, 2019 -- The Travel Gods hate me. And I don't have to board a plane to prove it. The Lords of Lodging are masters at doling out small indignities.
A few days ago my wife and I packed overnight bags and headed to Boston. It's an easy two-hour drive from our home in Maine and it had been way too long since our last visit.
Being an especially quiet winter weekend, we had our pick of any number of fine hotels at very reasonable prices. The Westin Copley Place is the one we chose, largely due to its prime location and great off-season price (around $160 for a nearly 400-square-foot king room). We're also biased, based on loyalty to SPG Preferred Guest, er, Marriott Rewards, er, Bonvoy.
Before going any further, I should mention that my wife has been battling some health issues. The reason that I suggested a Boston getaway was to provide some relief between treatments. We could get to Boston in time for lunch, stroll around, do a little shopping, go out for a fine dinner and head home in the morning, refreshed and ready to face whatever else needed facing.
In other words, I wanted an easy-peasy, no-stress, high-quality 24 hours as a well-deserved treat for the woman I love. To be fair, I was largely able to accomplish my mission. But there were a few road bumps that frequent lodgers will appreciate.
For starters, our hotel experience might have been more enjoyable had we paid in cash and booked directly through a Marriott Channel. (I reserved through Chase and paid with Ultimate Rewards points.) When we got to our room, I noticed that we'd been given one that was set up for a single, not a couple. There was just one bathrobe and one complimentary bottle of water. I considered neither worth bringing to my wife's attention as the whole point was to keep her relaxed and in fine spirits. She could use the robe and I could drink my water from the tap.
Then my wife went to use the WiFi, only to discover that "basic" usage would cost $15.95 per day. She called the front desk to clear things up. I did not overhear the exchange but was later informed that, no, there was indeed a daily charge for WiFi.
"Forget the WiFi," I said. "Let's go have a nice lunch."
And we did, at Terra, perched on the third floor of Boston's Eataly. Later that afternoon, following a long stroll and a bit of shopping, we returned to the Westin to rest up before going out for the evening. I asked my wife to head to the room while I grabbed a coffee.
I lied. My real reason for not going directly to the room was so that I could double-check the WiFi charge. I didn't want her to know about it because little things like this tend to annoy her, even more than they do me, and I wasn't about to cause her any stress after a much-needed relaxing afternoon.
This time I went to the concierge.
"It was my understanding that loyalty program members received complimentary WiFi," I explained confidently.
To which he replied, "That depends on your membership status. Are you a Gold member?"
I honestly did not know. Partly because I am not obsessed with status and partly because no one knows anything right now given Marriott and its busted programs. A clusterfark by any other name--and, really, did the name have to be Bonvoy?--is still a mess.
"Then that must be it," he said, inaccurately tying free WiFi to elite status. "Of course, please feel free to confirm this with the front desk if you wish."
My tenacity has certain limits and so I did no such thing, returning to our room instead to join my wife and make some decisions on where to have dinner.
Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is only a couple blocks from the Westin and had plenty of openings. I found this a little suspicious. The Daniel Boulud restaurants we've visited in New York would never have last-minute availability at 8 p.m. on a Saturday. Still, we put aside our qualms and wandered over to the Mandarin, anticipating a fine and classic French dining experience.
We didn't get one. Bar Boulud at Boston's Mandarin Oriental feels absolutely nothing like any Boulud restaurant we have visited. It feels like a hotel restaurant/lounge--and not in a good way. It's kind of a cross between a hotel lobby and a faux wine cellar. Not in the least classy.
The food was about as disappointing, too. We'd both decided on very classic French dishes, thinking this ground might be the firmest despite our negative impression of the atmosphere and overall vibe. The Lyonnaise Salad was overwrought with way too many chicken livers and the Pike Quenelle Lyonnaise (a classic if ever there was one) was amateur hour, plain and simple. (The menu described it as a "fish cake.") I've had better French Onion Soup, well, almost everywhere. House-made Boudin Blanc (truffled pork sausage) was fine, though.
Bottom line: We won't be returning to this place and now I'm far less interested in pricey Mandarin Oriental properties, too.
The next morning, at around six, I parked myself in the Westin lobby with my laptop and a cup of coffee while my wife slept in a bit. I was all alone but for a single centurion at the reception desk. So I went over and--you guessed it--tried yet again to get some clarity on the WiFi thing.
"Yes, of course, it's complimentary," the young man said enthusiastically. "Give me your room number and I'll fix it right away."
"So, I don't need to be a Gold member or anything?" I asked as he pecked away at his keyboard.
"WiFi is always complimentary for members," he answered quietly--and inaccurately. "There, you're all set. Anything else I can assist you with?"
And so, in the end, the Travel Gods found it in their hearts to end our 24-hour Boston getaway on a positive note and with a $16 perk we technically did not deserve.
But I still think they hate me.
This column is Copyright © 2019 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.