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HOTEL DINING:
AFTERTHOUGHT TO ULTRA-HOT


BY JOEL ANN REA

November 6, 2003 -- Ten years ago, where did you most not want to wine and dine clients while you traveled? Fast forward to today: Where are some of the hottest dining spots in your city du jour?

If you answered "hotel restaurants" to both, you've spotted the growing trend.

Hotel restaurants have been reinvented to add prestige to the property and to attract a steady stream of local diners as well as the in-house guests. Think celebrity chef, foodie-focused menu and unique ambience. Some hotel dining rooms are even marketed as stand-alone restaurants, often with direct street access, so patrons needn't traverse a hotel lobby before they enter the "dining event" zone.

What's changed hotel food from afterthought to ultra-hot? Hotels have seen that a serious restaurant can produce serious income and help set a property apart from the competition. Hotel guests--especially business travelers, traditionally the heaviest food and beverage spenders--have become much more sophisticated about food. They're apt to remember hotels that offer the latest fare. Not incidentally, hotel operators can also bolster their bottom lines by courting a food-savvy local clientele to offset downturns in room occupancy.

Some chains noted for delivering the goods in the dining room as well as in the guestroom include super-deluxe hotel groups such as the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis. The Kimpton boutique chain has also carved a dining niche. But many independent properties have also cemented their reputations by crafting a top restaurant and installing a top chef.

As a guest at a property with one of these hot spots, you can take advantage of the hard-to-come-by seats that the hotel often reserves for those in-house. Or, you can grab what many of us think of as the best seat in the house--yes, the one in your hotel room where all apparel is casual and reading and TV viewing are approved tableside behaviors--and order a trendy meal from room service. Either way, you've got more delicious choices than ever.

Here is an arbitrary selection of some of the hottest hotel restaurants across the country. I'll offer up more suggestions in a future column.

BOSTON Spire, in the Ladder District's Nine Zero hotel, features innovative, French-inspired, contemporary food from chef Jeffrey Everts. This includes dishes such as sea bream with parsley salad, celery root and roasted elephant garlic. The cuisine is all served with a second-floor view of the
Park Street Church spire.

CHICAGO NoMI, named for its North Michigan address in the Park Hyatt hotel, features the unique creations of French chef Sandro Gamba. He adds Italian and Asian touches to arrive at dishes such as lobster risotto with lemongrass and pepper-crusted pineapple, rabbit confit with heirloom tomatoes or roasted halibut in truffle beurre blanc.

DENVER Restaurant Kevin Taylor in Hotel Teatro, just across from the Denver Center for Performing Arts, helped revitalize downtown more than four years ago and has been going strong ever since. Chef Taylor's menu of eclectic American food includes favorites such as roasted rack of Colorado lamb and ravioli of Maine lobster, asparagus and sweet corn.

LOS ANGELES Power dining takes center stage at Belvedere at The Peninsula in Beverly Hills. So does the playful food by Kansas-born chef Bill Bracken. Think chicken and foie gras hot dog in brioche or rack of lamb with saffron-braised cabbage in a basil and Merlot broth. Meanwhile, the vibrant décor of red-hot Whist in Santa Monica's hip Viceroy hotel matches the fresh flavors of the California-French market cuisine of Tim and Liza Goddell, as evident in seared pork belly with pineapple, foie gras and tart grapefruit.

MEMPHIS Chez Philippe in The Peabody hotel features the French-inspired Southern food of Jose Gutierrez, whose offerings include hush puppies stuffed with shrimp Provençal and smoked pork tenderloin with mustard and sage over couscous grits.

MIAMI Azul, in the Mandarin Oriental, features the creations of Michelle Bernstein, the former Alvin Ailey dancer whose moves are just as flawless in the kitchen. Her menus take inspiration from her native Miami as well as the Caribbean, France and Asia. Try lobster cappuccino with lemongrass foam or Caribbean Bouillabaisse, featuring fresh fish and shellfish flavored with sofrito, lime and cilantro.

NEW YORK Jean Georges in the Trump International Hotel is home base for the globe-trotting Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who creates ethereal dishes such as lobster tartine with pumpkin seeds, fenugreek broth and pea shoots. Enjoy his Asian-French food in the serene restaurant just steps from Central Park or from 24-hour room service. Or indulge in the ultimate foodie moment:
a meal cooked just for you in the privacy of your suite. A few blocks away, at the Westin Essex House, Alain Ducasse may not actually cook much in the dining room bearing his name, but the lavish restaurant allows you to sample his celebrated cuisine without heading to France. Didier Elena, who has worked with Ducasse for 13 years, heads a team of 20 chefs that attends to 65 diners. Many say the seasonal dishes such as scallops with oysters, crayfish and mushrooms or roasted John Dory with sweet vegetable sauce and "melted" artichokes justify the stratospheric prices. And where else has the staff received movement lessons from a choreographer?

SAN FRANCISCO Fans of television's Iron Chef series know the prowess of chef Ron Siegel: He won the show's 1998 Lobster Battle. His menu at Masa's in the Executive Hotel Vintage Court is contemporary French with Japanese nuances. The protégé of luminaries Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, Siegel is noted for dishes such as grilled big fin squid in mirin sake sauce or his Sonoma duck breast with foie gras ravioli. The restaurant also offers several tasting menus, including a six-course vegetarian option.

SEATTLE Campagne overlooks Elliott Bay in the Inn at the Market hotel, which is next to food heaven, aka Seattle's famous Pike Place Market. The restaurant features the very fresh, very seasonal country French food of chef Daisley Gordon. This includes calamari (lightly dusted with ground almonds and sauteed in olive oil) and soupe de poisson, which features a riot of fish and tomatoes flavored with tarragon and saffron and garnished with garden vegetables, rouille and croutons.

WASHINGTON Citronelle, in Georgetown's Latham Hotel, remains one of the city's favorites due to chef Michel Richard's culinary mastery. Among his best dishes are razor clam chowder with celeriac and leeks, escargots in spinach gnocchi or braised veal lamb shank pot au feu. The chef's table seats up to eight diners for a special "backstage" view.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joel Ann Rea. All rights reserved.