Get a Room…
Hotel dining. GOOD hotel dining.
Usually the skeptic, I found out how wonderful this can be in Hong Kong in the 80s.
A knowledgeable friend who knows the Far East advised that the best was to be found in the top hotel dining rooms.
The best chefs were doing their magic independent of the green eyeshades: the F & B’s (food and beverage cost control functionaries). Ingredients were impeccable, kitchens were the cleanest (an issue at the time), and fancy hotels were reaping a huge public relations benefit while the chefs benefited from the traffic and location.
More recently, when in Chengdu, China, I made the Shang Palace in the Shangri-La Hotel my favorite spot for dinners when on my own, enjoying superlative food, whether the Cantonese classics or local Szechuan specialties. On my third night, the manager asked if I had moved in.
The croissant I had last year at the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental Cake Shop rivaled the best I’ve had in Paris.
In the past, it could be assumed that the great hotels would have excellent dining. Take, for example, the Waldorf Astoria’s restaurants when Arno Schmidt was executive chef. Some places, like the New York Mandarin Oriental, still deliver a wonderful restaurant experience.
But most hotel dining has a well-deserved reputation for expensive mediocrity. The tides are, in some cases, turning. Taking the elevator instead of a cab is no longer necessarily a compromise in the United States.
An excellent example, and inspiration for this blog, is Distrito, celebrity chef Jose Garce’s confection in the Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale, AZ. His “new twists on Mexico City street food” are almost universally delicious, and better than most of the competition in Old Town. Ceviches and salads were the standouts.
So, don’t automatically write off the hotel dining room. Find out who the chef is and check the local reviews. But, if the menu is pedestrian, take a walk.
PS The comments about the impact of cost control on food quality (they’re just doing their job, like the executioner in A Tale of Two Cities) have nothing to do with the wonderful FnB restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ, chef Charleen Badman’s jewel in the desert.
Great to see Arno Schmidt’s name – he gave me my big break back in my Homarus days while we were first smoking trout in the backyard! Yes, from my many years of walking into both Restaurant and Hotel kitchens – always look for the dumpsters – the kitchen cannot be far – Hotel Kitchens were palaces compared to restaurants. It all has to do with funding. Then again successful restaurants had kitchens to admire, although cramped. Why I always walked in with a sealed sample pack so I did not require any of their precious counter space. Got that idea from the Estee Lauder Gift Packs!
You have to realize that the best chefs would be scouted by corporate hotel executives to make their dining rooms shine – especially in remote locations where clients may not know where to go and enjoy the comfort af a fine meal in the hotel where they are staying. Plus, once again they have the financial backing to have the Pros – just like the NFL!