Showing posts with label U.S. Hotel Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label U.S. Hotel Reviews. Show all posts

Renaissance Long Beach: The Great Escape

A weekend away can be refreshing. A facelift for the spirit.

I peer between the unending lines of cars dragging down the 405 freeway. I glance in my rear view mirror and see similar lines dug into my face. Reflections cause pause, then panic. I'm resigned to traffic, but not to the personal effects of stress from living in Los Angeles: The Big Ego.

I jump at the chance to sprint to Long Beach. I have friends there I rarely see because in my mind that tiny change in area code stretches to a time zone difference. Crazy; it's only half an hour away. Today, I need it to be a world away.

I pull into the Renaissance Hotel -- my restorative home for three days. The property is a good match for me, she's had a recent renovation and is putting a new, better face forward.

My godmother must have whispered to them what she once told me: A woman who will tell her age will tell anything. 

I gasp at the Wonkaland lobby -- they didn't merely slap a coat of makeup on the old lady, they tore down walls and knocked the stuffiness out of her. The "surgeon" sewed her up beautifully.

The front desk clerk asks if I need help with my bags. Only under my eyes. He smilingly welcomes any questions about the property, or things to do locally. The pool's on Three.

I pass a painting next to the elevators of what I think is a woman in pain. I wonder if I brought anything large enough to throw over it. I hope my harsh, critical attitude fades this weekend and I get less judgey.

An ascension in the glass elevator makes me feel like champagne bubbles rising in a bottle. I pop out on the 12th floor and float into my room with a view of the ocean and the Queen Mary. It's calming.

The ideal facelift achieves a rested look. The result shouldn't look bizarre, like your face is racing 100 MPH down a twisted road, contorted by the pressure. Lie down on a bed, hold up a mirror and gently regard. That's the desired result.

A blue chair in the corner might soothe my blues away. Funny how sinking in a comfy chair can raise one's spirits. And appetite. I order room service.

Within minutes there's a knock on my door. I open it to find a little bespeckled room service waiter holding a tray. While normally I'd be wary of a geek bearing gifts -- I spy chocolate-laced Rice Krispy treats.

I paw at the tray and close the door, hoping I wasn't rude. I need a moment to be alone with my carbs. When I'm tired I get guttural and mono-syllabic. The lovely cheese and prosciutto loosen my tongue. I crack the crostini, giving my tight attitude a chiropractic adjustment.

I wander down to SIP - their watering hole-in-one of a bar. The room is spacious; I get as chatty as the conversational furniture groupings. I fortuitously meet Pam Ryan, she's kind, athletic, tanned. I like to go after what I don't have. I want to be tan and athletic. I need to be more kind.

She's also the General Manager of the hotel. I raise my glass to her --  a Blood Orange Daiquiri matches not only the sunset, but Pam's fiery attitude about reviving the Long Beach Renaissance. She loves the tourists who swim up to the hotel from all over the world. She also wants to involve the local community and host charitable and profitable events around the pool, perched on the 3rd floor terrace, open to the sky. And possibilities. Pam plans on taking advantage of the newly strengthened property, to then reach out and grab hold of locals and build up the hotel's presence. Raise your glass, raise awareness, raise the roof, raise money. 

All of that activity makes me hungry. Pam tells me that she recruited Chef Janine Falvo to restructure the menus. Part of building a new house is the chance to accessorize. I discover Janine is the brain behind the bran; she made the rice treats. Her secret might be browned butter but you did not hear that from me. Chef's have mad knife skills.

Janine tells me that she's befriended local fishermen "down at the docks".  Thanks to Steinbeck, I'd normally peek through a crack in the metaphor door and imagine sweet Janine turning tricks for sailors. But when she produces a crab-stuffed grilled cheese sandwich --  I know she's on the level.

The crab is so fresh it slaps me in the face, defending its Chef's honor. Falvo's homemade potato chips are crisp, lightly dusted with a special seasoning the sailor gave her (stop!) and gone in sixty seconds.

I return to my room with the view to do the one job I must do when on any vacation: assist the sun in it's attempt to set. We are successful. We are pleased.

The room darkening shades are a giant version of the eye mask worn by a bitchy Joan Crawford. (Like Joan, the hotel features Pepsi.) I drift off to sleep on the puffy-but-supportive cloud of a bed.

I wake up refreshed. I pop up like toast -- this faraway, nearby getaway has renewed my spirit. And my desire for toast. I dance down to breakfast, my still pokey-up bedhead as the rooster's comb. Oh no, Ive gotten cocky with one night's rest.

Chef Janine saw this coming. She soothes the savage me with sous vide eggs, coddled at 70 degrees.

What the hell kind of woman is up at the crack of dawn to sous vide eggs?! You might as well know that she's also smoking bacon over pecan wood in the back. (Hey, it's California, perfectly legal.) I lean over to hug Chef Janine. She can't realize that I am using the opportunity to see if she'll fit in my suitcase.

The front desk clerk distracts me with a recommendation that I go whale watching. They must really want me gone, they offer me a coupon. The boat launches only steps away from the lobby.

If you invented the internet, painted the statue of David, or negotiated world peace -- but have never been caught in a flash mob of dolphins  -- you have not yet actualized.

Back at the hotel, I take full advantage of the restorative powers of the Renaissance renovation. They shook it up a notch.

I sweat out big-city toxins in their gym. I sit by the pool, where the warm sun hits my stiff desk-chair posture and melts it down into one of their wicker deck lounges. I hop in the new, white subway-tiled shower. I lather, rinse and repeat everything for the next two days. They participate in the Marriott Spirit to Preserve environmental project, so I re-use my towel. (Even if you stay in another hotel that doesn't make this pledge, please re-use your towels. Start something.)

OMG I've been away from LA for two days and I'm acting more kind. I'm my own emotional hero. Who can I hug real fast?

My time away is ending. I began to reflect on my surroundings, wanting to appreciate the new digs one last time. Get Smart star Don Adams referred to aging as looking a little long in the caps. The Renaissance got smart and nipped and tucked that in the nick of time.

Refreshed, restored, I think of the dolphins as I hop on the 405.

I'm running on a full tank of rest. Partially fueled by Chef Janine's potato chips.

I'll be back.

Renaissance Hotel. 111 East Ocean Boulevard. Long Beach, CA 90802. (562) 437-5900

St Regis Princeville Kauai - Adventure Awaits on You

Just when you think it’s safe to pack your bikini away, Winter kicks Short-Term Memory right in its gelatinous ass, and the beaches of Hawaii, LA’s far-western suburb, call.
When she calls, I don’t pick up, I pack up.

I love the Garden Island of Kauai, where you can spend the morning basking in the sun on the southern beaches of Poipu, and hike the North Shore’s scarily steep Nā Pali Coast and find the Jurassic Falls in time for a sunset that will make you believe in magic.

View from ocean of Kauai sunset

Each of Kauai’s resorts has a unique flavor – this trip I stayed at the St. Regis, largely regarded as Kauai’s premier property.  But sometimes, even the best dishes need a little seasoning.

The St. Regis is isolated. I glided along the two-mile driveway like a golf ball being driven along their adjacent course. I welcomed this separation from my mainland mommy for the next eight days, comforted by the hope that the St. Regis resort would be my rich travel baby daddy and provide everything I could want.

I had a wonderful time on Kauai. The St. Regis wasn’t perfect, and I believe they want to be, so I took a few notes.

Bench at the entrance of the St Regis hotel in Princeville

I love getting lei’d at a resort, and as the valet parker roughly slung the rope of local beads around my neck and took my bags, I thought, Buy a guy a mai tai first.

I love their genteel, sit-at-a-desk style check-in process, rather than the standing-in-line type. Lines open the door for unwelcome news: my room is not ready; I have three months to live, etc. 

I hope they reverse their eco-practices. I fear a new island being formed by the millions of empty complimentary St. Regis water bottles offered me at every turn. Newspapers, slung in a nylon bag, are unnecessarily hung on every door each morning, without request. In Hawaii, my news is that I am in Hawaii.

Large Cabinet with Urns and Telephone

The huge urns near each elevator are empty of famed Hawaiian tropical flower arrangements, echoing a more prosperous time. I would remove them and place stacks of newspapers in the space to remind those unaware they are in Hawaii.

From every room you witness the bully of a pink sunrise push the night sky up and out of the way, revealing a sparkling Hanalei Bay. You stare right into Puff the Magic Dragon’s Eye, red from his perpetual high and the local, iron-rich dirt. The surfers and paddle boarders appear to be tiny ants on a log, conquering impossibly huge crashing waves.

Yoga is offered, sadly not daily, on a small patch of grass near the water. I shavasana’d next to a freshly laid orchid bridal aisle, leftover from one of the hourly weddings. I meditated on which was costlier – getting married at this five-star destination, or the statistically probable divorce.

Yoga mat near the beach

Waiting forever for my car at valet, I swear I heard the Eagles sing, “You can check in any time you want, but you can never leave.” I smelled salt air mixed with a ploy to get me to spend all my time and money there. They need to step that whole process up, but they did keep me hydrated though with an unending supply of water bottles.

Slower business has dictated random hours for the two restaurants. I first visited the casual Terrace. I excitedly tucked into the island’s legendary ahi tuna poke. The limp fried wonton out of the top was an appetite erection killer. I felt worse than usual for busting up a mate-for-life lobster couple when they overcooked the lobster omelet – twice. And their Caesar salad contained confusing tomatoes. I looked for the hidden camera as I ate them, grateful for the nutrition, but surely I was being punked.

The pricier Kauai Grill held more promise. Their menu was designed by the king of  haute cuisine, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Do not be misled by the interior décor -- it looks like a Denny’s. Do be misled by their website that spells Zagat, Zaggat.

The stellar dish of the dining room is Leon Pellicer, their new maitre d’. He table-hops like Ann-Margret working a Vegas stage. He dragged the new young French chef out to meet me, who trained with Jean-Georges and took over the existing menu. I wanted to see how this new guy rolled, so I tried all of his specials. Inheriting a menu is like inheriting a cat when you already have two; you might love it, but love your own cat more.

You think the spicily, crunchily yummy and inventive foie gras brule is cruel? True torture is the surfer waiters being forced to look longingly out the huge windows to the open, tempting sea. I am sure a few have quit mid-shift, diving off the balcony to hang ten.

St. Regis Princeville's bruleed foie gras

Next up was his respectful homage to Le Cirque’s classic salmon tartare, translated here into tuna poke gently hovering over avocado as smooth as Nat King Cole’s voice, under a brilliant shelter of local, hot pink watermelon radishes:

An appetizing dish of raw tuna and avocado cream

The chef’s special was a rib-eye steak, precisely presented with delicious symmetry:

St. Regis Princeville Grill's steak

Other dining options include the lobby bar where they offer a free shut-the-F-up Sunset show every night, and some fairly tasty small plates. The spiced chicken samosas had me at aloha. Currently, the menu is a trip around the world when it wants to be tapas -- they need to sever ties with about five interloping countries.

I urge you to only suffer the inconsistent room service vittles if you have been bitten by a shark and can’t leave your bed.

I leave Kauai always wanting more. I wish the St. Regis completed their hospitality profile like their Grill’s chef completed the flavor profile.

All in all, the St Regis is a lovely horizontal ivory tower isolated on the tip of Princeville. The resort wants to provide everything so you never leave – give me better reasons to stay.