A La Carte

The Setai

July 29, 2013

“Who needs St. Barths?” I never thought I'd hear myself utter those words. But after a much needed, long weekend at The Setai  in South Beach, I found it to be the most beautifully perfect beach getaway. And I can't wait to return.

(Photo by: thesetaihotel.com)

Granted, Miami is everything from trashily hip to decadently decayed but, like many American cities, it’s also got a rich history all its own.

With great nostalgia, I recall the sandy ocean breeze to which I awoke after the 24-hour car ride with boys I didn't know, the first time I arrived in Florida. There was no such thing as South Beach then, just Miami. After four decades of trips to South Florida, this one is far and away, my favorite. Karmically proximate to the Collins Avenue block of my teens, The Setai is a slice of zen nirvana wedged between renovated 20th century hotel icons.

(Photo by: thesetaihotel.com)

You will not want to leave the premises, unless it rains. Ok, I did sneak off to Bal Harbour and Lincoln Road for a little retail therapy, but as soon as the skies cleared, I rushed back.

Restored in 2005, this 'Art Deco Fusion' hotel property was originally built in the 1930's as the eight-story Jack Demsey-Vanderbilt Hotel (Dempsey was a construction partner). This Asian-inspired, luxury resort changed management last year. I cannot speak to the change, only to a flawless experience.

(Photo by: thesetaihotel.com)

Incidentally, the Art Deco district in Miami Beach was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The district is made up of four neighborhoods: Espanola Way, Collins and Washington Avenues, Museum Park and Flamingo Park.

As with many hotels that cater to their clientele's every whim, The Setai does not disappoint. But that's not a reason to fall in love. Lush oceanfront landscaping, culinary excellence, world-class spa pampering, and aesthetic kinship are. The hotel's Ercuis cutlery is the stainless version of my silver pattern.

Gray antique bricks from Shanghai decorate the lobby floors. The entranceway, with its warm, wood-panelling, is dotted with comfy brown leather armchairs. Strategially-placed citrus fruit and floral arrangements are everywhere. Malaysian seashells tile the bar and outside, teak courtyard seating, stone sculptures, and waterfalls. Meander past the lounging areas (magically lit at night) to the three pools, spa and gym, outdoor restaurant, and of course, the private beach.

(Photo by: thesetaihotel.com)

Each oversized room has every luxury you expect,  masterfully designed with natural materials, lots of recessed lighting and built-in conveniences. There are 75 rooms, 50 suites, and a 10,000-square-foot penthouse suite with balconies and private pool.

Menus at the bar and two restaurants (a third is currently under renovation) offer an eclectic mix of Asian, French and American. Add a bit of Italian and that also describes the summer clientele.

Chef de Cuisine, Thomas Griese (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Chef de Cuisine, Thomas Griese

Chef de Cuisine, Thomas Griese, prepared THE most luscious steak frites with chimichurri sauce. The secret, he confided is their exclusive beef purveyor. Culinary skill is definitely the other secret. Another memorable meal was the wild salmon with ratatouille and escalloped potatoes. Capuccino, croissant and The New York Times  made for a perfect pre-sunbathing Sunday morning.

The first thing you notice when you venture outside to the three pools (set to three different temperatures) is the intoxicating fragrance of jasmine. No, not air freshner, but from a maze of squarely-sculpted shrubs trimmed to privacy height that surround the cabanas and separate the pools.

(Photo by: thesetaihotel.com)

When you look up, you'll see the 40-story glass tower, better known as The Residences at The Setai. Imagine calling this place home!

So now you know this is quite a swanky place. But what makes The Setai so perfect? 1) proximity to DC (two and-a-half hours from home to beach), 2) exotic serenity a few blocks from Ocean Drive, 3) world-class service, dining and ambience, and 4) a private tropical beach minus a postage stamp of a landing strip.

Note to self: plant jasmine.

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A Delicious Spot, Malmaison

July 14, 2013

Shamim and Zubair Popal (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Shamim and Zubair Popal

As Joséphine's daughter, Hortense, was known to have called the Bonaparte family’s estate outside of Paris, "a delicious spot," so too is Georgetown’s latest upscale French café and bar.

Camille serves a Garden Gimlet cocktail (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Camille serves a Garden Gimlet cocktail

Malmaison, like the Popal family restaurateurs' other D.C. establishments (Napoleon Bistro and Café Bonaparte), offers fine dining with a comfortable Euro-chic vibe. Located on Water Street under the Whitehurst Freeway, the two-floor industrial space has views of Rosslyn and Key Bridge from its floor-to-ceiling garage door windows. Equal parts loft lounge and cozy dining room, the decorations in signature soft lavender on everything from upholstered seating to espresso cups and table linen, are an elegant contrast to the oversized black lacquered furnishings.

(Photo by: Judith Beermann)

The artisanal French liqueur, St. Germain, made of elderberry flowers, infuses many of the refreshing house cocktails, especially "Garden Gimlet," a blend of Citadel gin, fresh basil, rosemary, and yes, St. St.Germain.

The culinary team, headed by Gerard Panaud, has created a menu appealing to carnivores and herbivores alike. We started with the soup of the day, a fresh creamy artichoke with fragrant garlic. For appetizers, we tried the sautéed shrimp with ginger, mango and spinach and a foie gras medallion salad with asparagus and frisée.

Antonio serves a taste of artichoke soup in an espresso cup (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Antonio serves a taste of artichoke soup in an espresso cup

A smooth Gamay & Pinot Noir from Domaine Maison accompanied entrées of braised boneless short ribs with Bordelaise sauce and braised lamb shanks in a bean medley and mint sauce. Other dinner selections included a ravioli and bouillabaisse of vegetables in a safrron broth.

From cocktails to dessert (a mango tart with passion fruit sauce), service and presentation was as elegant as the surroundings.

Malmaison, at 3401 Water Street, is now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tel: 202.817.3340

Sauteed shrimp in Sauternes with ginger and lime sauce (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Sauteed shrimp in Sauternes with ginger and lime sauce

Foie Gras salad (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Foie Gras salad
Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and glazed vegetables (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and glazed vegetables

Braised lamb shanks in a bean medley and mint sauce (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Braised lamb shanks in a bean medley and mint sauce

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Lunching at Ris with Mrs. Brennan

June 30, 2013

David offers Markel freshly ground pepper for his salad (Photo by: Judith Beermann) David offers Markel freshly ground pepper for his salad

“The key to good etiquette is to bite, chew and swallow without offending the people around you.” With that, Mrs.Brennan, quoting Peter Post, grandson of the late etiquette guru, Emily Post, began her first summer etiquette class at Ris. For this actress, model, former D.C. cop and fourth generation Washingtonian, good manners is something Marianne Brennan knows a thing or two about.

Colton waits for his Red Pepper and Corn Soup to cool a bit (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Colton waits for his Red Pepper and Corn Soup to cool a bit

Over 30 years ago she opened an etiquette school briefly, before closing it to focus on raising a family. Now she's  bringing her love for manners back in full force. 

Currently serving as a private etiquette instructor and volunteer etiquette teacher to low-income middle school students at the Washington Jesuit Academy, she operates on one key principle: "It’s not where you come from or what you have, it’s how you treat people that matters. My lessons include table manners, how to write a letter, telephone manners, good grooming, how to shine a shoe and so on."

Ris Lacoste prepares lunch for Mrs. Brennan's class (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Ris Lacoste prepares lunch for Mrs. Brennan's class

This Sunday was all about sharing some of her signature dining out tips with Colleen, John, Briana, Markel, Madie and Colton.

Briana samples the sundae (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Briana samples the sundae

Before ordering, the mannerly students covered the basics, including seating , napkins ("always in your lap"), glasses and utensils ("from outer to inner"), glasses, ordering from a menu, tipping ("never too early to learn the 20% rule") and proper thank you's ("a firm handshake can help you land a job"). 

Some rules a bit more obvious than others: "Do not use your napkin to blow your nose" while others not so intuitive, "Always put a pat of butter on the plate with the butter knife before spreading it on your piece of bread and then return the knife to the top of the plate."

As famed chef, Ris Lacoste prepared a special luncheon menu that included Red Pepper and Corn Soup, Tagliatelle Pasta and Caramel Sundaes, Marianne explained, “I've held classes like this privately, but this is the first one in a restaurant. It's a great location and I just LOVE Ris!"  Her objective? "I want them to feel more comfortable dining out.”

David brings Colleen and Madie beverages (Photo by: Judith Beermann) David brings Colleen and Madie beverages

Markel expertly twirls the pasta around his fork (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Markel expertly twirls the pasta around his fork

Mrs. Brennan's lunch party at Ris is underway (Photo by: Judith Beermann) Mrs. Brennan's lunch party at Ris is underway

John enjoys his Caramel Sundae as Mrs. Brennan listens to Colleen (Photo by: Judith Beermann) John enjoys his Caramel Sundae as Mrs. Brennan listens to Colleen

When asked what brought them here,  most of the young culinary guests answered, "My grandparents." Adding Marianne, “It’s the grandparents that are picking up on a lack of manners."

Before adjourning for the afternoon, and following dessert, Ris Lacoste brought out a special treat for the class, Mrs. Brennan's favorite basil ice cream!

For more information and to schedule etiquette classes, visit Mrs. Brennan's School of Etiquette.

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