Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dolder Grand, Precise Luxury in Zurich

We went on holiday. Well, I was on holiday. Husband was working and I took a much-needed break. Hadn't had an official vacation in two years. And I wanted something different. A place with deep contrasts to Miami. So we went to Zurich. First impressions of the city: it's like Germany but a little more polished, less harsh. Smooth. Elegant. Everyone speaks perfect English (even my taxi driver from Montenegro).
It's very clean and very quiet. People are soft-spoken. Cars murmur. Trains whisper. No one converses on the tram. There's barely a hushed din in restaurants. The Swiss must have amazing hearing. Or else everyone I grew up with was deaf. Probably a little of both. I definitely prefered the low tones but it's a little off-putting. Especially when you have a toddler toddling about shouting thing like “Truck!” and “Coffee Shop.”
But I digress, because the real star of the show was the place we spent a few glorious days at: The Dolder Grand Hotel, a luxury city resort with a massive spa, a ridiculously grand ballroom where we tried to crash a black-tie event (actually there was no way we would ever have blended in with the dapper-banker crowd), two restaurants and a highly-stylized cocktail bar. The hotel is located on a mountain above the city (we rode the old-school funicular train down the mountain for jaunts to the city) and flanking a nature reserve giving it an exclusive, hilltop hideaway feel.
Walking in to the chateau-like main building with its meticulously-restored marble entryway feels undeniably grand. But there are whimsical touches to this seemingly buttoned-up beauty that break the formality. Curved hallways, tree-branch latticework and a rock and roll-themed Rolling Stones suite lend the place just enough edge to keep things interesting.
An autographed Keith Richards guitar in the Rolling Stones suite.
Like the city of Zurich and the watch making tradition it’s famous for, the Dolder Grand embodies the precise, exacting detail that makes staying at a luxury hotel a worry-free experience. Elevators are appropriately muffled, lighting is well-calibrated, rooms are sound-proof, design is tasteful-yet-comfortable and everything arrives on time. Originally built as a “Curhaus” in 1899, the hotel underwent a massive redesign by famed architect Sir Norman Foster and reopened in 2008 after four years of renovations.
A typical room at the Dolder Grand is a streamlined affair with minimalist décor–dark hard wood floors, cream-colored furniture and marble bathrooms. The bathrooms are a study in Zen opulence with chocolate marble sinks, sparkling fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows framing mountain views. Large white whirlpool tubs come with complimentary bath salts and soaking oils (with dried flower petals! le sigh).
There are two restaurants–the Garden Restaurant and chef Heiko Nieder’s two-Michelin star award-winning The Restaurant (lobster with shavings of tender strawberries, finely diced beetroot with pomegranate, that sort of thing). There’s also the tranquil lobby where afternoon tea is served in the winter and the noir-ish bar awash in candles and glossy black tables.
Since we were with toddler we passed on the Michelin-starred affair and opted for The Garden Restaurant, helmed by Chef Gion Fetz. It's the all-day restaurant on premises where quiet breakfasts are conducted in the serene dining room and dainty lunches can be had on the terrace. Jetsetting parents take note: toddlers here get to sit in Norwegian-designed Stokke high chairs, possibly the handsomest kid seats on the market.
A typical lunch includes a salad with chanterelles and spring chicken filled with ricotta cheese over tagliolini pasta with olives and tomatoes while dinner veers in haute territory with air-dried Grison beef with watermelon, summer venison patties with spaetzli and mountain cranberries. And for dessert–coconut pudding mixed with strawberries, cassis sorbet and kaffir-lime oil.
Sensational petit-fours for dessert at lunch.

The dining room at the Michelin-starred Restaurant.
More grooviness in the Rolling Stones suite.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Miami Beach Caffe

Prague restaurateur Tomas Johanovsky wants to bring fine dining back to Ocean Drive with Miami Beach Caffe, a French-inspired spot on the north end of the touristy strip. And yes, the name lacks creativity, or a sense of SEO significance, for that matter, but the place is churning some interesting food. The interior has a mod feel with white-on-white décor of shell-shaped white chairs, teardrop crystal chandeliers and mounted iPads on the walls. There’s ample indoor seating and a glossy bar that specializes in European cocktails like Caipiroshkas and prosecco complimented by strawberry “ravioli,” a nod to the restaurant’s slight molecular gastronomy leanings.
The menu comprises familiar globe-trotting dishes with fancy preparations. The kitchen is headed by Czech Republic-born Executive Chef Ludek Munzar, the former sous chef at the Fish Market in Prague. Prices are in keeping with the high-end vibe: starters are $14-$16, mains $27-$36.
Complimentary bread service includes a marinara dipping sauce and an herbed crème fraiche. The caprese salad is an upscale take with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a cone of tomato tartar served with a mix of sprouts and red balsamic vinegar reduction while the tuna tartar comes with mango puree and not-too-spicy wasabi biscuits. Mains include a grilled tuna with bacon lasagna (above) that adds smoky notes and braised beef cheeks in a cauliflower puree. Dessert includes a bit of kitchen theater as Chef Ludek creates strawberry, dark chocolate and Bailey’s flavored ice cream, at a tableside cart using liquid nitrogen, creating a cloud of smoke.
1412 Ocean Dr. Miami Beach, FL 33139 T: 786.691.1020