The Lotte New York Palace Hotel offers an uncommon approach to the philosophy of hospitality. From the moment that the din of Madison Avenue evaporates behind you, the experience of visiting this property is utterly breathtaking. Each detail is carefully choreographed down to the minutia. From the tasseled umbrellas shielding the courtyard tables from the sun, to the generously adorned landscaping- the immediate experience is memorable. Even the music-scape that dissolves into the background shields the visitor from the street. The way the former carriage courtyard is set gives the immediate impression to welcome you to the most luxurious accommodations.
Step into the gently restored mid 19th century mansion through the carriage courtyard and experience the air of relaxation for yourself. Time stands still and one can imagine the opulence and careful attention paid to the architecture of the mansion. This is a grand building built from the finest materials of the day. It’s obvious to even the most casual observer that the family who lived within these storied walls spared no expense building the home.
Now, over one hundred years later and a complete ground up renovation, this grand dame of Madison Avenue and fiftieth streets is glowing again.
The Villard Restaurant is handsomely located in the formal dining room of the mansion. It’s an elegant setting. From the gilded Latin writing that rings the soaring ceilings to the grand fireplace seemingly plucked from a European castle to the deeply polished, dark wood floor; elegance and seamless, Continental service is the rule of this roost. But what does Continental mean? It means elegant conversational service with a smile. Continental means to me a studied demeanor, not pretentious in any way- but offering a hushed mood that is both calming and relaxing. This fashion of service is sadly missing from most restaurants. Villard raises the bar, literally. How do they do it so well?
Brian, the friendly chap who came by the table made it crystal clear. He believes in quality of the whole experience. But not just the auspices of ingredients-because in a setting such as this, the ingredients are on stage because they are brilliant. You have to offer something that most restaurants wish they could offer. That is the genuine smile that each person exudes, even while performing their detail oriented, highly polished service. It’s not easy… I’ve tried to do this in a five star restaurant. And not well! This is a task to make everyone feel cared for, not just served.
Morning brings business people and their meetings, other tables are scattered about with locals and hotel guests who want an uncommonly delicious breakfast in a most exalted setting.
The waiter and service lead for the table- a round, modern seating, set to the side of the grand fireplace was both intimate and private. The entire room spills forth from the corners and they may well be the best seats in the room with the best view of the swirl of guests and restaurant staff.
Our waiter, an affable and soft-spoken gentleman who made our stay most pleasant, described a decadent plate of shaved white truffles and stone-ground grits. There is nothing more beguiling than white truffles and grits. But that dish had to wait in favor of a once or twice per year dish. What I desired was the classic New York City, brunch staple- the backbone of the term: Grand Hotel Breakfast. The breakfast that speaks to me clearly of sophistication and relaxation is the classic Eggs Benedict. My breakfast companion ordered an egg white omelet with avocado and tomato on the side. A simple repast that made perfect sense in this high style room.
Coffee was ordered and served in perfectly polished pots-holding the steaming liquid from within. The helpful waiter showed my guest how to open the top so not to spill the steaming contents asunder. Nice touch! Orange juice was quickly served, freshly squeezed from the highest quality fruit. Sweet and luscious, 4 or so ounces poured into the modern style glassware. Water was ordered, sparkling- refreshing and crisp, poured into a larger glass of modern design. Jams and Jellies in a tray was set at the top of the bare table, adorned only with woven table mats and crisp white napkins. Ultra elegant! Ultra chic! It was like haute-chic Paris came to NYC and made herself at home at Villard.
The Eggs Benedict came served with a tangle of perfectly roasted new potatoes, each one redolent of their seasonings, tiny bites, bursting with their own potato goodness. The eggs, each one cooked into a perfect round, set on top of equally precise rounds of Canadian Bacon and crispy, buttered English Muffins were unctuous and steaming hot. The Hollandaise, a celebration of butter and whisked, farm fresh egg yolk napped the stack of breakfast goodness without overpowering. Simple and refined are the touchstones at Villard. My companion’s egg whites, a fluffy mound of health and satisfaction were served with a sliced half of an avocado and several slices of tomato. Colorful and bold, the touches of love from within the kitchen are obvious. This is simple food, raised to the highest level.
The beverage menu described a Bloody Mary Bar. Of course the champions of Bloody Mary history are mentioned here with some twists and turns along the way. The Wild West Bloody Mary, assembled with Ketel One Vodka, Mezcal, Tomato Juice, Worcestshire, Horseradish, Black Pepper, Fresh Lemon Juice, Salsa, Bell Pepper, Jalepeno, and Peppered Bacon enticed as did the Spanish Daybreak, a compliment of Belvedere Vodka, Tomato Juice, Worcestershire, Horseradish, Black Pepper, Yellow Bell Pepper, Amontillado Sherry, Fresh Lemon Juice, Celery Salt and Tabasco was cheery and bold to my imagination. But the “Classic” with Grey Goose Vodka, Tomato Juice, Worcestershire, Horseradish, Black Pepper, Fresh Lemon Juice, Celery and Olive. I didn’t have to go any further. It was served in a crystal glass, just the right amount of ice- assembled with a smile. I could feel that friendly nature in every sip. Such is the way at Villard. Doing something with passion. A task, possibly mundane to others is handled with a word that is sadly missing from many restaurant experiences. That word is “hospitality.”
Villard does this darned well. And as it turned out, in small talk that our waiter shared with us, he too is influenced by the cocktail arts and worked with the King of Cocktails himself, Dale DeGroff. Class Act! Small world, but at the top of this rarified air comes humility and that humility cannot be taught. It is innate. Villard shows this generosity with every bite.
Go and experience this lovely room for yourself and take a vacation to Paris without a plane ticket. Dress up and have fun. Drink a Bloody Mary or any of their mixology level cocktails while having breakfast. It’s ok, no one will tell on you, even if it is 10:30 in the morning!