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Examiner
  • Taste of Travel: Something about The Surrey

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  • With good reason, people flock to Florida and the Caribbean to escape the brutal chill of winter. But in the Big Apple, where taxis are the everyday mode of transportation, winters aren’t so bad. In fact, there’s so much to do in New York City in the summertime, winter allows visitors to partake in a new set of options, both inside and out. Think ice-skating at Rockefeller Plaza or a brisk walk along Central Park. Or, if you’re like me, spend all your time indoors indulging in spa treatments, museum visits and the culinary pleasures that surround. If you opt for the indoors, break into your slush fund to stay in a luxurious hotel, preferably one that opened in the late 1920s as a residence that housed celebrities such as Bette Davis and John F. Kennedy, and one with a king-size bed priced at $10,000.
    The Surrey could not be more welcoming. Before I arrive at this Upper East Side boutique hotel in the elusive section of New York City, I am sent a questionnaire in regard to my favorite snacks and reading material. My three-hour ride on the Amtrak train from Boston brought me to Penn Station, where a car sent by The Surrey picked me up. Once checked in, I open my door to a Chanel-inspired interior design of Lauren Rottet, as well as a table of goodies that includes a bowl filled with my favorite black licorice, a box of Parisian dark chocolate thin squares and Vogue, Vanity Fair and Town & Country magazines wrapped up in black ribbons with The Surrey logo. My peek over the orchid arrangement to gaze out the window is of rooftop gardens on Madison Avenue buildings. As I soak in the view, I imagine these rooftops as popular hangout spots in the summer, and even in winter, shoppers stroll the luxury retail-laden streets below. I later discover The Surrey has its own rooftop haven that I’ll be sure to visit come summertime.
    For now, I order a taxi and take a ride to Eataly for a quick lunch of Neapolitan pizza and Italian wine, stock up on kitchenware and homemade pasta and other Italian delicacies, head down to the Bar Pleiades. This isn’t your everyday bar, but one designed in the fashion of a Chanel compact, right down to the puffed triangular stitching on the walls. I almost faint from the thrill of walking in to this design, but I compose myself to save face within the trendy bar scene. A sip on The Last Caress, a snow-cone consistency made with gin and topped with this libation’s base: juniper berries, served in a champagne coupe, sets me at ease.
    Bar Pleiades is adjacent to famous French Chef Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud, where I am seated for a French-inspired dinner that begins with an elegant 2010 bottle of Domaine Jean-Michel Gaunoux Les Perrieres, recommended by the sommelier, and an amuse bouche trio of a salty Massachusetts oyster, a tiny arancini and a truffled tuna ta tare. My favorite dish of the evening is chestnut agnolotti topped with shaved black truffles. A long drizzle of cheese and chestnut cream accompanies each spoonful. My big regret in ordering this dish is that I ordered it as an appetizer and not as my main entrée. It is that good. The smoky mushroom flavors mingle well with the Parmesan froth, black truffle butter and perfectly cooked risotto that lifts my winter-worn mindset.
    Page 2 of 4 - Breakfast in bed the next morning kept with the same theme: mushroom quiche prepared by Café Boulud, before heading to Cornelia Spa for a signature facial.
    Upon entering the spa, I am once again overcome with warm welcomes before seated between curtains of luxury linens. I accept a cup of pomegranate green tea and a warmed neck pillow as I unwind in the quiet transition space. A library of books and accessories for sale is within my view, but nowhere can I find lockers. That is not the style of Cornelia Spa, which has five treatment rooms, each with its own sofa, shower and restroom so that any and all treatments are conducted without having to change into a robe and move from room to room.
    First things first, a teaspoon of raw chestnut honey to quiet my nervous system, or so I am told. It’s delicious and coats my throat like the comfort of a warm blanket.
    Based on an individual’s needs, a facial service is varied, and my tired, aged, dehydrated skin welcomes the elaborate massage techniques, extraction and slathering of pumpkin cleanser before my oxygen mask is applied over gauze for better lifting and peeling. Before, during and after my treatment, I am lulled to relaxation with a thorough massage of my hands, arms, back, shoulders and face.
    Apres facial I am led, slowly, to that same chair within the linen curtains where another cup of tea awaits, as does a meringue cookie and spoon filled with spiced nuts. Cornelia Spa has my vote as one of the factors that make The Surrey so special. The before version of my tired face was quite different than the one I walked out with, one revitalized, clearer and hydrated.
    By the time my cab drops me off at Il Ristorante for lunch, I’m craving the kale/Parmesan salad and fill up on half the dish after a helping of Italian hams and before indulging in a few bites of spaghetti carbonara. The ambiance of fresco walls and patrons conversing in Italian add significantly to this must-repeat experience.
    Now I am full, so a walk in lieu of a taxi is decided to get to Jewels by JAR at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where more than 400 whimsical works by the reclusive Joel A. Rosenthal and his Swiss-born partner/fellow designer Pierre Jeannett are on display. Prior to the Met’s current show, Rosenthal’s only show in New York was a small, invitation-only event for four hours in November 1987, when the JAR Jewels were displayed in the middle of a darkened room, and each guest was given a flashlight to view them.
    Their owners have graciously lent most of the pieces in the show; JAR doesn’t maintain a "stock" of pieces, as most are made for a specific person, or because of the inspiration of a particular stone or material.
    Page 3 of 4 - Decadent jewels dangle or are embedded in handkerchief and spiral earrings, brooches and rings on loan from celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow. The exhibit is so intensely envy provoking that I find myself dreaming of sporting such splendors as I exit the large-scale museum.
    Alas, my visions are alive only in my dreams in the catnap I take before dinner at Tribeca-based Dylan Prime, a brick-walled steakhouse where Chef Kerry Heffernan serves up plates of family-style portions to the large group I meet. House-made charcuterie, homemade cavatelli butternut squash with brown butter, pork belly with a crisp top of deliciousness, pasta "bathed in butternut squash," fried oysters with bone marrow and rib eye so tender it makes me crave more once I head back to Boston.
    But before I head bid adieu from Penn Station, I work off some calories at Refine Method, a high-cardio energizing workout founded by Brynn Putnam, who has established a partnership with The Surrey. By 7:30 a.m. I was performing jumping jacks and running in place before using my body weight in resistance training, as well as kettlebells and a medicine ball. The women in this class are serious about getting and keeping in shape; there is no fluff and chatter here. The Surrey offers a spacation package that includes classes at Refine Method. Visit Thesurrey.com/Special.aspx?name=Spacation_Package for information.
    Charlene Peters is editor special features at GateHouse Media. She can be reached by email at cpeters@wickedlocal.com.
    ***
    WILD MUSHROOM TARTE FLAMBEE
    From Daniel Boulud’s book, "Daniel: My French Cuisine"
    Dough:
    • 1 3/4 cups pasta flour
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/4 t salt
    • 1 t colza oil
    Topping:
    • 1 cup fromage blanc
    • 1/2 cup crème fraiche
    • 2 T flour
    • 1 T colza oil
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 1/4 t freshly ground nutmeg
    • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
    • 3 T butter
    • 1 lb. hen of the woods or other wild mushrooms, cut into bite-size pieces, washed and patted dry
    To finish:
    • 1 large onion, finely chopped
    • 1/2 bunch oregano leaves
    • 1/2 bunch chives, thinly sliced
    For the dough: In an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, milk, salt and oil. Mix on medium speed for three minutes. If needed, add one tablespoon warm water to help the dough come together into a solid mass. Continue to knead the dough on medium speed until smooth, about eight minutes. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to three days.
    Divide the dough into six portions. Using a pasta machine, roll each portion, decreasing the thickness after each pass, into long, very thin 5-inch-wide sheets (setting No. 1 on most machines). You will need to do this in several batches. Trim the sheets into approximately 10- to 12-inch lengths. Transfer to a tray in between layers of parchment paper and refrigerate (or freeze until needed).
    Page 4 of 4 - For the topping: In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the fromage blanc, crème fraiche, flour, oil, egg yolk and nutmeg until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and keep chilled.
    Brown the butter in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain onto a paper towel-lined plate.
    To finish: If you have a pizza stone, place it on the bottom of the oven; otherwise, an upside-down baking sheet can be substituted. Preheat the oven to 500 F.
    Place a sheet of dough on a lightly floured pizza peel. Spread the cream topping in a thin layer over the dough, making sure it is evenly distributed. Leave a quarter-inch border around the edge of the dough. Sprinkle one-sixth of the onion, mushrooms, oregano and chives evenly over the cream topping. Repeat to make all six tartes. Slide the flambees, one at a time, onto the pizza stone and bake until crispy on the bottom and lightly browned on top. Slice and serve immediately.

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