The creme de la creme
What were they thinking? That's the question a number of connoisseurs of Paris' top-ranking hotels are still asking after last month's announcement that four of the city's swankiest hostelries had earned the celestial ranking of "palace" hotel. And that left a few really swell places to bunk stranded in the muck of a mere five-star ranking.
In 2009, in an effort to further emphasize the country's luxurious accommodations and lure affluent travelers, the French government created this ultimate hotel designation. Those reaching that elevated status were announced in May with the Plaza Athénée, the Bristol, the Meurice and the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome taking bows for their ascension. Four other properties in France, including the vaunted Grand Hotel du Cap in Cap d'Antibes, were equally honored. Finishing the ranks were l'Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, and Les Airelles and Le Cheval Blanc in Courchevel.
“I have a bitter taste of victory in my mouth. That the Ritz and especially the George V were not on the list removes all credibility from the award.”
The selection was made by a jury, headed by a member of the Académie Francaise and comprised of personalities from the worlds of hospitality, architecture and design, the arts and business. According to FranceGuide, the official website of the French Government Tourist Office, the selection was based on the hotel's location, historical significance, room comfort, service, multi-lingual staff and health and spa facilities.
While few would have serious complaints about the honored properties, the grumbling centers around certain omissions. The Ritz and the Four Seasons George V, both favorites among a well-heeled international clientele including a number of Houstonians, didn't make the cut. Neither did the Hotel de Crillon, though the Paris cognoscenti seemed less perturbed by that one.
Probably no one expressed frustration with the new ranking more succinctly than Francois Delahaye, who heads the venerable Plaza Athénée and said that the omissions were simply too much. As he told AFP Relaxnews, “I have a bitter taste of victory in my mouth. That the Ritz and especially the George V were not on the list removes all credibility from the award.”
On a recent visit to Paris, CultureMap explored three of the four "palace" properties. And had our per diem extended to include $1,200 a night hotel rooms, we would have definitely checked in. With or with the brass "Palace" plaque, the aforementioned hotels boast Michelin-starred restaurants, truly world class spas (no hype necessary), exceptionally beautiful rooms, spacious modern baths and a general ambiance that is not replicated anywhere else in the world. Consider for example the lush courtyards of the Plaza Athénée and the Bristol. For drinks or dining, they are without peer.
The eight hotels will maintain their "palace" ranking for five years. In the meantime, perhaps a few more deserving Paris properties will be added to the top rung.
An American in Paris
Very nice, very nice indeed. That is our evaluation of Le Restaurant Ralph's, as in Ralph Lauren, that occupies a certain portion of the American designer's signature store on the oh-so-chic Boulevard Saint-Germain.
The Ralph Lauren experience, as would be expected, is rich with the designer's clubby esthetic, his imprint gently landing in Paris and making a beautiful American statement. The restaurant occupies the courtyard and back portion of an hotel particular built in 1683. His flagship store comprises the remainder of the splendid house.
In true Ralph Lauren tradition, the restaurant is a feast for the eyes, whether you're seated in the blue and white confection of the cobblestone courtyard or the lush paneled interiors. We dined in the courtyard beneath large white umbrellas, seated in wrought-iron arm chairs fluffed with comfy pillows and cushions.
The restaurant is not inexpensive. Our lunch cost around $150 (one beer, no wine). But we loved the ambiance, as do a number of Houstonians who regularly dine there when in Paris.
The conversation of the very chic clientele (few if any tourists) was slightly muffled by the hum of trickling water in the aged horse-watering fountain. The profusion of leafy green plants, lush ferns, climbing ivies and white flowers in little baskets on each table added just the right touch.
Inside, guests lunched in a gentleman's lair dressed with heavily-beamed ceiling, unfinished limestone, equestrian paintings and wonderfully aged leather banquettes and brass-studded dinner chairs. On fine weather days, the dining room doors are open to the courtyard. In winter, we could only dream of a fire in the huge hearth.
Beyond the signature Ralph Lauren ambiance, patrons come for the all-American cuisine, not the least of which are the tenderloin and strip steaks, Black Angus beef flown in from the owner's Double RL ranch in Colorado. The menu includes such all-American staples as Maryland crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, New England clam chowder, burgers, club sandwiches, grilled New England lobster and cowboy steak. I opted for the filet of sole and fries. Delicious. My husband had the club, which he would not recommend.
The kitchen apparently made the mistake of preparing the sandwich when ordered, not taking into consideration that the sole takes a bit longer to prepare, as the waiter advised. My husband suspected that the chef popped it in the microwave, just before serving, to warm the toast. Mistake. That actually made the toast soggy.
The restaurant is not inexpensive. Our lunch cost around $150 (one beer, no wine). But we loved the ambiance, as do a number of Houstonians who regularly dine there when in Paris.
Everyone who knows anything about Paris has a favorite restaurant or two or three. When we asked Paris-based designer Andrew Gn and his partner Erick Horlin for a recommendation, they hesitated. You could see the ambivalence. Should they or should they not share their favorite spot with a member of the media who would surely blab about it back home in Houston?
But that cat was already out of the bag. Travel & Leisure had previously outed the tiny Restaurant Petrelle in a "Best of Paris" round-up and more than a few publications have mentioned it as a favorite of Madonna and Christian Louboutin. A year ago, Katy's own Renée Zellweger and Bradley Cooper were sighted by People magazine as having a romantic dinner there.
So off we went on a 15-minute cab ride to the ninth arrondissement, making it just in time for our 8:30 reservation.
For all the charm that the neighborhood lacks, the interiors of this tiny eatery (named after its address at 34 Rue Pétrelle) pulsate with a country house-like warmth and a clever visual play that extends from the colorful murals to the zany chandeliers that gently light the nine tables. That's right, only nine tables. One waiter. One chef — Jean-Luc André. And one house cat, a friendly feline that strolls nonchalantly among the tables.
While you can't describe the playful interiors as romantic, the restaurant enjoys a certain sex appeal thanks in part to the soft lighting and in part to the seductive candlelight and fading roses on the tables.
My husband followed Gn's advice and ordered the oeufs en cocotte with fragrant morels as a starter. This wildly rich concoction of buttered eggs cooked in a ramekin and braised in a bath of heavy cream was heavenly. My fricassee of artichoke salad, at the opposite end of the calorie spectrum, was delectably satisfying in a totally different way.
That's right, only nine tables. One waiter. One chef — Jean-Luc André. And one house cat, a friendly feline that strolls nonchalantly among the tables.
We shared tastes of our main courses — my husband savoring his pigeon and I loving the country-style roasted lamb accompanied with a melange of eggplant and other garden vegetables. The ever-changing seasonal menu and selection of fresh-from-the-garden ingredients are what appeal most to Gn and Horlin. They report that the chef grows the heirloom vegetables and herbs at his country home not far from Paris. What he doesn't grow himself, he picks up in the neighborhood.
Moving on to dessert, again on Gn's recommendation, I opted for the chocolate cake while my husband ordered the cheese course. The rich cake with creme anglaise was to die-for. My husband chose his cheeses from a vast serving tray presented by the waiter.
It was a leisurely dinner that did not suffer from the absence of a full-blown wait staff. Chef André performed with remarkable accuracy on every course, particularly since there was only one assistant in the kitchen on this night.
Just before departing, the waiter arrived at the table with the a help-yourself basket of the restaurant's signature meringues. We finished that taste treat just as the taxi arrived to whisk us back to our hotel.
Fashion frolic in the Marais
"It doesn't happen all at once," says Parisian-based designer Andrew Gn as he surveys his former office that is being transformed into a a trés elegant salon where he has already begun welcoming a coterie of very important women.
The early 18th century townhouse with its soaring ceilings and mullioned French doors on the Rue du Temple in the Marais district is converting nicely into a stunning atelier for the designer and his distinguished clientele. The nuts-and-bolts part of the business has moved across the street, so in the place of desks, computers and crowded clothes racks, Gn is creating a sleek setting, with hints of Old World elegance, for displaying his fashion masterpieces.
"We created this space because we have a lot of VIPs who want to come to us to view the collection and for their fittings," Gn says. "It's all about a new way of shopping. There are a lot of the elite in the country who want to shop that way. It's private. They can drink champagne in a beautiful salon."
Although the space is stunning, Gn demurs that it isn't quite complete on the day of our visit in early June. Yet one can clearly see the vision. The absence of a carpet here, a settee there is reason for Gn feeling the need to explain that everything in the salon is hand-selected and must be found one piece at a time whether it's searching the antique stalls of Les Puces or the Portobello Market in London.
"We designed the space using only antique pieces so you can't just say 'It will be done in six months,' " he says. "We have to search for the pieces and find them when we can. It just doesn't happen like that!" he says.
"If the princess of Qatar is paying $20,000 for a gown, she might want to have a better environment, I mean, if she's going to pay $20,000."
In fact, Gn is headed to London that afternoon, a day early for a charity benefit featuring his fashions, so that he and his partner, Andrew Gn director Erick Horlin, can make it to the antiques market the following morning. But their departure is not before a fitting with Susan Tolson, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Paris Charles Rivkin. Gn is doing her dress for Prince Albert's wedding in Monaco.
In this city replete with gilded, historic salons, Gn's atelier represents a marriage of a classical enthusiasm with new world sensibilities. Take the 18th-century Murano glass chandelier, for example. The original 13-foot-high chandelier was too large for the salon so the creative Gn had it separated into two still massive works.
A floor-to-ceiling lacquered panel across one end was inspired by Whistler's Peacock Room and was created by a respected French lacquer atelier. At the opposite end of the showroom, a sumptuous mural painting (toile gold leaf on oil) by Iranian artist Roshanak Varasteh reveals Gn's whimsy. A massively-scaled pomegranate tree with exotic birds and prancing gazelles spreads across the wall.
Gn's sly wit never far from surface, he adds, "If the princess of Qatar is paying $20,000 for a gown, she might want to have a better environment, I mean, if she's going to pay $20,000."
Before entering the light and airy showroom, guests must pass through the dark reception area (black floor, low black ceiling) furnished in the 18th-century empire style from Liberty of London, the black and gold pieces dating from the early 20th century. The walls are luxuriously upholstered in black silk with gold shot woven through. It is a time warp that stirs the visitor's senses before stepping into the spacious salon.
"We are treating retail as a very personal event, going back to the old way," he concludes.
A rolling inventory
It might seem an oddity to travel all the way to Paris and then take time to see a car collection owned by American designer Ralph Lauren. But this summer's exhibition The Art of the Automobile, Masterpieces from the Ralph Lauren Collection at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on the Rue du Rivoli is one of the public's rare opportunities to view a few gems from the designer's vaunted cache of vintage automobiles.
Lauren, who has been collecting exotic cars since 1961, keeps them under lock and key in his private garage in Westchester County, N.Y., the structure far more museum than storage facility. As Wallpaper magazine described it, "Inside, thanks to design input from the Polo Ralph Lauren interiors team, the collection is displayed in a truly reverent fashion, part Zen garden, part Rothko Room, with every car placed on a carefully lit pedestal, yet kept maintained and primed for instant use."
Only in 2005 were a number of the cars presented for public viewing in an exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Occasionally, Lauren enters his rolling steeds in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance or the Fairfield County Concours in Westport, Conn., giving those attending an up-close look at the glorious wheels.
But this summer in Paris, through Aug. 28, visitors can view first-hand 17 of Lauren's finest autos, all of European provenance. In the grand museum setting, the rich design of the cars is truly understood as art form, "a beauty forged by the quest for speed and performance," as the museum guide explains. "The automobile is considered here as a major art in its own right: for splendor of its forms, colors, materials and design, but also the magical beauty shaped by the quest for efficiency and precision."
On a recent Sunday afternoon, car enthusiasts were queuing up along the Rue du Rivoli waiting for entry to the museum and the rich and rare encounters with such prized autos as the 1938 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic or the 1929 "Blower" Bentley and Jaguar D-type.
The dazzling display of museum-perfect autos includes a number of stunners from Bugatti, Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche. The cars were selected by the museum's curator, Rodolphe Rapetti, who interviewed Lauren about his quest for ownership of the world's most intriguing cars.
If you can't make it to Paris this summer, you might want to check out the hour-long Discovery Channel special on Lauren's collection, Speed, Style and Beauty: The Ralph Lauren Collection airing July 6.
CultureMap Emails are Awesome
Luxe plastic surgery center injects River Oaks with cutting-edge techniques, posh recovery suites, secret access, and more
With the holiday season in full swing and many prepping for a new look for the new year, image-conscious Houstonians have a new option for cutting-edge cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery in one of Houston’s most elite neighborhoods.
Nuveau Plastic Surgery + Medical Aesthetics, a local leader in cosmetic medical procedures, has quietly opened a sleek new facility in River Oaks (3720 Westheimer Rd.). Owned and operated by renowned (and board-certified) plastic surgeon Dr. Edward Lee, the facility offers myriad reconstructive surgeries for men, women, and children, as well as beauty treatments, touch-ups, and more.
Aside from top-of-the-line technology, instrumentation, and treatments, the boutique center has personalized service and features to the tony RO crowd. A secret entrance ensures privacy for discreet clients, much like similar operations in Los Angeles and New York.
Another top-drawer feature: Tastefully appointed pre-op and post-op suites keep patients in-house, rather than having to leave posh treatment centers and head to crowded hospital rooms for recovery.
In keeping with Lee’s insistence on a medicine-first approach, anesthesia for patients is provided by Medical Anesthesia Associates, an MD-only group.
A cut above
Notably, the center places a primary focus on plastic surgery, which, for the uninitiated, has a clear distinction from cosmetic surgery. Randy Rakes, managing partner, tells CultureMap that it’s important for clients to understand the difference.
“You have to understand, you have to go through hundreds of hours of training and cases — face and the entire body — to get that board certification, and go through rigorous testing in order to meet that specification,” he says.
Why is that important? The industry, Rakes notes, is rife with practitioners such as “OBGYNs or dermatologists or people who have not really been trained in the art of plastic surgery, who take a class somewhere and learn how to do liposuction or a fat transfer — and then they're ‘experts’ in aesthetic surgery.”
That’s especially key when selecting a provider for highly invasive — and potentially serious — procedures such as facelifts, eyelid surgeries, tummy tucks, liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast lifts and augmentations, breast reconstruction, and more, Rakes adds.
In an era of Instagram beauty demands, more choosy clients are opting for streamlining facial features. To that end, Lee is one of a select few surgeons in the U.S. who regularly performs “V-Line '' surgery. The set of procedures, popularized in South Korea where Lee honed many of his skills, aim to narrow the width of the jawline and the face.
Aesthetics with an expert eye
Lee’s elegant, 5,500-square-foot center is adorned with CASA Houston designs, Italian-influenced finishes, and soothing elements evocative of a modern art museum or luxury spa. The facility houses a Visia Skin Analysis Studio and seven treatment suites aesthetic work such as Botox, microneedling, VI peels, Halo Laser Resurfacing, Moxi Non-Ablative Laser, Broad Band Light Photofacials, Coolsculpting, Emsculpt, and more.
Rakes says that his registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and estheticians are elite, by design, as he and Lee insist on credentials. “All of our injectors are licensed in the State of Texas,” he says. “Most places don't have that, the reason being is that they are much more highly skilled than a traditional, regular nurse injector. So they have a much higher skill set. The people who do our lasers and things of that nature have 10 to 15 years of experience, so clients know that they're getting the best possible treatment with the best possible devices — we own every medical device that's considered cutting edge in the industry.”
Rakes, a longtime medical industry processional with a keen eye for trends and technology, says that his clients aren’t just looking for traditional services, but new technologies and treatment, such as PRP and other regenerative therapies. “I think patients are kind of moving a little bit away from the traditional Hyaluronic fillers like Restylane and really looking for something with a more natural approach.”
His treatment teams stimulate collagen with fillers such as Radiesse, “and then we combine that with energy-based devices to even further lift the tissue and work as a synergy between using the injectable and the device, because the combination of both of those things give the patient the best possible results,” Rakes notes. Lee and Rakes also focus facial care on medical-grade skincare brands Alastin, Revision, and Elta MD.
A global scope
Aside from his board certification in plastic surgery, Lee has also trained in craniofacial and pediatric surgery. His medical mission work has taken him to Thailand, Haiti, and Cambodia, where he has performed surgeries for nonprofits such as Operation Smile and Smile Train for those in need.
Those in need of non-traditional treatments can also trust Lee, says Rakes, who points to Lee’s work in the cosmetic and plastic surgery-obsessed Korea. “Some of the Korean techniques are much more advanced than the techniques that are available here in the United States,” says Rakes. “Dr. Lee does a lot of things that other physicians here just don't do.”
Those interested should book early, Rakes advises, as the holiday and new year rush is in full swing. The center offers “pre-buying” slots where clients can reserve space and time. “We’ve been very busy,” says Rakes, noting the local celebs who’ve shared the work they’ve received there on social media. “I think people come here because they know they’re getting the very best treatment and results available.”
For longtime Houston food insiders, Peg Lee needs no introduction. A lifelong local culinary instructor, she has been a fixture in the food scene since the 1970s, where she (often humorously) led cooking classes at Houston Community College.
She was a no-brainer to found and direct Rice Epicurean's cooking school. And the newly launched Central Market made waves in 2001 by enticing her to launch its now wildly successful cooking school, which, thanks to Lee, has lured top national and international chefs and food names.
Along the way, Lee mentored now well-known chefs such as Robert Del Grande, Greg Martin, and Mark Cox.
Quite apropos, the Houston legend is now the namesake for a new cooking school in one of the city's most beloved urban green sanctuaries, Hope Farms. The Peg Lee Culinary Classroom in Hope Farms' Gathering Barn now hosts field trips, classes, tastings, and free cooking demonstrations for children and adults.
Locals can also book the charming space, spearheaded by Recipe for Success/Hope Farms founder Gracie Cavnar, for cooking parties and cooking classes for anywhere from four to 24 students. Those interested can find more information on classes, which center on Cavnar's passion for healthy eating, and more here.
As for the classroom, visitors can expect a white, farmhouse-style kitchen with custom cabinets and high-end appliances, all reflective of a home kitchen. Butcherblock countertops, matte black accents, and farm-made tables and more adorn the space, while a Wolf Induction cooktop, A GE Café Smart Five-in-One Wall Oven, and other state-of-the-art appliances get folks cooking.
Fittingly, classroom water is tied into the farm's new rainwater capture system for the ultimate in sustainability.
“Peg was one of my earliest mentors in the imagining and crafting of what Recipe for Success Foundation would become,” Cavnar noted in a statement. “Then, when we began programing, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, helping us teach children to cook and bringing her many resources to help us raise money and awareness for our efforts. It is my deepest honor to pay her tribute with the naming of our classroom.”
New craft brewery bringing 'bold American beer,' Texas comfort food, live music, and more to Sugar Land
Sugar land's new craft brewery
Houston’s growing craft brewery scene will add a new outpost in Sugar Land. Talyard Brewing Co. recently began construction on a 15,000-square-foot production and tap room that will open in early 2024.
Located in Imperial, a massive mixed-use development on the site of the former Imperial Sugar refinery, Talyard will occupy a three-and-a-half acre site that will include a beer garden with shaded seating areas, pickle ball courts, a playground, and a stage for live entertainment.
Principals Keith Teague and Chuck Laughter are Sugar Land natives and neighbors who bring experience from the business world to Talyard. In a release, Teague says that intend to serve “bold American beer” paired with a food menu of Texas comfort food made from locally sourced ingredients.
“We want to push the boundaries of style and tradition by combining old practices and new,” Teague added.
Ultimately, the brewery’s 20-barrel brewhouse will be capable of producing 10,000 barrels per year. For now, brew master Sean Maloney is dialing in recipes on a test system. Formerly of 8th Wonder Brewing, Maloney has been working on the West Coast and recently finished the World Brewing Academy’s Master Brewer Program, administered by the Siebel Institute in Chicago and the Doemens Academy in Munich.
“As I’m sure is the case for many ventures like ours, the idea of starting a craft brewery was hatched over beers in the backyard,” Teague said. “Sean attended high school with Chuck’s son, and over the years, we’d see him at family gatherings during the holidays when he was visiting from the West Coast. Those backyard beer sessions turned into area brewery tours together, and eventually the idea of sharing our passion here locally was born.”
Talyard will add to Imperial’s extensive entertainment options. The area also includes Constellation Field, home to the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, a weekly farmers market, and the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center.