When I booked my flights to and from LA I hadn’t really planned on heading to the east coast. It was only when I remembered how desperate I was to go back to Discovery Cove in Florida that I added Orlando to my list and then thought, hey I may as well go to New York as it’s so close. I didn’t really want to waste another whole day flying back to LA from New York so I thought I’d try something a bit different and catch the train to Chicago, which meant I could fly to Vegas afterwards. The Lakeshore Limited, as its name might suggest, is almost entirely lake scenary the whole way along. Of course, you go through Detroit and some other not-so-pretty places but for the part when you’re awake, it’s quite lovely and there are some very American-looking areas.
I’ve always loved the idea of train travel and I’d absolutely LOVE to travel on the Ghan or the Orient Express – they’re just so expensive. Since the trip from New York to Chicago is 19-hours I knew I definitely wanted a bed, and Amtrak offers three options for sleepers. One has enough room to sleep 3-4 (bedroom suite) with two showers and two toilets, the second (bedroom) has a toilet and shower and sleeps two people and the other sleeps two and only has a toilet. (roomette) The price difference between the two most suitable options for me was fairly significant and I figured that I’d flown from Europe to Australia before without taking a shower in between so I didn’t *have* to have one in that 19 hour block. I opted for the roomette which included meals and beverages.
The check-in was pretty smooth and I didn’t realise you have access to the lounge as a sleeper customer (only at certain stations). It’s not as nice as an airport lounge but train stations are notoriously sleazy so it’s pleasant to be on a comfy lounge with some snacks and drinks and you are escorted to the platform when it’s time to board.
The staff members were excellent! Everyone went absolutely above and beyond to make sure that the passengers were comfortable and had everything they needed.
Once you’re in your room you are told you can have your bed made up at any time. I chose for mine to be done while I was at dinner and as a solo traveller it was far more comfortable lying in bed rather than sitting in one of the chairs, although they’re not uncomfortable themselves.
It’s not the prettiest set up, but you’re meant to be looking out the window anyway!
The toilet situation is a little awkward. Being in there alone is fine but I can’t imagine sharing the sleeper with a mate and having to get up in the middle of the night to wee when someone might be asleep millimetres from your naked lower half. I’m actually glad I didn’t take the shower option. In my opinion it would be ridiculously hard to navigate as you basically stand over the toilet with a shower hose. Not my idea of fun.
I was shocked at how nice the food is! As I said above, the meal is included if you’re in the sleeper cabin but you can purchase a proper dinner/lunch/breakfast if you’re in the other classes too. The menu is varied and I chose to have beef cheeks with pearl barley. I think they have an onboard kitchen as I had a lovely fresh omelette for breakfast so it’s not like your food is simply reheated.
The dining cart has a nice feel to it but if you’re travelling alone – be warned – you will be seated with strangers. I lucked out and got seated with a really nice guy from New Jersey who gave me some awesome tips about the next places I was visiting. He was a father or two daughters so gave me good advice on where I should and shouldn’t venture to, from a father’s perspective. VERY helpful.
My only major gripe with the whole Amtrak experience was that the train was delayed due to a broken drawbridge. The part of the track we were stuck on was owned by a freight company so when the bridge was fixed, they let their own delayed train through first. Normally I wouldn’t care about something so out of my control but I only had one night in Chicago and a very tight schedule and the three-hour delay completely threw out my plans so I didn’t get to do about half of the things I had carefully planned.
It was also a little cold in my room. I woke up a few times due to the chill and I slept in my jeans and a light jumper because of it. The blanked you’re supplied with is not very substantial so it might be a good idea to take long pyjamas (I only had shorts and singlet style pjs) or a spare blanket if you’re doing an overnight trip.
All in all, though, a very enjoyable experience and a nice alternative to being stuck in another airport.
Amtrak offers routes all across America. For more details please see their website.
I’ve dined at some pretty amazing restaurants in my time. Plenty of Michelin-starred, chef and critic recommended and a heap from the ‘World’s 50 Best’, however, none have been as perfect as Eleven Madison Park was in every single way. The food, the service, the kitchen, the location – I loved it all. Even the price was reasonable for what you got. Sure, the decor wasn’t my favourite (that honour goes to Le Meurice in Paris) but I’m willing to overlook some slightly outdated timber finishes for what was the best dining experience of my life.
I turned up slightly early for a 12:15 lunch sitting. They tell you prior to prepare for a long afternoon and since I was on holidays I just left the rest of the day free. I started with a cocktail at the restaurant’s bar (where you can also enjoy some bar snacks and drinks without booking in for the full meal) before sitting down at my table. As with most places in the US, my cocktail was strong and I was already getting a little buzz on. I’d planned to get a bottle of Champagne to see me through the afternoon and figured that the cocktail would wear off soon enough and that the one bottle would be sufficient – not too little and not too much. Well…
You’re asked by your amazing waiter to pick one flavour from a list of four, depicted on a small card in an envelope that’s waiting for you on the table. I accidentally picked two (I told you that it was a strong cocktail) but then settled on coffee. This was to be a ‘hero’ flavour that would crop up at different points in the meal.
My allergies and intolerances were noted and very strictly adhered to. I noticed as well that the other tables were having some of their vegetables steamed, at the table, in a pig’s bladder but because I’d said I don’t eat offel, mine were not. While I actually wouldn’t have minded this, it is very much appreciated that they respect your every wish. It will be the least anxious meal of your life!
I was given my menu upon leaving but I have since lost it on my travels. Some of these descriptions may be wrong (or missing) so please forgive me.
A sweet little box tied up with string contains the first amuse bouche. In an homage to classic New York foods, the box contains a little cheddar and apple black and white biscuit which goes down a treat.
Ok, eep, sorry. I have nothing for the next dish. It’s potato crumble and something else. It looks pretty, though, right? I don’t even need to mention how amazing everything tasted. It was ALL exquisite.
Next up was a morel custard and ragout. I had a whole morel-themed dinner later in my trip and this one dish blew that entire degustation away (more on that soon). The idea of eating a mushroom infused custard seems a bit off but it was just right.
As you can see everything is presented so beautifully and looks so clean and sleek. The meal is seemingly endless but it’s like a Calvin Klein fashion show with this elegant yet modern aesthetic that you’ll never tire of.
This pretty little dish is peas cured with lemon and lavender. I just want a dress made out of those colours. So spring-y!
Another ode to New York came in the form of a deconstructed / open-faced Reuben sandwich. Myyyyyy goodness this was incredible. I could have had another twelve of these. I was taking the tiniest little bites because I didn’t want it to end. So damn tasty and such a cute way of presenting the all time classic New York food.
The sandwich was served with a coffee-flavoured soda to wash it down.
After this it was time for a trip to the kitchen. I’ve been invited to a few Michelin-starred restaurants’ kitchens before and they’re all so fun to watch. Eleven Madison Park’s kitchen was large and bustling but almost silent. I was treated to an apple snow cone with apple liqueur as I took in what was going on around me. It’s so lovely to be invited behind the scenes as I think it’s pretty obvious I’ll never be cooking in a kitchen like that!
Back at my table it was time to get back down to the business of eating the best food in the world.
A little pocket with two croissant-esque buns was placed down with two types of butter – lamb fat butter and a ‘normal’ butter made from milk that was as local as you can get to New York. I must admit I struggled with the lamb fat butter, simply because I usually try to avoid eating lamb fat. I had a bit but then stuck with the more approachable butter flavour.
I then stupidly forgot to take photos of my Hudson Valley foie gras course! But it was served with chamomile and white asparagus.
The most creative and fantastically presented was the Waldorf salad. The ingredients (candied walnuts, pickled rhubarb, celery root and lemon mayonaisse) are prepared at the table and tossed in front of you, while the story of the origins of the Waldorf salad is told. Once you’re done with your salad, take the top off the large bowl and you will discover a smaller bowl with a soup containing the flavour of a Waldorf salad inside. Whimsical!
A chicken dish is next. It’s simple but very tasty and would be enjoyable to everyone. I love seeing wholesome food like this in a fine dining restaurant, it just shows you the extent to where you can take the most basic of ingredients. This was served with morels, morel puree, green garlic foam and pea shoots.
Ok, we’re not even close to being done. I didn’t quite get all the details on this one but it was the texture of a pasta but was really made up of veggies. I want to say lettuce but I’m sure I’m wrong.
A little beef broth jelly gets you in the mood for the meat course to follow.
Lamb is next. As an Aussie I’m always keen to see how overseas restaurants treat it and this was exceptional. Shoulder, head and neck are served in three different ways with lettuce and garlic jus. Another simple yet impeccable one.
Eleven Madison Park is full of surprises. It is certainly not a stuffy fine dining establishment! Out comes a little picnic basket with house-made beer, pickled green strawberries, parsley spread and cheese made right there in the restaurant. A soft pretzel bread roll accompanies the condiments and it’s time to have a picnic at the table. Such a fun idea!
I drank the whole bottle of beer – it was very good! As you probably know it’s hard to come by decent beer in the States and I was hanging out for one so it had to be done.
If you’ve ever had the cheese dessert at Vue de Monde, this was very similar. It’s not a very sweet dessert but turns your tastebuds in that direction. This was fairly cheesy itself with a light caramel for some sweetness which was followed by a WHOLE bombe Alaska being brought to the table to be flambéed.
A small section is then brought back for you to eat. I love that a heavy dessert wasn’t served. The whole dining experience, even in its massive duration, is so light and you do not leave feeling like a glutton. I was exhausted by the time I walked out the door but it’s a long afternoon and you are warned about that!
To finish off, a bottle of brandy is placed on the table with a chocolate pretzel and another black and white biscuit – this time sweet – in one final nod to New York. I ended up sitting at the table across from me chatting with a gorgeous couple from Florida who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Socialising optional.
I left with a jar of Eleven Madison Park’s own granola and kept telling myself I’d save it before realising I probably wouldn’t get it back in the country so I left it with a friend in LA to enjoy. I’m sure it was fantastic!
As I’ve said – this was the most standout meal of my whole life. Every aspect was just exceptional and I would not hesitate to go back. I am glad I went for lunch as the light was pouring in the large windows and you could really enjoy the way everything was presented although I’m positive dinner would be just as magical. Do not visit New York without dining here.
Eleven Madison Park is $225 p/p (plus tax and tip) and bookings are essential. For more information: http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com
For my remaining four nights in New York I stayed in mid-town at The Benjamin. A lot of people advise against staying in mid-town because it is loud and busy but for me, on this trip, I had planned to do things that were within a 20-30 block vicinity which is actually a fairly nice walk on a summer’s day.
I chose The Benjamin because it was more like an apartment than a hotel, but with all the facilities you could want from a hotel.
My suite had a huge lounge room and bedroom, so the room would defiintely be suitable for a family of four or potentially two couples who didn’t mind sharing a bathroom. The bathroom wasn’t big and the kitchen was just a kitchenette but the fridge was full-sized so it’s a perfect place to stay if you plan on buying groceries to save on eating out.
I really couldn’t fault this place. It was surrounded by plenty of cafes, a Duane Reade for essentials, a subway station was just 5 seconds around the corner, there were taxis everywhere, and being on Lexington Ave, it was a very quick walk to Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue or pretty much anywhere you really needed to go.
The only times I needed to take taxis were to see a couple of shows on Broadway, when I went to see a movie waaaaaaay downtown and when I was going to Penn Station.
There is a restaurant on site but I never used it. It always seemed really busy and had some great reviews but I just never needed to go there.
Best of all was the price. At only US$289 (plus tax) per night The Benjamin was far cheaper than a lot of hotels in the area and certainly a lot cheaper than the big name ‘brand’ hotels. I don’t mind splurging on a night or three, but 5 nights in New York can add up really quickly so I was really happy with this price given its location, size and cleanliness.
A lot of the suites have just recently been redesigned, and most have a decent view, too. I was looking out on to Lexington Avenue and I actually really enjoyed sitting on the window sill to take in the hustle and bustle of the city. Some rooms have a terrace, of course there is an added cost.
If you’d like more information on The Benjamin, their website is here. This is a fantastic place to stay in the heart of NYC and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again or recommend it to my friends. Just perfect!The Benjamin 125 E 50th Street New York + 1 212 715 2500
I mentioned in my last high tea post that the US in general had really upped its game in terms of afternoon tea. The second of my teas took place at The Plaza, and while they offer a range of high teas I opted for the Eloise Tea – why not? I’d just spent a night in the beautiful Eloise Suite.
The Eloise Tea is aimed at children, but as I’m young at heart I thoroughly enjoyed the different sandwiches – peanut butter and jelly, strawberry and cream cheese, toasted cheese and cucumber and cream cheese – as well as a vareity of sweet options including pink jelly, macarons, chocolate-covered strawberries and brownies. Instead of tea, pink lemonade is served.
As you can see, the array of morsels served is suited to a young palette, so if you are after a sophisticated high tea with a glass of champagne (or two ;) ) it would be better to go for something more classic. But to get into the spirit of The Plaza, the Eloise tea is definitely a winner.
I took home (well, to my next hotel) some of the leftovers and had them for breakfast for the next three days. They were still fresh and kept beautifully and the cakes and pastries were of a very high standard. I find often with establishments that are so popular for high tea the food can begin to taste a bit mass-produced, but not at The Plaza. Everything tasted as if it had been specially prepared just for you, to order.
The Palm Court is just beautiful. It may look familiar to you as it has featured in films such as Bride Wars. I also had my breakfast at the buffet there and it is great for people watching and just for a feeling of absolute decadence. Even if you are travelling on a budget, you must visit the plaza for a drink or something to eat to see this gorgeous part of New York’s history.
The famous portrait of Eloise lives in the right-hand corridor which also leads down to the lovely Todd English Food Hall and other boutiques (such as MCM) that are housed in The Plaza. I actually spotted Josh Duhamel here as he was hosting an event with his wife, Fergie, that night.
For more information on the afternoon teas served by The Plaza in The Palm Court, please see their website here.
One of my happiest memories as a child is getting lost in books. I used to absolutely devour them and never quite understood why Roald Dah’s Matilda was such a phenomenon when I, too, had read my way through the school and public libraries. One of my absolute favourites was Eloise, the story of a little girl who lived at The Plaza Hotel in New York, and all the mischief she got up to.
I had always wanted to stay at The Plaza but I think it was being renovated when I was last in New York so this time I knew I would be staying there no matter what. I couldn’t believe it when I saw on their website that the hotel also housed a dedicated Eloise suite, designed by iconic fashionista Betsey Johnson. I’ve always been a huge fan of Betsey Johnson and have lots of her pieces from over the years.
I booked in to the suite as soon as I could and eagerly awaited my stay. The ‘family ambassador’ really hypes it up when you’re in contact with her initially and when she takes your payment, but I emailed her with some queries and complaints while I was at the hotel and I’m yet to hear anything back (over 6 weeks later), so I guess she’s not too fussed about customer service once you’ve paid. The package was supposed to include a number of gifts such as a book, a dressing gown and a USB stick, however, I never got the USB stick??? Also included was a $100 gift voucher to the Eloise Boutique and Eloise Tea at the famous Palm Court.
You are told when you reserve the room that you will be escorted up to the suite where a photo will be taken of you on the bed and later delivered in an Eloise frame. This is not nearly as exciting as the staff member makes it out to be and my photo was taken with a really dodgy point and shoot so it ended up really dark – to the point that you can’t even see me in it. I thought, particularly travelling on my own, that someone might offer to take a photo of me outside the room as the door is quite pretty. Or, that they’d even offer to take my photo at the Eloise portrait near the lobby. However, even after waiting all afternoon for my room to be ready (I finally got in there at a few minutes to 4:00) I had no such luck.
The room itself is absolutely exquisite. It is definitely a pink overload but you will never tire of the detail, nor will you even be able to take it all in on the first day. Every surface has been carefully designed – the floral wallpaper, the zebra carpet, the printed curtains and the neon light above the bed. The bath gel and shampoo is even fairy floss flavoured and the wall in the bathroom is adorned with pictures of Eloise and her animal friends.
The bed is huge and luxurious and I pretty much didn’t leave it once I got in. The whole room is controlled by an iPad but everything else has an olde world charm, complete with chandeliers and gold-gilt embellishments in the bathroom.
For any little girls who stay there are plenty of dress-ups in the room, as well as Eloise books and DVDs to keep you entertained. I personally watched a whole lot of Seinfeld and Full House re-runs but to each their own.
I also ordered room service which wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be (by Plaza standards – $60 for a huge cobb salad and fries. Hey, I’ve seen worse!). The minibar, however, was pretty over-the-top expensive with those jars of lollies in the pictures above costing $15 each!
I really didn’t want to leave the room at all as it was just so fun and gorgeous. I can only imagine how mind-blowing it would be if you were a six-year-old and I certainly hope that the staff ham it up a bit more for any little girls who stay, as I certainly didn’t feel like I was a valued guest after being made to wait for the room and then shuffled around the lobby by security (they obviously don’t like people loitering (there is one really good way to fix that – don’t leave guests waiting!)).
That said, I would definitely stay at The Plaza again for the convenient location, the glamour and the Todd English food court downstairs. It has everything you want, from gourmet sandwiches to cakes and pastries and a cool deli/homewares shop and I wish I’d had more meals in which to eat there.
The Eloise boutique is also to die for. I put my $100 voucher towards a set of four plates printed with Eloise on them ($105). They have many gifts including lollies/chocolate, biscuits, the usual pens, keyrings and book marks, dolls, so many toys and clothes, costumes, tea sets, beautiful enamel boxes (which I think were hand painted as they were tiny and around the $200-$300 mark), journals, stationery, folders, snow globes, slippers – basically anything and everything you could want and at every price range!
Even if you’re not staying at The Plaza a trip in for high tea and a visit to the boutique is a must-do while in New York.
The Eloise Suite at The Plaza starts from US$1,295 per night (plus taxes). For more information on The Plaza and its suites, indulge yourself here.
New York was the next stop on my trip. I was actually here for the longest of all the cities, too, and aside from a couple of shows and a restaurant I didn’t really have much planned. I can’t believe how quickly my six days went by!
On the Monday and Tuesday I was at The Plaza and in its vicinity, Tuesday night I saw Of Mice and Men on Broadway and got to meet my love, James Franco, for the first time.
On Wednesday I honestly cannot remember what I did but I think it involved pork buns from Momofuku Milk Bar.
On Thursday I waited for six hours – yes, SIX hours – for a hamburger from Shake Shack.
As you may know, the wait for a famous Shake Shack burger is usually at least 15 minutes, but the week I was in New York was their 10th birthday and to celebrate each day featured a unique and special burger by a celebrity chef for one day only. On the day I decided to line up the burger was by Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. The burger was (thankfully) the best I’ve ever had. I really can’t believe I spent basically an entire day in line for a hamburger but I got to meet lots of people, have good chats and hang out in Madison Park, which is really quite pretty.
That night I went to a screening of Palo Alto, a James Franco movie and he just happened to drop by at the end for a Q&A session. I swear I didn’t plan that at all *shifty eyes*. Unfortunately he didn’t stay long because one fan got hectic and scared him off. I felt so bad for him.
Friday was another day-long activity: lunch at Eleven Madison Park. I can’t wait to show you all the photos!
I left late on Saturday afternoon to go to Chicago and I spent that morning on a massive walk up to the Upper East Side to check out the Cynthia Rowley Curious Candy store and to have another Shake Shack burger. It was so nice walking around up there and I think that’s where I’d live if I ever moved to New York (and could afford to).
Next I’ll be blogging about the Eloise Suite at The Plaza, high tea at The Plaza, The Benjamin (the second hotel I stayed at) and Eleven Madison Park. Stay tuuuuned.
I apologise in advance for the photos on this post. As I said in my last blog, as a female you receive a lot of attention walking around in Miami and while I never felt unsafe, I thought carrying a camera would make me more of an obvious target so I just took my phone, thinking that iPhone pictures would be ok. They didn’t turn out great, but I hope at least you can get an idea. Sorry to The Bazaar, as they’re not a 100% accurate depiction of the gorgeously vibrant food I was served.
I was recommended The Bazaar in Los Angeles but I looked up the one in Miami thinking it would be a lot closer to my hotel. I was right and I was able to walk there within minutes from the Shore Club. The Bazaar is housed in the SLS Hotel, a very luxurious property with about $12m worth of cars parked out the front.
The restaurant itself has a lovely feel and despite being just one big room, it has been designed well by Phillippe Starck to make it feel as if there are private segments throughout.
The menu is huge. It folds out into four big sections, with the recommendation to have about 3 – 4 dishes per person. I chose the beef sui mai, bao con lechón, not your everyday caprese, foie gras pb & j and the key lime pie. Woah, that’s a lot of food!
Of these my favourite was easily the key lime pie. I made a point of eating key lime pie as often as I could in Florida but obviously this was a standout. I didn’t think the caprese salad was all it cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely and I would gladly eat it again and again but the waiter did a very good job of selling it and the menu makes it sounds like a gastronomical feat when really it is just a pretty-looking, lovely tasting salad.
The filling on the pork buns was sublime, however, the bun itself was not my favourite. From a restaurant of this calibre I expected a premium bun but it fell short. As if they hadn’t been made fresh that day almost? Well, perhaps they weren’t. Don’t let this put you off ordering them, though. As I said, the filling was absolutely beautiful. In fact I would say it was the nicest pork belly I’ve ever eaten. The flavour ran right through the fat and it really all just melted in your mouth. There is nothing worse than chewy pork belly that leaves a coating of slime in your mouth – none of that here!
The beef dumplings were nothing special. If, a bit too overpowering with whatever the beef was seasoned with (couldn’t pick it) and maybe a little too strong on the kaffir lime. I craved more of the daikon to break up the flavour a bit. That said, I was one person eating alone and there was a lot of food for just me – one or two would have been plenty and would have left a much better taste in my mouth, literally and figuratively. I left a couple of these as they weren’t exciting me too much and I thought it best to leave room for something else.
The most interesting of all the dishes was the foie gras and peanut butter and jelly toasted sandwiches. Easy to eat, albeit a little rich for me to eat all three (I squeezed them in – can’t waste precious foie gras!)
I really liked the sound of the Baby Japanese Peaches with fresh burrata, hazelnuts and arugula but as you can see I’d ordered quite a bit and knew I was going to struggle with that already. I was also tossing up between the frozen blue cheese sandwiches with lemon marmalade and walnut bread. Damnit. Thinking back on it I wish I’d got those.
I had the most amazing cocktails ever at The Bazaar. I ordered a few of the same one – passionfruit up – and they were just magical. Thick and creamy and very tart. Mmm mmm mmm.
So, while I didn’t have the best meal of my life, I thoroughly enjoyed The Bazaar and would absolutely go back. I don’t think it is the ideal dining situation for a solo traveller, being that the dishes are designed to share but I had a wonderful time, was treated so well by the fabulous staff, had a very nice meal and would love to go back and try a whole lot more of the menu.
The Bazaar also has locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and more information can be found here.The Bazaar SLS Hotel, South Beach 1701 Collins Avenue