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LUXURY TRAVEL: DO YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR?
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: LE BERNARDIN
by John Mariani
MAN ABOUT TOWN: BOND 45, NYC
by Christopher Mariani
WINE: WHAT'S IN A NAME? WINE REGIONS CALL FOR LEGAL RECOGNITION
by John Mariani
GOOD NEWS! Esquire.com now has a new food section called "Eat Like a Man," which features restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.THIS WEEK: Where to Eat in Colorado Right Now
Do You Get What You Pay For?
by John Mariani
Ginger Rogers in "Goldiggers of 1933"I passed Economics 101 in college--not with flying colors--but nothing in the course prepared me for the bewilderment of observing the current luxury travel market at a time when the whole western world is skidding near a cliff. Greece is near bankruptcy, Italy is teetering, France's banks are cracking, London's financial sector is trembling, and New York's financial industry is forecast to lose 10,000 jobs in the next year. Unemployment in the U.S. is at 9.1 percent, no one can get a mortgage, and protesters against the banks are growing by the thousands around the world.
And yet. . . I had a very hard time finding a hotel in Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, and Ghent this past month, the restaurants everywhere were jammed, even at lunch. Meanwhile, in Paris, there is always a line of at least 20 people outside the door of Louis Vuitton trying to get to buy their signature handbags. My wife and I were approached by two Japanese women who had apparentlty bought their limit of bags and begged us to go into the store and buy two more for them. We refused and bade them "Sayonara."
A friend of mine was in Santorini recently and said he paid the highest price ever in a restaurant, and the place was packed. The Greek government boasts that in 2011 there will be a 12 percent rise in foreign tourists, but, Dakis Joannou of the Guggenheim Foundation told Bloomberg News, “The tourists who come to Greece go to the sunny islands [like Santorini], making any rise in visitor numbers pathetic in comparison to our assets.”
A report on CNN recently explored the world of the "gigayachts," defined as anything more than 200 feet long, costing a standard no-frills $1.36 million per meter. The largest afloat? Roman Abramovich's Eclipse (below), at 535 feet, with 24 guest cabins, two swimming pools and a mini-submarine, and rumored to have cost between $540 million and $1.1 billion. Just the setting for a James Bond movie!
definitely a 'mine is bigger than yours'
syndrome in this industry and there is a desire
to have the best," said
Jonathan Beckett, CEO of Burgess Yachts.
is nothing standard when it comes to this area of
our market. But if you are purchasing a superyacht
you would want a vessel that was transglobal and
you'd want a reasonable speed. You'd probably want
at least two helicopter platforms, so you can land
your own helicopter and visitors can also land
theirs, cinemas, hospitals, spas, large
entertainments areas and hairdressing salons.
These vessels have anything from 80 to 120 people
onboard including the crew, so it's a little
This last puzzle is easily solved: In a USA Today article entitled, "Don't look for an empty middle seat on a flight anytime soon. And don't hold your breath waiting for a cheap fare." High fuel prices and an uncertain economy have caused airlines to scale way back on flights. Delta has reduced flights 5 percent through December, despite, says spokesman Eric Torbenson, "We've seen very strong bookings." Delta is cutting back on its flights, he says, as a way of being "cautious about fuel prices." The article also quotes Matthew Jacob, senior airline analyst for ITG Investment Research, who said, "lower supply means higher prices," noting that planes on average have been flying 80% to 90% full. "Paying more to fly on fuller planes is going to be the norm for at least the next couple of years," Jacob says. "I think the days of lying across a row of three empty seats on a transcontinental flight are really behind us."
American airlines have made reductions in flights, despite boasting of their recent purchase of 260 fuel-efficient Airbus planes and 200 from Boeing, with the prospect of buying an additional 465 planes through 2025. According to Tom Horton, president of American Airlines, speaking to CBS News, "We wanted to do this big and we wanted to do it quickly. . . . Our needs were just so great, and we wanted to do this in such a big way, that one company, one manufacturer couldn't fulfill our needs in the timeframe."
Nevertheless, American, of all the major carriers, is set to report a quarterly loss and, according to the NY Times, there are "growing concerns that [American] cannot weather yet another slump in travel and may have to file for bankruptcy protection."
But how does that explain the extravagance in other sectors? An article in Bloomberg this week reported that D&D London Ltd., which owns 20 restaurants in the city, saw sales rise by 6 percent last month and by 5 percent in the six months up through September 30, "as poor weather, riots and volatility failed to damp demand." Their events business at Guastavino's in NYC surged 50 percent. New York Magazine's Grub Street blog called ten high-priced steakhouses ranging from BLT Steak to Craft, from Minetta Tavern to Peter Luger, to try for an eight o'clock table last Friday and the best available was either 5:30 PM or after ten or none available at all.
There are, too, still a lot of people flush with doh-ray-mee--decadently so--not least the scads of Russian and Arab rich, along with an increasing number of Chinese, who are flooding into major European and American capitals. Consider that in a Chicago club named the Board Room this month, a Russian billionaire's son sent over a $100,000 Nebuchadnezzar-size bottle of Armand de Brignac Champagne to actors Zac Efron and Heather Graham's table. The man also left a $22,000 tip to a waitress named Jasmine (right). I wonder what daddy had to say.
Back at the beginning of 2009, high-end restaurants in the San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles reported business down 45 percent, and the
National Business Travel Association found that 96 of 147 corporate travel managers surveyed in October, 2008--before the full force of the melt-down hit--insisted
their employees switch from luxury hotels to those with lower rates. So what's going on now in 2011?
"I think there are a lot of people who are spending the money they have and enjoying it, because they don't know if it will last," David Levin, owner of The Capital Hotel in London told me. "Business has actually been quite strong."
"The cruise business increases every single year because cruises offer terrific value," says Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, whose eight-night Titanic Memorial Voyage next spring is already almost sold out, with cabins beginning at what seems a very reasonable $4,900 for a centennial event.
This is a recession?
If I can make any sense of what seems an economic dichotomy, I would say that people who do have money or are still on expense accounts are being careful in the sense of spending it where it counts and where the value is unquestionably there, in spades. Thus, booking a hotel room for $700 or more at, say, The Pierre in NYC or Le Bristol in Paris, or The Capital (junior suite, left) in London, is a sure thing, which is to say that there is more than good value for money. At such hotels everything is up to date, up to speed, and usually goes beyond expectations. Cleanliness is taken for granted, so is the service staff, the check-in procedure, and the concierge services. Then there are those artful touches that we might in fact take for granted and never even notice. Look at the photo of a hallway in Le Bristol, Paris (right). It's just a hallway, a pleasant, sunny hallway, but notice that every small table has a pot of roses on it, and I bet every one is right smack in the center. (Fortunately the newly renovated hotel has its own florist.)
Book a table at the Bord'Eau restaurant in the new De L'Europe Hotel (left) in Amsterdam, where the finest linens, stemware, silver and vases are arrayed, where yours is the table for the evening, with no on else scheduled for a late dinner. The cuisine, by Chefs Richard Osterbrugge and Thomas Groot is among the finest in Europe, backed by a superbly selected wine list. The service staff throughout is always there: lift an eyebrow, and a captain or waiter will be at your side in seconds. You expect that; you are paying for it; those who can, will.
The agonies of flight have become so indelible and of such magnitude, that the security checks alone can add hours of abject embarrassment to travel, clear evidence that the terrorists have in fact done precisely what they intended--wreck worldwide travel by costing airlines and airports and hotels billions upon billions of dollars.
When speaking of value on airlines, the elimination for all practical purposes of so many First Class cabins in airplanes shows that more than ever the debatable comforts of such sectioned-off cabins is rarely justified by business travelers anymore who must pay an unconscionable $10,000 and way up from there for a fully reclining seat and the same old reheated grub and mediocre wines. Depending on the distance, even Business Class can cost that much. Which is why many airlines have switched to all Business Class or enhanced Business Class with names like Elite, but even then prices can be astronomical.
I cannot even dream of paying such prices, so I was happy when invited to try out the 12-seat Biz Bed section (left) on OpenSkies airlines to fly from Newark to Paris, Orly. From Washington DC-Paris, at an October special rate, you'll pay only $630 round-trip in business class; from NYC it's $1,400. These prices may vary considerably throughout the year but they beat every one of OpenSkies' competitors. This month economy class on Air France to Paris is $1,600; Business is $8,030; First Class a whopping $15,668. Then think about the Delta Shuttle--a 35 minute flight--from NYC to DC is now $625 roundtrip! (By the way, in case you'd like to rent a mid-size private jet for the trip from DC to Paris on Flex-Jet, the fee would be $76,935.)
Launched in June 2008 as a premium subsidiary of British Airways, OpenSkies acquired L’Avion, the 100 percent business class French airline that flew between Paris-Orly and Newark, in July that year. (British Air only flies to Paris after stopping in London first.) At that time, then managing director Dale Moss told me, "We don’t need a huge amount of market space because we have only 54-84 seats per plane. We just want the right numbers to differentiate their experience that feels exclusive and priced so competitively well. A road warrior has to travel at some level of comfort. You can’t do that three abreast in coach."
OpenSkies' Boeing 757s have a maximum of 84 seats (most other airlines' 757 configuration has close to 200), so getting onboard and off takes less than ten minutes. They also have a lounge at Newark (now quite cramped but due for a change to larger space) and at Paris Orly, an airport extremely accessible to Paris on the Metro. There is no charge for up to three bags, whereas some airlines charge $50 a bag each way. There are 12 fully flat Biz Beds, with a 73-inch pitch, in a separate cabin, and 60-72 Biz Seats with a 50-inch pitch, all set in a two-by-two configuration.
The amenities on board are all very good, very sleek, with soft colors, the food about average for business class, the wines well chosen and all is served by a very attractive, well-dressed, young crew--none of those rumpled chinos, polyester vests and ugly neckties. And the personal on-demand entertainment system has just been replaced by an effortlessly easy iPad, packed with nearly 30 movies.
I had a seamless crossing, sleeping my usual two-and-a-half hours, no matter how much I drink or take a pill, but it was not the usual shiftless, restless sleep; it was sound, and I felt a lot better the next morning upon arrival at Orly than I might otherwise. On the way back I flew Biz Seat, as did all but one passenger, who was alone in the Biz Bed cabin. I asked about this and a flight attendant told me that a lot of travelers want the bed to fly overnight but going back west, they take the less expensive Biz Seat, which to me makes good sense. You get into Newark in the late afternoon. I still slept two-and-a-half hours, dropping off about midway through "Midnight in Paris."
FLYING THROUGH THE TURBULENCE
For this article, I interviewed OpenSkies' Paris-based CEO and Commercial Director Western Europe, British Airways, Patrick Malval, 43 (right), about the challenges of servicing the luxury market in stormy economic conditions.
What changes in the market/economic
situation have affected OpenSkies and how has the
A. It's been difficult after
2008, when we began, but we think 2011 is going to
be much better. We have seen an improvement
in the economy in both our European and U.S.
markets, especially the Paris-New York Route.
Competition has increased on the DC route,
especially with Air France, and there is a greater
number of seats in that market. So we're
going to see what happens through the winter,
which is traditionally a slow period, and make a
decision about whether or not to continue DC-Paris
service in 2012. It's a wait-and-see situation.
Q.How would you describe your clientele? Business? Leisure?
A. It's a very mixed clientele.
Our customers are very, very loyal, going back to
when they flew L'Avion. We are atypical
among the airlines serving the luxury market
because we have not tried to court the corporate
market as much as others have. We certainly
have corporate travelers, but we work more with
individuals, to build loyalty. We have a lot of
customers in the luxury industries, many
celebrities, sports figures, politicians and their
families, and commuters who have to fly to Paris
and New York nearly every week or two. They know
exactly what they will get by flying OpenSkies.
A. It's all about our costs. We watch them very, very carefully. For one thing, our costs are cheaper than what we call the `legacy' carriers because we don't have cabin crews with 25 years of history. Our staff is paid fairly but they make less than at the legacy airlines. But our staff also prefers the atmosphere and conditions we provide on our flights. We don't have grand offices. By the same token, because we are part of British Airways, we enjoy their purchasing power. If we need to buy 10,000 items of something, we can take advantage of the fact that they are buying 10 million.
We bought four Boeing 757s, which are fairly fuel efficient, but they were not brand new, so we didn't pay a fortune for them and our costs are all in maintenance. Our estimates are that if oil can stay under $120 a barrel, we are okay, but if they rise above that for a long period, then we will have to consider what to do and what our next fleet will be three years from now. (BA is very good at purchasing fuel at good prices.) Also, most carriers' 757s carry up to 200 passengers and their luggage. We fly a maximum of 84, so our planes fly much lighter, and that saves a great deal in fuel costs.
we're on the subject of luxury, the very biggest
joke about America's contemporary dining scene is
that fine dining is dead, an ill-informed idea
held by those who have either never set foot in a
true fine dining restaurant or haven't tried to
make a reservation at one recently. It
reminds me of Yogi Berra's assertion about a
restaurant that "Nobody goes there anymore. You
can't get into the place."
The premises have this year been done over, all for the better. I loved the original design but it had dated a bit, so Bentel & Bentel's re-do keeps the basic lineaments, including the magnificent coffered ceiling, while installing a sexy lounge (below) up front and giving the main dining room a soft lighting that spreads over each well-set table, and while it allows you to see everyone in the room, it feels distinctly intimate at your own seating. On the wall is an extraordinary seascape by Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner, as perfect a metaphor for Le Bernardin as can be imagined.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
Butter-poached lobster with
spiced celeriac and an Earl Grey-citrus sauce
followed, the lobster of exceptional tenderness, which
took well with an unexpectedly fine Grüner
Veltliner Federspiel "Burgberg" 2010. Just as tender
was octopus, this time charred, with fermented black
vierge with purple basil and an
ink-miso vinaigrette, and a Sauvignon Blanc Cantina Tramin
2010. You can taste how the flavors were
becoming more accented, little by little.
with chayote squash and a sofrito broth matched well with a
bold Auxey Duresses, Leroy 2000, which also went with
rich baked lobster with a bittersweet caramelized
endive-pear terrine and a whiskey-black peppercorn
Le Bernardin is open for lunch, Mon.-Fri.
and for dinner Mon.-Sat. Lunch is fixed price at
$70, with a City Harvest Menu at $45; dinner a$120,
with a tasting menu $190, with wines at $330.
Le Bernardin is open for lunch, Mon.-Fri. and for dinner Mon.-Sat. Lunch is fixed price at $70, with a City Harvest Menu at $45; dinner a$120, with a tasting menu $190, with wines at $330.
MAN ABOUT TOWN
by Christopher Mariani
My latest book, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller, Menu Design in America, 1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design. The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.
“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past. Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their cofee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.
“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.
“Restaurateurs, take note: A resurgence in thoughtful, artistic menus is past due.”—Bon Appetit Magazine
new book, How
Italian Food Conquered the World
(Palgrave Macmillan) is a rollicking history
of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous
embrace in the 21st century by the entire
world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita
of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant
cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to
this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as
much about the world's changing tastes,
prejudices, and dietary fads as about
our obsessions with culinary fashion and
"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today.
restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far
outnumber their French rivals. Many of
these establishments are zestfully described
in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an
entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by
food-and-wine correspondent John F.
Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street
history, sociology, gastronomy, and just
plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the
World tells the captivating and delicious
story of the (let's face it) everybody's
favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and
more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews,
editorial director of The Daily
"A fantastic and fascinating
read, covering everything from the influence
of Venice's spice trade to the impact of
Italian immigrants in America and the
evolution of alta cucina. This book will
serve as a terrific resource to anyone
interested in the real story of Italian
food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's
"John Mariani has written the
definitive history of how Italians won their
way into our hearts, minds, and
stomachs. It's a story of pleasure over
pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer,
owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,
Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
The Family Travel Forum - A community for those who "Have Kids, Still Travel" and want to make family vacations more fun, less work and better value. FTF's travel and parenting features, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, reunion destinations, attractions, holiday weekends, family festivals, cruises, and all kinds of vacation ideas should be the first port of call for family vacation planners. http://www.familytravelforum.com/index.html
ALL YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GO
An engaging, interactive
wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four
Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com;
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NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John
Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,
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