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N.Y.C. New Again: Tallest Building, Boutique Hotels, Art Exhibits

Have you been to New York City lately? Reclaiming the nation’s tallest-building title for New York from Chicago, One World Trade Center now towers over the waterfall-bordered reflecting pools of the National September 11 Memorial. Wall Street is un-Occupied and stumbling back. The subway is seawater-free. On Jan. 1, Mayor Mike will step aside for Brother Bill, leaving New York the healthiest it’s been in. . . well, probably ever. Throngs are hiking the High Line, zipping around on blue Citibikes, and “smoking” personal vaporizers in pedestrian zones. But part of what makes New York New York—The Big Difficult, The City Where No One Can Sleep, The Urban Jugular—is that it remakes itself right before your eyes. One of the changes in recent years has been the flourishing of boutique hotels, stylish and personalized pied-a-terres. Here is a small sampling: Hotel Americano (518 West 27th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues) opened in 2011 in the thick of Chelsea’s art galleries. the feel throughout is minimalist Euro-Latino: lots of glass, with expensive fabrics in white, black, and gray framed in steel and natural wood. The 56 rooms are designated “Uptown” or “Downtown” for their views. Although studio means tiny in New York, the hotel’s seven studios, one per floor, are the largest, most desirable rooms. All share the “urban ryokan” concept, with platform beds and decorative touches, inspired by those in traditional Japanese inns. The restaurant, the Americano, adjoins the lobby and opens onto a small patio. There is also a club-like basement bar. But the knockout is the rooftop grill: Piscine in summer (when the swimming pool is open) and Artico the rest of the year, when the pool is covered and hidden by long gray couches. Across town, in what is now branded Flatiron or NoMad (for North of Madison Square), the 72-room Hotel Giraffe (365 Park Avenue South, at 26th Street) has a more casual, family-friendly elegance. As the hotel’s Jayla Langtry points out, “Boutique means different things to different people.” Most of the rooms are suites, perfect for families with children (or grandchildren) or friends traveling together. Many have “Juliet balconies,” which add to the sense of spaciousness. Guests come and go in the lobby, where a generous continental breakfast, espresso drinks and cookies all day, and evening wine and cheese are complimentary. Bread & Tulips, in a rustic basement space complete with imported pizza oven, offers hotel guests a 20-percent discount. There is also a seasonal rooftop garden and bar. Hotel Giraffe is one of four hotels in the Library Collection, named for the book-themed Library Hotel near Grand Central. All four appear in TripAdvisor’s ranking of the city’s top ten. The Jade Hotel (52 West 13th St., between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), at the northern edge of Greenwich Village, makes a strong first impression. Just inside, one looks down a strikingly designed staircase that steeply descends to a sort of drawing room with marble mantelpiece and Oriental carpet. But the walls hold contemporary art, the speakers stream modern rock, and the molded ceiling panels are painted bright gold. The rooms—there are 113—continue this High Retro décor. Big patterns and bold colors surround a witty mix of furnishings from different eras (a black, rotary-dial telephone, for example). Back in the lobby, a narrow brick tunnel leads to the bar and farm-to-table restaurant, Grape & Vine, which hosts a wine hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The newest of the three, the Jade Hotel, opened earlier this year on a block-long showcase of New York reinvention. Next door, in the last remaining townhouse, is the Off-Off-Broadway Thirteenth Street Repertory Company, founded in 1972, where an adaptation of Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” is playing Dec. 14 through 29. Across the street is a New School building (Parsons School of Design is down the block), Silk Day Spa, Tenri Cultural Institute, and a Biscuits & Bath Doggy Gym. [gallery ids="101548,149594,149598" nav="thumbs"]

Amtrak Improves Menus; Michel Richard on Team

It is not surprise that food in airplanes and trains aren’t known for flavorful and succulent taste. Booking a flight or buying a train ticket used to hold an air of excitement for many. For businesspersons, who often find themselves traveling four times a week, a good meal could be the one highlight of a trip. Unfortunately, the feedback from passengers about the food in trains and planes are usually not positive and often end up in complaints and disappointments. Imagine comments which include: “The chicken was cold. The bread was five days old. There was no vegetarian option.” Most people opt for bringing their own sandwich or not eating at all and waiting to eat at that destinations. Still the idea of eating gourmet during a trip might change the minds of some travelers. Amtrak has already stepped up its game by hiring top chefs in the United States to be the brain of its culinary advisory team in exchange for frequent traveler miles. With a little bit of salt and a little bit of pepper, the team of 12 top chefs are in charge of coming up with healthier and tastier meals for passengers. Cooks like Tom Douglas from Seattle and Roberto Santibañez from Mexico are among the gang of 12. They are joined by Michel Richard, well-known in Georgetown for his restaurant Citronelle, which closed due to water damage, and Central Michel Richard still up and running on Pennsylvania Avenue. From France, Richard spent some time in California before moving to D.C., where his cuisine won the heart of the nation’s capital and is a must-go place on the restaurant scene. The team comes together each spring to brainstorm new dishes for Amtrak’s menu. Their challenge is to come up with meals that are healthier and satisfy all palates. With longer routes, they have more flexibility to come up with more elaborate food, while in shorter routes, they have to be ready to come up with pre-packed meals ready to be heated up or served as it is. This could be the beginning of a gourmet experience when you travel short and long distances.