Archive for January, 2012

Madrid Adventure

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Right before the holidays I had a pleasure to travel to Madrid, Spain for a pleasure trip, along with a tad bit of business – escaping the craziness of the season here in the states, going to explore a new city and immerse myself into the Spanish culture. The trip was one of the most amazing experiences of my life – a truly fantastic adventure.

DAY 1:

After arriving very early in the morning, we decided to immerse ourselves into the local fabric by purchasing a Metro pass to get us around the city and take us from the airport to our hotel. Madrid might just have the best mass-transit rail system in the world – it’s ridiculously clean, all trains are numbered and color-coded (easy for non-Spanish speakers to get around) and it is extremely fast and efficient. As we headed to our hotel, I made sure to take note of the various stops, wide variety of people in this capital city and the spirit of the holiday season.

Getting off at the Gran Via Metro stop, we found ourselves less than 50 yards away from our hotel, the Tryp Menfis ****. This hotel had come highly recommended based on its reputation (now owned by Wyndham International), spacious rooms (by European standards), great room amenities, included full breakfast, and sheer location in the heart of the city. Upon check in, we discovered all of these items to be true and throughout our trip the hotel gave us a great base to start our morning each day and relax before exploring the city.

One of the things that I wanted to do most was make it to a Spanish soccer match and even though La Liga was on a break, the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) tournament was happening and we had to go. After getting on the Metro for our first exploration without luggage, we traveled to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home field of the pride of Madrid, Real Madrid. We were able to walk right up and get tickets to the next night’s match and I was absolutely on cloud nine. After walking around the area by the stadium, we hopped back on the Metro and decided to start exploring the area around Sol, the main city center.

We meandered all over the area, from Opera to Puerta Sol, Plaza Mayor and more – finally realizing that it was almost 6pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch! I made an executive decision that the next place that looked good we were stopping into. So, at that challenge, we walked into Cerveceria Santa Ana right off of Plaza de Santa Ana. Some might be skeptical of a ‘restaurant’ like this, but we were in the mood to explore and with all of the meat hanging at the bar, we went for it. After sitting down and realizing that the bar-man spoke a few words in English and my Spanish was just okay, we were able to decipher the menu and get a delicious mixed plate of cured meats and manchego, the best white anchovies I’ve ever tasted (super plump) and a very good glass of Rioja, that was actually made specifically for the restaurant. This was the Spain that I was looking for! We were then introduced to a few more members of the staff, speaking in broken Spanish-English and then they started sending us complementary meat, cheese and glasses of wine. It was a perfect introduction to the culture and with bellies full, we wandered out into the night.

 

Cured Meats at Santa Ana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We kept further exploring the city after our meal, realizing that the area we had been venturing around was actually closer to our hotel than we first thought. This turned out to be a very good thing, since if we wanted to walk we could and if we wanted to take the Metro, we could easily ride that as well. After a much needed and almost Spanish-standard siesta, we discovered that it was time for a late dinner (normal in the eyes of the Spaniards) and we wanted something casual. We ventured around the local area, realizing there were some chains and just average restaurants, before turning down a quiet street where we came upon a small little restaurant and bar call O’Munio. We were skeptical at first, but ended up going inside and had a late bite – well worth it! We were introduced to lightly fried baby squid that were some of the most tender, fantastic I’ve ever had. Along with gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and a HUGE plate of manchego, paired with a few bottles of red wine the night was fantastic and we floated home.

DAY 2:

Mercado del San Miguel

After a good night’s sleep, we were back on foot the next day – exploring the city once again. We finally made it over to the Mercado de San Miguel, a former working market that had been cleaned up and re-purposed as a functioning food hall that the city and its population have fully embraced. There are a multitude of stalls, each specializing in one or a few items, that you could walk up to and order, either standing their eating or moving on to tables in the middle. This concept is slowly being embraced in the states and I believe will grow in the coming years. Knowing it was holiday season was one thing, but the market remained busy all day long at every different time. We popped over to their wine bar having some great wines for less than 4 euro per copa (copa’s are glasses in Spain and how all wine is served) each, then to Meating Point for mini-sandwiches of Beef, Veal and Iberican Pork, then finishing at their nut and snack stand for a great, fresh trail mix.

 

Mercado del San Miguel

 

Meating Point!

 

Sandwiches at Meating Point

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a relaxing siesta, we then made our way back to Bernabeu for the Real Madrid match. Upon getting off the Metro at this stop, we discovered how serious Spaniards take their futbol. There were people EVERYWHERE decked out in the team colors and vendors covering the streets selling everything from candy to souvenirs to fresh roasted chestnuts. Interestingly enough, fans are not allowed inside the stadium until an hour before game time, which explains the party that was happening just outside the stadium. Once inside, I realized what a hallowed venue Bernabeu is – not only does it accommodate 85,000 people, the grass is the greenest I have ever seen. After a slow start with only half of their normal starters in the game, Real turned it on in the second half and took it to the lower division team.

 

Bernabeu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading back to the Gran Via, we decided to take a walk and explore some of the restaurants by the Mercado trying to figure out a late dinner. We happily settled upon Emma Tapas & Cocina, sitting at their 4-seat bar inside the tiny restaurant. Our bartender/server turned out to be a lovely Mexican woman, Vanessa, who had come to Spain to study but decided to stay after she fell in love with the country. She did a wonderful job guiding us through the menu, starting with one of the best Carpaccio’s I’ve ever tasted and Canary Island Goat Cheese (more rustic and ages than I had expected), but a true delight, then finishing with a Galician digestif, in the spirit of coffee.

Carpaccio at Emma

Licor de Cafe at Emma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 3:

On Wednesday we took a long, leisurely walk to the much celebrated Museo del Prado – which was teaming with groups and art patrons; very busy with the holiday season. One of the unexpected artistic treats was the first showing ever from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

After leaving the museum we stayed in the immediate area, falling into Estado Puro, Las Tapas de Paco Roncero. Chef Roncero is a much celebrated Michelin-star winning chef who has more formal restaurants but wanted to bring a high-end flair to tapas. The restaurant is very modern, with an open bar/kitchen area and large windows that front their patio along Neptune’s Fountain circle. Favorite dishes were their Iberican Pork Shoulder, grilled and served with sea salt and a spicy Chimichurri sauce along with a DELICIOUS Arroz Negra, with grilled baby squid on top.

 

Daily Bean Stew - Estado Puro

Iberican Pork Shoulder & Chimichuri

Arroz Negra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For dinner that night we were able to connect with a friend of a friend back in the states, who had recently moved home to Spain and had her join us for a more home style meal. We had been recommended Casa Mingo, a rustic restaurant that specialized in Roasted Chicken. So, we met Marta at this tremendously large hall of a restaurant with heavy wooden chairs and tables that filled the room. At the advice of our friends, we ordered their House Cider (residual sugar through the roof) but refreshing and light), Grilled Chorizo (the best I had in Spain) and a whole Chicken. Let me tell you, this was one of the best, simple meals I’ve had in years. The Chorizo had a great snap and perfect spice blend while the Chicken was moist and tender, exactly how you would dream of it.

 

Roast Chicken at Casa Mingo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post dinner we took to exploring the La Latina district of the city, which is known for tapas bars and small wine bars. Apparently, on Thursday nights it is tradition to bounce from one bar to another, all the way down the street (we went even though it was a Wednesday and also, still busy!). Regardless, we made a few stops, first at Posada del Dragon (which also has a small hotel above it) for simple wine by the glass and fantastically sweet, buttery olives and then over to La Camarilla for a quick copa as well.

DAY 4:

Thursday, we decided to continue the cultural immersion, heading to the Reina Sofia for more modern works of art and different creativity compared to the Prado. The museum is set inside of a former hospital that has amazing architecture and gigantic in scale. The “Reina” boasts one of the large collections of the Grand Masters and it certainly did not disappoint.

Post-museum, we headed back to the Mercado de San Miguel to taste through some more of the culinary stalls and decompress. We did get to try the seafood tapas stand, tasting out a collection of dishes all served on top of toast – silky Smoked Salmon, Smoked Tuna Loin, Salt Cod and Octopus. My favorite was definitely the Salmon, amazing consistency and great flavor. We took these items over to the Pinkelton & Wine bar, where a large variety of wine by the copa was available. Standing there, sipping on a Navarra, then a Ribero del Duero Crianza, while snacking on tapas; I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect lunch.

Pinkleton & Wine Bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening we wanted to once again embrace a more home-style meal so we made the decision to head to another restaurant La Sanabresa (Calle Amor de Dios 12) – home-style Spanish cooking that was the highlight of the trip. Four daily 3-course menus, starting at 9,60 euro up to 25,00 euro. What a great treat this was. The restaurant had been very highly recommended by a variety of people and guides, with the main comment being get there early or you’d be waiting all night for a table! So, we listened and made it there right at opening to discover we had taken one of the only available tables, as large holiday parties and groups were coming to take over the restaurant. After deciding on another great and simple bottle of Spanish red, we dove into the menu. We ordered sautéed mushrooms with garlic, which I believe may be the best I have ever tasted. They were a huge portion served in a cazuela that was fragrant and purely delicious. And then, the sautéed chard with onions and garlic, no slouch of a dish either. Next course, we enjoyed sautéed sweetbreads that were a platter more than a plate and the roasted rabbit; a truly rustic dish that had flavor, composition and depth. These simple and straight forward dishes embodied true Spanish cooking from the heart and perfect for the Winter season.

 

Mushrooms at Sanabresa

Sauteed Chard at Sanabresa

Roasted Rabbit at Sanabresa

 

Sweetbreads at Sanabresa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before calling it an evening, we stopped into Perlora Restaurante (that we had walked past a few times before and it looked very approachable and well done) for a bottle of wine to finish the night. Sitting at their 5 seat bar, the hospitality that the bar-man and sommelier provided us with was absolutely superb, very much in keeping with the nature of the Madrilenos overall. The wine we selected was a Rioja from Allende, 2005 vintage. This bottle was silky and polished, with great fruit on the nose and a great balance of oak and tannin through to the finish

Allende at Perlora

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 5:

On Friday we chose to explore the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum – an ode to Spanish and Dutch artwork. This was a more serious museum, with heavier paintings and focus, with the exception of their rotating ground-floor exposition, which was more modern in nature and from around the world. I’m glad we had a chance to visit the museum, but it was definitely not my favorite. After a quick walk to the Parque del Retiro (commonly referred to as Madrid’s living room), we hustled back to the La Latina district for a late lunch at one of the highest recommended restaurants’ on our list, Taberna los Huevos de los Lucio. This is the smaller, sister restaurant of their better known family spot across the street, but as the name says, they are known for their eggs. After finding the only two open seats at the bar, we immediately dove in, ordering their fresh squid in salsa verde, Roasted Asapargus with lightly poached eggs and sea salt (delicious) and some more wonderful Ribera del Duergo, the Solano Hacienda. As it turns out, we made quick friends with a server and their chef, both of whom were Columbian and best of friends.

 

Squid in Salsa Verde - Taberna de Huevos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner that night was a quick walk from the hotel, in a different neighborhood than we had visited up until that point. This restaurant was in a more residential, blue collar area and Red Light district, and actually a basement location. Taberna Agrado was founded a few years ago by an English chef who is doing his take on modern Spanish cuisine. After settling in we were greeted by a gentleman who was from Argentina and had come to Spain twice before, fell in love with the country and was committed to being back in the country. He was able to guide us through the menu quite well; all of which could be found on the black board, which was the wall to the kitchen. We started with a delightful appetizer of fresh Spring Onion that was in a light tempura batter – nice concept here. Moving on, we then tasted the Queso Majorero Plancha, which was a Goat Cheese from the Canary Islands that had been griddled and served warm, with a crust. Next course was a Ox-steak that was topped with huge flakes of sea salt and seasonal padron peppers – excellent flavors overall and we finished with a rare Red Tuna loin, sesame crusted with a chili dipping sauce. The wine that night was all by the copa, as everything was 3,50 euro and under, with the highlights being the Carmelo Joven, from Ribero del Duero and the Finca Violetta.

 

Tempura Spring Onion - Taberna Agrado

Red Tuna Loin - Taberna Agrado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAY 6:

Saturday Christmas Eve, was going to be our last full day in Madrid, so we wanted to make the most of it; especially that night was the Noche Buena celebration – the most important night of the year in Spanish culture. Everyone stops working early, closes shops down and spends it with their family. First stop was a visit to the seasonal arts festival that was being help down the street from us in the Via Espana – an interesting collection of crafts people, creative exhibitions and holiday gifts. The best we saw was Jose Diaz, a leather craftsman, that created purses, satchels and wallets. After a final visit to the Mercado, we stopped for a late lunch into a restaurant that we had walked by at least 6 times and every time, it smelled more delicious! Santo Restaurante & Deli was a cute little South American meets Mediterranean restaurant that is off the beaten path, with great food. It was a white washed room with blonde wood floors and a comforting feeling about it. As we knew we were going to have a big dinner that night, we kept it simple only going for one course each. We had a fantastic mushroom ragu over polenta (not very common in Spain) that was seasoned extremely well and light in flavor. And we selected the special of the day, a Roasted Cornish Game Hen and side of polenta. Now, let me tell you, this bird was moist, flavorful and cooked perfectly.

Being that we knew almost every neighborhood restaurant was going to be closed, we planned in advance and made a reservation at the Westin Palace Hotel’s Asia Gallery restaurant, going for Chinese food. This was a perfect call! It turned out the restaurant was EXTREMELY busy due to the holiday and with a prix fixe menu. We decided on the duck menu, 5-course tasting including delicious Peking Duck Pancakes and Moo Shu Duck with Asian vegetables.

I can’t say enough about Madrid and the trip to Spain. Every time I think about a restaurant, one of the museums or even the city, it makes me want to go back and further explore. I hope I get the opportunity to return soon and keep enjoying what the country has to offer. In the mean time, I will continue to enjoy the Spanish wine we can find here in the states, cheer on Real and pine away for the Cuisine of the Sun…

F&B Truths, Trends And Take Aways

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Here’s a look at the latest trends to best prepare you in how to leverage the trends to make your hotel F&B business more profitable.

The Federal Reserve significantly reduced its forecast of economic growth in the United States over the next two years recently, the latest in a long series of acknowledgments that pace of recovery continues to disappoint its expectations.  Now with that dour pronouncement, we will continue to be covered by what some are calling a “cold or wet blanket of despair”.  Some in our industry may try and predict the next type of global food or new and exciting cuisine that might hit the next issue of a food magazine on the newsstand for the year 2012, or a new preparation for Tripe, or some other organ meat, however I have always thought that depending where and how you grew up, you probably already have your favorite places for “exotic” food items.  I guess I am more of a realist or pragmatic, and appreciate the cold hard facts and then you can make some decisions on the best path to take moving forward.

Any growth for the restaurant industry will mean understanding the shift in consumer behavior and utilizing different strategies. Age will no longer define the frequency and type of restaurant visited; less wealth, unemployment, anxiety about what may happen tomorrow or in the future will be the concern in years to come, regardless of age or demographic.
Food Trucks are the new “Mom & Pops”

  • Lower price of admission
  • Lesser cost of doing business day to day and lower overhead
  • Success more in dense populations – bringing the food to the guest
  • Based on today’s customer, but not necessarily for the long run

Expansion of Day Parts

  • i.e. Breakfast all day
  • Morning Happy Hours
  • Supper aka “Small Plates”
  • Blue Plate Specials – the new/revised & current definition of Prix Fixe

Hamburgers

  • An American Icon
  • Independents thank the chains for upgrading the awareness
  • Overdone and not every new burger concept means profitability and success
  • Response to the economic position we are in
  • Eventually will burn out – think TCBY/FroYo outlets of the 1990’s

Good Enough

  • Consumers are justifying the reason to spend less
  • We have stepped down in our acceptance of requirements
  • Stepped over the threshold of negative stigma that couponing is a fact and way of life
  • Stepped sideways to let the “food trendinista’s” talk about the next big trend, but the majority of consumers are not necessarily buying

Urban versus Suburban

  • Restaurant chains want locations where there are potential for transient consumers – i.e., dense populations
  • Independent operators will cling to city centers like New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C., due to the large concentration of potential consumers

The Cost of Food

  • Stable food prices have been a silver lining in the weak economy. That is changing fast
  • The U.S. Agriculture Department said it expects retail food prices to increase 3.5% to 4.5% this year, after climbing just 0.8% in 2010, the slowest rate since 1962
  • The midpoint of the new USDA outlook signals the sharpest acceleration in the food inflation rate from one year to the next since 1978, and makes the increase itself the biggest since 2008, when prices rose 5.5%

Food prices could rise 4.5% in 2011, says USDA

  • Compared with restaurants, grocery stores and food manufacturers are having less of a difficult time passing on costs to consumers, who are preparing meals at home more often

The future or should we say a return to the past

  • Local sourcing of produce, meats and seafood; sustainability, and simplicity
  • Terms like house-made, artisan, chef-grown, and made-from-scratch resonate with customers
  • Less is More, focus on fresh and healthy

Generation Y a.k.a.the Millennial’s, (Americans born between the late 1970’s and mid 1990’s), are discovering that wine is their beverage of choice

  • For the past decade, the Millennial Generation is being credited with driving wine consumption growth in the U.S.
  • Single service plastic and metal wine containers are now becoming popular
  • Beer is now seeing competition from wine as Major League ballparks go upscale, offering more high-end and branded foods and beverages

As you review the above thoughts, ideas and “take aways”, keep in mind that not every location can do everything or please every customer or guest.  Each marketplace has different demographics and consumer demand generators, so if the wave of the future has yet to hit your shore, don’t despair, at some point it will!

 

[Read on Original Source]

Tebow Aura

Monday, January 16th, 2012

How reinforcing the simple team concept can lead your hotel to greater success.

Now that I have your attention: If you are caught up like a good part of America with the football playoffs at this time of the year, as well as all the hoopla surrounding the story of Tim Tebow and his passion, beliefs and success in winning last-minute football games (despite the Denver Broncos’ loss this past weekend), then you might see some similarities in this story. Call it old-fashioned, the rah rah spirit or corny enthusiasm, Tebow may seem like he is from another planet or era because his demeanor is different than is common in today’s world. He turns back the clock to the “old days,” when players and co-workers actually liked each other, believed in each other, cared for each other and played the game or worked together to accomplish the same goal.

I was very fortunate to work for a company “back in the day” that had many of the same beliefs and values of working together – which meant success for us. Caring for one another was our most important value, and because of that we literally could accomplish anything! We all must have drank the Kool-Aid; while the guest was still the most important aspect of our existence, our mutual respect for each other in making sure we had a successful event, week or month of business, led to everyone sharing in the “aura” of success and gratitude.

Our vision was dubbed strange by some who thought we would be a one trick pony or flash in the pan, and that more traditional hotels and conservative attitudes were what guests wanted. We didn’t get caught up in the negativity and comparisons to other brands and competitive companies at the time, but looked to find our own way and direction, in spite of the criticisms and cynicism. We forged ahead developing signature, proprietary hotels and restaurants that appealed to guest’s desires and demographics, and we didn’t ask our staff to fit the mold, but rather enjoy the experience and at the same time make sure the guest knew we were sincere in our efforts to take care of them and at their pleasure. If one department was “in the weeds,” no questions asked, other staff came willingly to assist – no matter whose official responsibility it was, the optimum goal was to assist the other teammates in their time of need.

When there was team members questioned why we all were so friendly towards each other, they were given a “big-brother” or “big-sister” to help guide and educate them on the “one for all, all for one” concept. If for some inexplicable reason the team member just didn’t grasp the concept, they were offered a transfer to another hotel, almost like trading football players in exchange for ones who got the message and wanted to play on a team.

The company had a great run, was the darling of the hospitality industry in its day and groomed some great leaders, hoteliers and individuals, some of whom have gone on to other organizations, and sadly some who left us too soon. We coined concepts, simple buzzwords and touches, but most of the magic was really unspoken, as always we all knew in the back of minds that we all were playing on the same team for the right reasons.

In watching the way the world and media questioned with great skepticism the successful run Tim Tebow had this season and how he does what he does, one only has to realize what he has helped create in his team were people who actually cared about each other and would all benefit by their mutual success. His intangibles, enthusiasm and charisma have become infectious on not only his team, but also in Denver with the team’s fans, and indeed nationwide.

One could only just imagine if our hotel companies and managers today could learn from the Tebow experience, concerning the team concept, sharing of the belief that working together would yield the best results and success ratio for all concerned. I am sure that some people might say that they do work together and try their best to please the guest, but really how many times is that openly discussed and at the end of the day, can you look back and pat yourself on the back or give a high five to the last person you see before you leave the property? To quote John Fox, Head Coach of the Denver Broncos at the end of the team’s first-round playoff win in overtime: “This is why you do it,” Fox said. “It’s not about money. It’s not about whatever. It’s moments like tonight.” Ah the Tebow Aura!

 

[Read on Original Source]