Travel Weekly's semiannual Focus on Culinary report includes news editor Johanna Jainchill's look at wellness cuisine at two top-notch, luxury New York hotels. Healthy indulgence is certainly one way to satisfy mind and body during travel -- but I personally prefer my indulgence served with a side of bernaise sauce.
This is the protein-heavy, budget-blowing, celebrity-chef-branded, hotel restaurant experience indulgence.
It's true that these factors -- the design! the heavy menu and wine list! the foie gras or caviar appetizer! -- don't always guarantee an excellent dinner, but they may well produce a memorable one. And continuing a long-term trend, many of a city's biggest celebrity-chef names are still to be found just off the lobby in that city's toniest hotels.
For example, the Four Seasons Downtown New York is home to a well-thought-out wellness menu. But it's also home to Cut by Wolfgang Puck, the master chef's decadent version of a chophouse. It's his only outpost in New York, although there are Cuts in other cities, and it was notable when it opened for serving bona fide Wagyu beef, from Japan's Miyazaki prefecture. It's, dare I say, rare. In other words, if you merely tolerate quinoa but absolutely love steak, dinner at the Cut is a meal you might consider sacrificing a few arteries for.
Cut is operated by Puck's company, so it's technically separate from the hotel. But the bar operates as the de facto lobby lounge, so it's easy for Four Seasons guests to get acquainted with the scene. It also is open for breakfast, lunch and brunch as well as dinner.
The experience is also one geared toward the luxury clientele on price point alone. On the current menu, eight ounces of American Wagyu sirloin from Snake River Farms in Idaho is $89, and each additional ounce is $16. The cuts imported from Japan are listed on the menu as "market price." On the other hand, a hungry meat-eater on a budget might also be drawn to a 20-ounce ribeye of Kansas cornfed USDA prime for $60; a 32-ounce porterhouse is $140.
For variety, the menu also offers a tasting, for $140: 4 ounces of USDA prime, aged 35 days; the American Wagyu; and 2 ounces of the Japanese Wagyu. The true Japan-raised beef is a marvel, so soft it almost melts in your mouth. Still, my husband and I were both surprised that our American palates preferred the U.S.-raised Wagyu, which felt extremely luxurious but still had the heft and feel of "regular" steak -- if one can even eat regular steak again? (OK, maybe after a few weeks.)
Another option for those who can't decide is the "Un-Cut" Menu Experience, a four- or six-course tasting menu with optional wine pairings. This is a version of how we experienced the menu, as guests of the Cut and the Four Seasons. Unfortunately for me, a new mom who had just cut back on nursing, multiple rounds of drinks, starting off with a glass of Champagne and including a bold Saint-Julien Bordeaux, felt almost as indulgent as the steak. I revived in time for the most Instagram-worthy dessert offering, the baked Alaska. Sometimes old-school is the best school.
For the non-red-meat eaters at the table, Cut also provides an excellent tortelloni, which I had for dinner and again the next week for lunch and would have again this moment if someone offered it to me.
In some cases, hotel dining might still seem like the easy choice, too expensive, or not "local" enough, i.e., it's filled with other out-of-towners. On that last point, that's not always the case; our Cut servers told us that much of its clientele were New Yorkers who lived nearby. And consider the other positives: no car service, no need to brave the elements, no need to get ready far in advance. We traveled about 100 feet from the elevator doors to the restaurant, and the front desk, concierge and bell staff all greeted us. Our kids were upstairs with a babysitter watching a movie and chowing down on their own version of a New York steakhouse: Shake Shack burgers.
One final thought, because even luxury travelers tire of big bills and elaborate dinner presentations: Before we'd secured our reservation, my plan was to cozy up to Cut's bar and its own small-bites menu, which includes Wagyu beef sliders.
Correction: This report was updated to correct the name of the restaurant: It is Cut by Wolfgang Puck.