Saturday, October 22, 2011

A New Standard in Hotel Food

Spanish Octopus at The Standard Grill, New York City
“Hotel Food” is a phrase synonymous with the generic offerings of national chains buying frozen tortellini and curly fries in bulk from mainline distributors.  Over years of business travel too often resulting in late night arrivals and room service menus, I developed a strategy for eating that would at least satisfy hunger without completely repulsing my taste buds.  I call it the Club Sandwich Rule. 

The rule is simple.  It is fairly impossible to screw up a club sandwich.  A typical club sandwich involves layers of toasted bread separated by sliced turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a (hopefully) thin layer of mayonnaise. It is hard to screw up a club for a few reasons: turkey is almost always moist, even plain sandwich bread is better when toasted, and bacon makes everything better.  If a skeleton crew manning the kitchen on the late shift can’t handle that, then the hotel’s kitchen can be deemed pretty much hopeless.  (If the hotel doesn’t do club sandwiches, the Chicken Quesadilla Rule, and French Fries for Dinner Rule are good alternatives). 

It is a nice surprise then from time to time when a hotel (that is not the Las Vegas sized 10,000 room variety) manages to attract people because of the food.  Such is the case at the newish Standard Hotel in New York City.  Vaguely French bistro in style, The Standard is blessed with an expansive patio perfect for slurping roses on hot summer days, or sipping Manhattans under the heaters when the weather turns chilly.

A recent dinner brought a Moorish influenced appetizer of tender Spanish octopus with sweet potatoes and chilies.  A juicy steak came nicely charred and perfectly pink in the middle.  And accompanying fries were thin and crisp enough to rival the famed fries at neighbor Pastis. 

The service, which easily could have veered toward snobby, was instead overly accommodating.  The restaurant does not have beers on tap but its adjoining Biergarten does.  The restaurant and bustling beer hall operate separately so the waitress could not transfer a beer bought there to our check in the restaurant.  But she kindly offered to escort my boyfriend to the Biergarten bar where he was served right away and then ushered back to our cozy patio seat, frosty brew in hand. 

I might live just down the street from The Standard but if I didn’t, I would go out of my way to stay there for work.  (At least one person I know stays there when in New York for business just for that reason.)  Even in a city like New York where food options abound, there will always be that day- delayed flight, urgent project, after work nap- that causes one to miss a normal dinner hour and rely on phoned-in food.    It is nice knowing that a few floors below lies a kitchen turning out some of the most consistently good food in the neighborhood and with a touch of a button, it will come direct to the door.  One can only hope that this level of service and quality signals a new “standard” for hotel food. 

Do you know a hotel (not of the 10,000 room Las Vegas variety) that has exceptionally good food available for room service?  Leave a comment!

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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