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Comfortable sophistication makes a luxury hotel great

Hug a sculpture - St Regis Hotel San Francisco

Hug a sculpture – St Regis Hotel San Francisco

Every now and again a single traveller needs a hug, even from an inanimate object. Being confronted by a sculpture, a white marble torso missing head, arms and most of his legs, was just what the gal wanted, here in one of the most sophisticated 21st century luxury hotels in the USA, St Regis San Francisco. The whole hotel is a sculpture, actually – a tower rising from a typical downtown-San Francisco stone and plaster palace.

Anyway, since this white decorative sculpture was chosen and put here by one of my favourite designers, Glenn Pushelberg of Yabu Pushelberg, it made the hug even more meaningful.

The lobby has two allegorical paintings (see the hare and tortoise)

The lobby has two allegorical paintings (see the hare and tortoise)

Let me explain the sophistication of this 269-room hotel. It is confident enough to be casual – and it is jolly comfortable. The main floor area flows. There is a bar with ten tall chairs with handles on their backs. Around the main area is plenty of comfy lower seating, with cushions in silver, teal, chocolate.

There are lots of flowers, especially white orchids, the kind that lean over like weeping willows.  There are lots of white roses. As is St Regis standard, one of the brand elements that must be in every one of its super hotels, there must be allegorical paintings, big ones, on the walls.

Here there are two, both signed A. Morrow, both in shades of, well, brick. One includes a gallant knight sweeping up a classical maiden.  The other, shown, includes a polo player, and a hare chasing a tortoise.

Looking through the two-way lobby fire

Looking through the two-way lobby fire

The lobby’s focal point is a ten-foot wide gas-fuelled fire, open to both sides.  You see adults deliberately choosing to sit here, for psychological warmth (another requirement for the single traveller?).  You see kids fascinated by it.  How does it work?  A doorman in a black bowler hat and a nearly full-length black coat looks on, amused.  Outside, through 20 foot-high glass walls, the life of San Francisco’s busy Third Street goes on, unperturbed.  Just across the street is the Moscone Center, for conventions. Within two minutes’ walk there is a Jewish Museum. Literally part of this hotel building is MoAD, the Museum of African Diaspora (work that one out). And you are only three minutes from the Apple Store, and six minutes from Union Square.

And looking through at the AME kitchen

And looking through at the AME kitchen

You have it all, staying here.  No wonder some business people more or less move in.  I could live in end room 1808 very comfortably.  Shades of stone, teal, lots of real wood, lots of texture – and, joy oh joy, not only the gym but the pool, a sizeable 60 feet, is also open 24 hours. Swim at 2 a.m. and no-one knows and you will feel fabulous.  You also feel fabulous dining at the restaurant, AME, which many do not realize is actually part of the hotel – it has a prominent street opening on Mission Street.  Walk in, past its sushi counter and the open kitchen and the chefs greet you, in typical Japanese style.

Brussels sprouts three-ways

Brussels sprouts three-ways

AME is run by Napa Valley’s culinary wizard duo, Hiro Sone, who is Japanese, and his Italian-Lebanese wife Lissa Doumani, whose father started Stag’s Leap winery.  Their Napa restaurant, which is actually in St Helena, is Terra, and it inspired the people setting up this hotel, before its opening in 2005, to get’em here.  There are tasting menus, there are wine flights, but you can also eat normally, choose what you want.  Let me share some of the dishes.  There is a Kaisen sashimi salad with Japanese cucumber, hijiki, tobiko caviar and yuzu soy vinaigrette).  If it is Kaisen, or Kaizen, better-yourself, it must be good. I start with a salad of Brussels sprouts three-ways, with croquettes of local goat cheese and lemon mustard vinaigrette.

How about beer doughnuts, on a chocolate-smeared plate?

How about beer doughnuts, on a chocolate-smeared plate?

There is the imaginative Lissa’s staff meal (cuttlefish noodles tossed with sea urchin, quail egg, umami soy and wasabi). There is beef from the Brandt Family Ranch, one of the big brands (sic) in today’s sophisticated dining, at least in the USA.  Back to that word sophistication.  The confidence of these people is such that desserts include beer doughnuts with chocolate stout ice cream and chocolate fudge sauce.  Yes, honestly, look at the photo.  It looks as if the plate is brown.  It is not.  Touch the brown and you realise it is the thinnest coating of chocolate. The doughnuts do taste of beer, the icecream of stout and the sauce, well, what it is says. Somehow eating a doughnut in such a divine luxury hotel creates an evocative memory.  I shall be back for another hug.