Among countless others flying into New York’s JFK airport yesterday – many of whom, like the gal, had to waste at least an hour standing in line for the prehistoric, no-kiosk, no e-reader immigration that you cannot believe is New York – was Susanne Hatje, GM of the luxury Mandarin Oriental New York hotel. What is her secret for successful flying? Carry a neck pillow and eye-shades for the flight itself, eat and drink sparingly, and, on arrival, get outdoor exercise. As soon as she got back into the city she went for a walk in Central Park. The following day she was entertaining at lunch. You can tell from the photo, in front of the hotel’s 35th-floor lobby’s Dale Chihuly centrepiece, that she has just had two weeks’ holiday, at Germany’s version of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, namely Sylt Island in the North Sea.
We lunched in the hotel’s Asiate, which has just gained the services of Laura Williamson MS (Master, sic, Sommelier). Formerly corporate beverage director for Jean-Georges Restaurants, she is the hotel’s new wine director. Sadly we did not do justice to her talents, at lunchtime with the temperature in the 90s outside – we did not even try the Prosecco, a Fantinel Friuli-Venezia Giulia NV. We both started with Asiate’s market salad with butter lettuce, herbs and seasonal vegetables – wow what good value, the two-course express lunch, which has this as one alternative, is $29 (by itself on the à la carte menu, the salad, with its fabulous garden-party-hat look, and yogurt dressing, is $15). Susanne Hatje went on to a Wagyu tartare and I stuck with the set menu, arugula gnocchi with burrata foam.
Up here on the 35th floor the view is sensational. This is ladies-who-lunch, at just after noon. Nearly all of them, and the equal numbers of men who munch, are Manhattan cognoscenti – tourists, and hotel guests, will not come for fine dining at lunchtime (they keep that for dinner). At breakfast, the Tony Chi-designed space is power breakfasts. We talked about the theatre that is hotel life, how every day the performance is unique. This is performance art, in fact, a ballet of servers and the participating audience. The servers know the basic steps, but then move as the situation dictates. Has any choreographer ever done a ballet of hotel life?
On my way out from this luxury hotel I look back, across Columbus Circle. There are the two towers of the Time Warner Center, rising to 55 floors, a total of 750 feet (architects were Mustafa Kemal Abadan and David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – I have just found an article on Abadan which explains what he had in mind but, sadly, it is all in Turkish). Mandarin Oriental is in the north tower, on the right of the photo: the hotel has floors 34 through 54. No wonder the views are so sensational, both up, and down.