Mrs Smith and I are no strangers to New York City. But each time we come, we fall a little more in love with this seductive city. As ever, we arrive for this trip excited, enthusiastic and hungry. We have a love affair with food: it’s quite understandable, since I’m the exec chef of Austin’s Japanese restaurant Uchiko and proudly won the title of Top Chef on season nine of the reality show. I will also happily travel the distance for interesting morsels alongside my perfect partner in crime: my missus who matches me bite for bite.
This visit to Manhattan has an added food-related frisson: we’re in town to attend the James Beard Foundation Awards. I have been nominated as a first-time finalist in what are essentially the Oscars of the gastro world. No biggie, right?
As we pull up at Hôtel Americano, we are pleasantly surprised with what we see. Tucked away from any overly trafficked streets, the hotel is perfectly placed in Chelsea. We’re impressed by its sleek and sexy silver exterior: hip and welcoming, without trying too hard in this quiet pocket of the midtown West Side neighbourhood.
Inside, our room is modern in the most sophisticated way. We test our platform bed – set in an enveloping wood frame – then sample the pre-loaded iPad, which wirelessly pipes a choice of playlists from the ceiling. We make a point to listen through the Latin playlist customised by Bebel Gilberto. While I peer through the teched-out electronic blinds, Mrs Smith falls for the Aesop bath products, soft denim bathrobes and blue striped hand towels. If only our bathroom back in Texas was this kitted-out.
Hôtel Americano is a quick dash from the High Line, so we head out to investigate the leafy elevated walkway and stop at La Newyorkina, a paleta cart, to pick up mango-chile and cucumber-lime ice-pops. From there, we fit in a bit of shopping in the Meatpacking District, then head back to the hotel for dinner at the Americano only to find that the restaurant is closed for a private event. But before we even realise what’s happening, the accommodating staff have whisked us to the see-and-be-seen rooftop, where we are introduced to their latest restaurant concept, La Piscine.
They seat us in the midst of an impressively fashionable crowd at a table near the slick, monochrome bar, and our jaws drop at the dazzling views of the city skyline – Chrysler and Empire State buildings both looking postcard-perfect. We look around and see an open kitchen, along with a slim swimming pool and popular lounge area. Is that a photographer floating around? We soon learn that this isn’t any dinner service; it’s actually a private event celebrating the opening of the new restaurant, and the staff have included us in the celebration, rather than risk us going hungry. Feeling instantly festive, we sip cocktails and sample hummus, tabouleh, salad, grilled lobster (Mrs Smith’s favourite) and generally get all the things you would want to eat if you were seaside or, in this case, poolside. We also meet chef Jose Buentuelos, a young and very talented chef, who is in charge of creating the light Mediterranean feast.
Collapsing into bed, following dinner, we find that the fluffy down pillows have us feeling like we’re snoozing on a cloud until it’s time for coffee and chocolate croissants downstairs. Then the time for ceremony quickly rolls around, and we arrive – thrilled and tense – at the beautiful Lincoln Center.
After what seems an interminable amount of time, my category of best chef of the south-west comes up – and I win! Coincidentally, Hôtel Americano also receives an award that evening for outstanding restaurant graphics, so it’s a doubly exciting night. We celebrate with champagne, parties, more champagne, then after-parties. Soon it’s 5am and we are staggering home to that cloud bed.
If it were any other night, we might be tempted to visit one of the many the hip clubs near the hotel’s West 27th Street location. And who needs Broadway when Punchdrunk’s riveting Macbeth-inspired Sleep No More is unfolding just next door.
But those adventures will have to wait. Luckily, the hotel treats us to a late check-out, so we take advantage of the extra time with lunch in the Americano to see the Beard-winning space in the day time and in person. Mrs Smith opts for the Burger MX, a juicy Latin take on a classic, with avocado, poblano peppers, jalapenos, and a spicy chipotle mayonnaise. I devour the perfectly seasoned grilled hanger steak, along with the entire plate of fries (which are especially good dunked in the fresh chimichurri sauce). For dessert, we have a moist and plentiful tarte Tatin smothered with a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream. It is a truly a lunch of champions. Quite right. I salute this Chelsea hotel – and be assured, we plan to return next time more excited and enthusiastic and hungry than ever.