Deliciously comfortable beds and a wrap-around balcony with an eye-to-eye view of the rising moon and the Chrysler Building – how can New York get any better than this?
Let’s begin with the fact that I don’t love New York. I don’t hate it either, but it’s not high on my list of places where I need to spend a lot of time before I die. So when I’m here for a few days on business I always try to make it into a treat by staying somewhere really nice. Which is why I’m sitting outdoors on a chilly November evening drinking in the sight of a full moon rising two blocks north of the world’s most beautiful Art Deco building.
The balcony of Room 2415 of the Sofitel New York is so big and so well furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs that I could have invited a dozen friends to join me – if I knew that many people in the city.
Of course the balcony was appealing by daylight, when the warm sunlight would have made it a nice place to curl up with a book. But I had other commitments and only enough time after my good night’s sleep (not a sound from the traffic below penetrated my windows) for a quick look outside before heading off to meetings. Now, my workday done, I have settled in to savor the view.
The room itself is stylish and chic, but intimate at the same time, probably because it is not grandiose. Both the living room and bedroom are of moderate size, plenty of space without being crowded, but not palatial.
The contemporary furnishings are comfortable: A sofa and matching upholstered chair are arranged around a pale birch coffee table in the sitting room, where there is also a large desk – and all with excellent lighting for reading or work. A console holds a flat-screen tv. Another flat-screen tv is on a cabinet in the bedroom, where the minibar hides.
A low built-in bureau in an alcove doubles as luggage rack. Another rack would have been handy, since there were two of us, but I used the glass-topped table beside the upholstered chair. The closet had both hanging and shelf space, plus an iron, ironing board and umbrella.
From the first step inside the large lobby, which slides comfortably between belle époque and art deco, the Sofitel exudes New York glamour of the 1920s. Spacious seating areas end in a little rotunda with a curved stairway sweeping down to an inlaid floor and a reception desk decorated in panels that recall Roaring 20s NY. There is a cosmopolitan hum here, with more conversations in French and in English, for Sofitel in any city is the home away from home to French travelers.
The art deco feel is more accented in the Gaby Restaurant, where a large café society scene is flanked by trapezoidal shell-lamps, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlook 45th street right at street level. Our waiter told us that in summer there are usually a few tables on the sidewalk. In the adjoining bar, faux leopard-skin banquettes and leather bar chairs provide seating; a tapas-style menu of French dishes planned for the near future in the bar.
The contemporary French dinner menu is not intimidating, either in price or content. “A La Francaise” menu includes French classics, including Burgundy snails cooked in garlic butter and served with tender toasted brioche and a bisque of Maine lobster made with Normandie Crème fraiche and tarragon oil for appetizers, and Perigord duck leg confit and Seared yellow fin tuna salade Nicoise made with fingering potatoes, green beans, olives Nicoises and quail egg a la plancha.
The regular menu has a more international flavor, but with a definite continental flair. I had trouble choosing between the filet of sole en papillote with a julienne of carrot and fennel, scented with lemon and fresh thyme and the monkfish filet with sautéed porcini mushrooms in a delicate beurre blanc. At the suggestion of the waiter, I chose the latter; we had ordered our wine to begin while we browsed the menu and he felt that the monkfish would go better with the one we had chosen. He was right.
My companion chose the Sunday special, which was a perfectly cooked Steak au poivre. The service was excellent -- gracious and very knowledgeable about the menu. Since we had ordered appetizers – snails for me and an traditional onion soup for him – we could only look regretfully at the dessert menu, which included tart Tatin, pineapple pancotta and sorbets. A good selection of cheeses was available, as well: two American, two French and a Dutch.
I may not be French, but I could easily call this hotel home in New York.