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Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Point

Lap of Luxury Dept.: How often I am asked to describe my favorite-ever meal! I can’t say for sure that what’s recounted in the piece below is the culinary zenith; there have been simple, found dinners-out with my family that needed no fanciness and even a ragoût of leftovers consumed at home that was pretty special. But for total sensory immersion in luxury, capped by a supper in which each course flowed effortlessly from one to the next, this was pretty damned special. Be forewarned that the rates I mention at the end of the following piece have doubled in the intervening eighteen years.


WHEN THE PARIS-BASED Relais & Châteaux group of fine hotels decided to celebrate its 40th anniversary by sharing its prize-winning French chefs with North American member establishments, it was a gesture both elegant and superfluous. Superfluous in that the food at these establishments – if The Point is any indication – is already superb. Elegant in that it’s beneficial to learn other techniques, and such cross-pollination is always a culinary benefit.

Built in the 1930s as the sumptuous Adirondack “camp” of William Rockefeller, the property became The Point in 1980. Soon thereafter it was bought by the current owners, David and Christie Garrett, who set about realizing their dream of the ultimate in secluded elegance. As David observes, with no pretense whatsoever, a resort property like this is his canvas. “I try to make it into a work of art,” he says.

The best restaurants reflect the personalities of the owners. It's a quality that eludes resorts, which most often are owned and run by committee. But the Garretts have an excellent sense of what works in The Point's particular setting, and it's reinforced by the resident managers, Claudia and Bill McNamee.

Bill is also executive chef, serving as the link with Albert Roux, internationally-acclaimed chef at London’s La Gavroche, under whose culinary guidance menus at The Point are designed. For the anniversary, chef David Lawson was brought in from Blantyre, a Relais & Châteaux affiliate in Massachusetts that closes for the winter.

Star of the show was chef Jean-Michael Lorain, a Michelin three-star winner from the Côte Saint-Jacques in Joigny. Although he was asked only to oversee the anniversary dinner itself, served Feb. 24, he was only too happy to spend time in the kitchen each of the three nights he was there. And one or more of the chefs joined the guests for dinner each of those evenings.

Luxury is one of those eye-of-the-beholder qualities, although our television-addled society is quick to define it in terms of the gaudiness of a Las Vegas monstrosity like Caesar's Palace. True luxury is an ephemeral quality, not exemplified by statuary or floor shows. At The Point, it begins with the greeting. You're known upon arrival and you get the special sense that you'll be taken care of. It's not the faked sincerity of a busy maître d' who seats you and never returns.

We stayed in the Mohawk room, down a short foyer from the Great Hall, which was built as the Rockefellers’ bedroom and has a sleepy elegance that encourages relaxation. In fact, Susan was never happier than when sitting in a rocker in front of the fireplace in the bedroom, easing through a book. But a bedroom is, after all, for sleeping – and a well-designed room reflects that purpose – and you’re encouraged to use the rest of the facility, which means you have access to outdoor sports like skiing and snowshoeing or indoor favorites like shooting pool or watching old movies on the one TV, tucked into a far corner of the pub.

Meal service is another of the things that makes a stay at The Point so charming. It’s the very same technique you'll find in a humble trattoria or bistro, in which guests are encouraged to socialize simply by seating them at a common table. In this case, there are two large tables that together seat up to 22, which would accommodate a twosome in each of the 11 rooms. But you’re likely also to find someone from the staff at your table, who makes sure the conversation flows without seeming obtrusive about it. Unless you have particular dietary requirements, there are no menu choices: you get whatever’s planned for the day. But you won’t be sorry.

To add a note of whimsy to our party, we enjoyed a snow barbecue one afternoon. It was meant to be held on the snow, not under it, but a steady fall whitened glasses and plates. Even so, the grilled baby lamb was superb, served with tiny asparagus spears and new potatoes, accompanied with a hearty (if somewhat chilly) Opus One, the Mondavi-Rothschild wine collaboration.

Each of the three dinners we sampled was a masterpiece. The first night’s meal started with a consomme that has the most delectable broth I’ve tasted, and an appetizer of black bass that was other-worldly. The second night, chef Lorain seasoned an entrée of squab with a special chutney he brought from France, with a result that simply danced on the tongue. Although I didn’t think they could do it, Thursday’s meal, the anniversary party, topped everything that had come before it.

The menu was a masterpiece because of the controlled sequence of courses. Nothing overpowered the palate, and everything complemented what was served before. A chilled terrine of Arcachon oysters was followed by sea scallops finished in a cappuccino sauce, both aptly accompanied by a Chablis grand cru. The unlikely combination of Brussels sprouts and Beluga caviar was a subtle but tart contrast that stood up to the heartier Bâtard Montrachet.

All of which set the stage for an entrée of venison that was dark-flavored and buttery, a complicated meat served with a 1970 Château Lafite Rothschild that was at the height of its power. Each meal finished with a selection of cheeses and a good glass of port before dessert was served; this evening, being special, was also capped with a snifter of a 1954 Armagnac, a flavor I shall never forget.

The Point has deservedly won no end of praise; Zagat Hotel Survey recently rated it the number one resort in the country. This luxury comes somewhat dearly, with rooms running between $775 and $925 for two (all meals and amenities included) per night. But make no mistake about it: this is the ultimate vacation.

The Point, Saranac Lake, 800-255-3530, 518-891-5674. AE, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, March 10, 1994

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