Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Breakfast @ Tres, SLS Hotel, Beverley Hills

Update Review, June 2016

Do you remember when I stayed at the SLS Hotel in Beverley Hills last year, and came back absolutely raving about the breakfast?  Seriously, the best continental breakfast I've ever had, with quality pastries and the most insanely delicious yogurt I've ever had.  Seriously, that yogurt.  You can read all about my original visit here.

I returned for a few days this summer, and, as before, breakfast was a highlight.  Overall, the breakfast was basically as I remembered.  That yogurt, particularly the pear one, is just incredible (and the pastries are higher quality than usual at a hotel restaurant).  Have I mentioned that I'd travel to LA just for that yogurt?
Citrus Yogurt, Blueberry Muffin, Cream Cheese Danish, Granola.
The berry topped yogurt was exactly as I remembered.  Creamy, panna cotta like vanilla yogurt, with berries on top.  The vanilla bean infused throughout is also fantastic.

But, as I discovered last time, I liked the pear/citrus version even more.  The tart compote on the bottom just goes so well with the yogurt, and I liked the acidic grapefruit segments on top.  This time it did clearly have cubes of pear on top (and a beautiful flower) as well.

The granola wasn't quite as I remembered.  It wasn't quite as crispy and caramelized, but it was still good.  The yogurt was delicious enough without it though.
Pastries: Cinnamon Apple Pocket, Raspberry Bear Claw, Chocolate Croissant, Cheese Danish.
The first item I went for was the folded danish on the far right.  I am pretty sure it had cream cheese filling.  The filling wasn't particularly creamy, but I loved how flaky the pastry was.  This was my favorite of the pastries on this visit.

The chocolate croissant was good, except that it was lacking in the chocolate department.  Again, crispy, flaky crust, and the chocolate was really great dark chocolate, but, there just wasn't enough of it.

The raspberry bear paw was another solid pastry, again, crispy flaky crust.  It had layers of raspberry jam folded throughout, but, just like the chocolate croissant, I found myself wishing it had a bit more.

The item on the far left was the one I was excited for, as it was coated in sugar crystals and I had no idea what kind it was.  Sadly, the filling turned out to be apple cinnamon, little cubes of apple in spicing, just not something I like.  The pastry was good and flaky though.  Notice a theme here?
Pastries: Raspberry Swirls, Chocolate Croissants, Apple Pocket, Apricot Danish.
As on my previous visit, the pastries changed out slightly every day, although plain croissants and chocolate croissants were always offered.

On my final day I went for the apricot danish, forgetting that I had not enjoy it before.  The crust wasn't as flaky as the others, and it was coated in a soggy glaze.  I just really didn't care for it at all.

The  (not pictured) almond croissant was again as I remembered.  I didn't love the sliced almond coating, generous as it was.  The filling was a decent almond paste and provided in a good quantity.  It had the same decent croissant dough.
Muffins: Strawberry Rhubarb, Bran, Blueberry, Banana Nut.
I remembered not being super impressed with the muffins, but, I wanted to give them another try.

I started with the blueberry.  It was moist, and a bit too dense, but had a generous amount of blueberry, and nice huge sugar crystals on top.  It wasn't earth shattering, and I'd prefer more flavor in the base, but, it was a good muffin.

The one in the front here I had no idea what kind it was when I picked it up.  It turned out to be strawberry rhubarb.  It too was a bit too dense, and the base didn't have a very interesting flavor.  Overall, ok, and better than most hotel muffins, but, not something I'd get again.

The bran again turned out to be my favorite, with a hearty bran flavor and studded with plentiful currants.  Perhaps a bit boring on its own, but slathered in the raspberry jam it was quite tasty.

Original Review, November 2015

I spent years of my life never visiting Los Angeles (well, besides LAX).  Yes, just a simple hour flight away from San Francisco, with much nicer weather, but ... for some reason I never visit.

A few weeks ago, Ojan had to visit our Venice office, so I tagged along.  We stayed at the very mediocre Le Meridien Delfina.  Emil described it as "a motel", which it obviously wasn't, but I can't say it was a particularly nice place.  But it was close to the office, which is what mattered.  We were only in the area for two days, but I can't say I had any interest in staying longer (delicious burgers aside).

So why, a mere few weeks later, would I go back?  I had an opportunity to speak on a panel at UCLA, at an event targeted at recruiting women in Computer Science.  I really enjoy interacting with students, and encouraging more women in the field.  Plus ... as much as I hated the smog, the traffic, the grime, etc of Santa Monica ... I did love the weather.  And San Francisco was starting to get dreary.

I checked the weather.  Upper 70s and 80s.  I quickly looked to see what Starwood properties are near UCLA.  Since I didn't need to go to the office, I didn't need to stay at Le Meridien again.  There is a W right adjacent to the campus.  Perfect!  Except ... way too pricey, even with our corporate rates.

I expanded my search radius.  I only needed to be at UCLA one night, so, I didn't actually need to stay super close by.  But, all the Starwood properties, besides the ones right near the airport, were just too pricey.  I was a bit dejected, until I discovered a ridiculous AARP rate at the SLS Beverley Hills.  Yes, it was slightly more than my corporate spend allowed, but just slightly.  And remarkably, cheaper than even our corporate rates anywhere else.  This seemed too good to be true.

I knew about the SLS.  Part of Starwood's Luxury Collection.  Category 6 property.  Of course, Emil's top recommendation of places to stay in Los Angeles.  I'd never stayed at any category 6 properties before.  Never at a Luxury Collection property.  I certainly never thought I would.

I was sold.  Since this is a food blog, not a hotel review blog, I'll skip the general details about the hotel, except to tell you, if you ever get a chance to stay here, ZOMG, do it.  When Emil recommends something, listen!  The staff are amazing, the rooms crazy, and I can't even begin to describe the rooftop pool area.

It also helps that Jose Andres runs the two restaurants in the hotel.  Within an hour of arriving at the hotel, I was seated at dinner at The Bazaar, the high end restaurant serving dinner, with a huge bar area, and separate dessert room.  It was great.

The other restaurant in the hotel is a more casual affair, called Tres.  It serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea.  Spanish inspired, as you might guess given the name and proprietor.

As a Starwood Platinum member (!!!), continental breakfast was included in my stay, served at Tres.  Generally, "continental" means a couple stale, lackluster muffins and generic Kellogg's cereals.  Spoiler: that was not the case at Tres.  Think baked goods from The Bazaar patisserie, housemade granola, and, the most epic yogurt I've ever had (yes, yogurt.  Read on for more details).

And to top it off, the breakfast hours are quite generous, even during the week - served until 11am!  No need to rush to breakfast in the morning.

The Space

The space, simply put, is gorgeous.  It is unlike any anywhere you've ever been served a hotel breakfast in before.  Of course, they use the space for more than just breakfast, it is the hotel guest exclusive lounge the rest of the day, and they serve lunch and dinner as well.

But wow, the space.  The options for how you'd like to enjoy your breakfast are endless.
High Tables.
For the classy, there are high tables, made of white marble, available for small groups of two or four, or large communal high tables for solo travelers to perch at.

Each table has a stunning unique chandelier above it.
Standard Breakfast Tables.
If you'd prefer a more classic offering, there are round wooden tables with regular dining chairs, set for 2-4 people.  These were generally occupied by families.
Little Lounges.
Next came lounges, with slightly lower wooden tables, with comfortable arm chairs and couches, for those who wanted to relax a little more.
Fireplace Library Lounges.
And then, the ultimate: fireplace lounges.

These were alongside the length of the room, arranged in a line, with optional curtains to fully enclose each for privacy.

Like the lounges above, they have lower wooden dining tables, with arm chairs and couches, but are set up like personal libraries, each facing its own fireplace.

Each area has an individual rug under the table.  The wall they face is lined with bookcases filled classic books in assorted disciplines and stacked firewood.  The fireplaces are electric, but really add to the ambiance, and do provide warmth.  Above each fireplace is a ridiculous light up deer head, the only slightly tacky element about the entire space.  Gorgeous large lamps are on the side, along with assorted little stools and pieces of artwork.  It really does feel like a room in a very fancy house.

You can likely guess where I choose to sit.  Yes, I had one of these amazing little rooms each day.  The staff quickly learned my preference, and sat me in the same private library every day.  My section, rather fitting actually, included the bookcases for "Science" and "Planes & Boats".  Although my father would never ever enter a place like this, I think he'd really like digging through the books.  The library to my left shelved "Gardening" and uh, "Doors".  The one to the right had "Design" and "Cinema".  I didn't check out the selection in the final room.

The Buffet

So, the food.  My included option was a continental buffet, although an a la carte menu is also served.
Jose's Breakfast Table.
Sorry, not a buffet.  A "Breakfast Table".  For continental only, it is priced at a hefty $28 for adults, $15 for children.  For an additional $14, you can add a hot entree. 
The Breakfast Table Spread.
I stuck to just the breakfast table, as it was more than sufficient.  Continental only, which is not usually exciting, and not that extensive, but nearly everything on the table was a winner.  You don't need a more elaborate spread when the options are all delicious.

Drinks

Coffee Station.
The breakfast table also comes with your choice of coffee or tea.  I asked for decaf coffee, and when it didn't arrive in about 10 minutes, I assumed it was forgotten, and went and helped myself to the coffee carafes near the entrance, available for hotel guests to drop in and get at any time.
Decaf Coffee.
Eventually a little carafe was brought to me.  The server saw that I had already helped myself to the other coffee and apologized, but assured me that this was more fresh.  The next day, when I asked for decaf, I was provided my own large french press.

Both the fresh carafe and self-serve station were not very good.  But, I did get decaf, what do I expect?

Assorted sugar and sweeteners are available on the tables, and milk, including soy and almond, are available at the coffee station.

I was glad to have coffee, and to not need to be asking for refills all the time, but, this wasn't particularly good.
Aqua Fresca: Pineapple, cantelope, watermelon.
Up at the buffet is a selection of aqua fresca, rather than just standard juices, as this is a Spanish restaurant after all.

I obviously avoided the melon flavors, but tried the pineapple.  It was very, very sweet.  I couldn't really drink it on its own, but I think it would make for a great mixer for a cocktail.

Food

Organic cereals and granola.
The continental selection begins, like most, with cereals.  However these weren't boxes of generic Kellogg's cereal.  Only two options, one seemed to be some kind of wheat flakes, the other was house made granola.

Like the coffee station, various types of milk are offered alongside, including nonfat and soy.

I didn't try the wheat flakes.
Granola Closeup.
The granola was great.

While it wasn't a clumpy style of granola like I like for munching on as a snack, it was perfect to add to my yogurt parfait (more on that soon).

I can't even begin to enumerate all the goodies I found inside the granola.  A slew of assorted nuts including crunchy pistachios, sliced almonds, and pine nuts.  Tons of different seeds.  Little wheat sticks, flakes of this and that ... just so many things.

The granola was slightly sweetened, just enough to feel a bit decadent.  No raisins, an element that always ruins perfectly good granola for me.  In fact, no dried fruit at all.  I don't mind dried fruit, but I can't stand it when it is rock hard!

Good stuff for sure.
Chef's Selection of Assorted Pastries.
"Croissant, danish, muffins, pain au chocolate.  Selection of marmalades, organic butter, and cream cheese."

Next came my carbs.

Assorted sliced breads and bagels, plus all the good stuff: muffins, croissants, and danishes.  Butter, cream cheese, and assorted marmalades (unlabelled) were available in little pots on the side, and a toaster was provided if you wanted to toast things.

I skipped the basic breads and bagels.  I discovered a few days later that interestingly, on weekends, the selection is more limited, and there is no bread or bagels, no toaster.  I think this is because the buffet is moved to the side, as a far more extensive brunch buffet is offered starting at 11am, and they need to prepare for it and use the full space for that.  I saw a carving station and epic dessert displays being set up.  But uh, not included with my hotel stay.  Next time ...

I started with muffins.  There were three kinds the first day, only two the others.  One looked bran with flakes on top, one was blueberry, and one had a streusel top.  These muffins are available at the Patisserie at The Bazaar next door for $3 each.

Clearly, I went right for the streusel topped muffin.  The streusel didn't have tons of flavor, a bit disappointing.  But the muffin was very, very moist.  It turned out to be banana, with big chunks of banana inside, adding to the moistness.  Not my thing, as I don't really care for banana muffins, but it was decently made.

A few days later, I went for a streusel topped muffin again, because it looked different.  And, indeed, it was.  It had little chunks of fruit inside, I think bits of dried apricot and maybe strawberry, rather than banana.  Hard to tell.  The top was crispy and ok, but I didn't love that muffin either.

Next I went for the blueberry.  I honestly think there was more blueberry than muffin base to this muffin.  Just absolutely bursting with blueberry flavor, crazy moist.  And the muffin base itself was quite good, a hint of some spicing to it.  The top was a bit crispy, with large sugar crystals on it.  I adored that part.  For a muffin, it was a very good muffin!

On my last day, I went for the bran.  It was a hearty muffin, studded with currants, and flecked with oats.  For a bran muffin, and something that at least tasted a bit healthier, a nice option.  I of course slathered it with the delicious raspberry jam.

I didn't really need any, but I couldn't resist trying the marmalades, adding them to my pastries, or even to my yogurt.  The orange marmalade was pretty standard, but I really liked the raspberry jam.  Maybe I went for the bran muffin just as an excuse to have more jam.
Danishes, Day Two.
The muffins were fine, better than most hotel muffins, but the danishes were clearly calling out to me.

The first day, I went right for the most decadent looking, topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar, drizzled with chocolate (far right).

It turned out to be a pan au chocolate, sliced in half, and stuffed with almond paste.  The slicing and stuffing certainly seemed to have been done after the fact, but as you can see, it wasn't exactly the same as the standard pan an chocolate next to it, as it had the toppings.  It was a good pastry.  Crispy exterior, quality chocolate inside.  I liked the extra crunch from the almond slices on top.  However, it was a bit sweet for me, the almond paste inside was generous and very sweetened.  (What is wrong with me?  The aqua fresca was too sweet, the pastries too sweet ... )  Still, far superior to most hotel pastries, and my third pick overall for the pastries.

I tried it again a few days later, and it was actually different.  Not nearly as much almond paste filling, so it wasn't as sweet.  I still liked the almonds on top, and the chocolate, but something about it was just not remarkable.  Subsequent days it was not offered, so I didn't get to try a tie-breaker, but if it was, I would have tried it again.

I skipped the plain pan au chocolate, but these are on offer at The Bazaar for $3.

Next I went for the raspberry bear paw (middle).  It was swirled with really delicious raspberry jam.  The danish dough, just like the pan au chocolate, was above average.  Flaky, buttery.  The raspberry filling was really quite flavorful.  My forth favorite, and I'd gladly get it again.

The next selection the first day was one of the best: a cinnamon sugar apple filled danish (not pictured here).  Now, I don't love apple, but the bits of apple were nicely cooked, well spiced.  The dough was great, a bit flakier, and ... it was coated in cinnamon and sugar.  It was more like a donut.  I loved it, my second pick overall of the baked goods.  Sadly, a few days later, when an apple filled creation re-appeared, it did not have the cinnamon sugar coating, which certainly was a big part of the appeal.

Several days into my trip, a new offering appeared: an apricot danish (second to left).  It was my least favorite, by far.  The dough wasn't flaky, the apricot in the middle was boring, and it was covered in a glaze that was seemed too sticky in this context.  Like many other items, also sold at The Bazaar, also $3.

On my last day, I opted to make a croissant sandwich with cheese and charcuterie, on a plain croissant.  The plain croissant was a decent specimen.  Buttery, slightly flaky on the outside, good layers to it.  Certainly not an award winning croissant, but compared to what you normally find at hotels, very good.
Pain Au Raisin ($3 from The Bazaar).
The final selection turned out to be the best however, Pain Au Raisin, aka, glazed raisin swirls.

They actually looked like the least interesting, but were hands down my favorites.  Crispy exterior, moist interior, loaded with cinnamon and raisins.  Tons of sweet, sticky glaze on top.  I'd actually prefer a plain roll, sans raisins, but still, this was great.  Sticky, sweet, decadent.

I wish I discovered these on the first day, but I assure you, after having one, I immediately went back for seconds each day, and added them to my lineup on subsequent days.  Totally dessert worthy, and I liked to close my meal with one each day.  Wow, I drool just thinking about these again.

Also available at the patisserie of The Bazaar for $3.
Cheese and Charcuterie.
As  I mentioned, there was a selection of charcuterie and cheeses.  Not what I'd normally go for, and not my idea of breakfast, but, this is the same product served at Tres for dinner, and I know that they are known for their charcuterie and cheeses, a Spanish restaurant after all, so on my final day I finally tried some.

The charcuterie on offer was jamon serrano, chorizo, salami. The jamon serrano was thin sliced, a bit too porky for my liking.  The chorizo and salami were both good, spicy.

The cheese lineup was manchego, vino de cabra, and idiazabal.  I normally prefer cow's cheeses, but I tried them anyway.  As expected, I did not like the vino de cabra, as I actually really dislike goat cheese.  The other two were fine, but when it comes to cheeses, I'm all about the triple cremes.

I used these inside a croissant sandwich, and it was fine, but really, there were just too many other better things in the buffet to waste stomach space on this.
Greek Yogurt Parfait, Mixed Berries.
The final element of the breakfast table is fruit and yogurt jars.  These looked pretty standard.  But, in reading reviews of the restaurant, person after person mentioned how amazing the yogurt was.  I'm not really one to go for yogurt, not that I dislike it, but, really, how exciting is yogurt?  It certainly didn't look special, but, if everyone says it is amazing, I figured I should try it.

Even after reading the reviews, I had no expectations for the yogurt.  Sure, people like greek yogurt, I thought.

But wow.  This was unlike any yogurt I've ever had before.  None were labelled.  From visual inspection, it looked like the one on the far right was plain, the one next to that had a little citrus, then next had berries, and the final two rows were just fresh mixed berries, no yogurt.
Berry Yogurt.
The first day, opted for the one with berries on top.

There was much more to this than meets the eye.  I thought it was just some yogurt with a few berries thrown on top.  Wrong.  Yes, there was yogurt, and it was topped with berries.  But there were more berries inside.  And a sweet berry compote on the bottom.

The yogurt wasn't really what I think of as Greek yogurt, as it wasn't thick and it certainly wasn't tart.  But it also wasn't runny.  Rather hard to describe really.  It was light and fluffy, and obviously sweetened.  I think it was vanilla?

I added granola on top before I realized how many other goodies were in the jar.  I loved the extra crunch, and added it again subsequent days, but it certainly wasn't necessary.

This was great yogurt.

The next day, I went for the one with the citrus segment on top.  The printed menu said "apricot", but I'm certain it wasn't apricot.  The online menu says "pear", which seemed slightly more likely, but, I'm still pretty sure it wasn't that either.  Like the berry version, it too had a compote hiding on the bottom.  This one was less sweet, more tart, and I actually liked it a bit more, even though I'd normally pick berries over citrus any day.

Finally, I did try the one sans toppings.  I'm pretty sure it was the same yogurt, vanilla.  I added a swirl of the delicious raspberry jam, a cup full of berries, and granola to it.  So good.  I think it would have been great with honey too.

This yogurt really reminded me of dessert.  Every single version could easily be served as a dessert, like a panna cotta.  Sweet, creamy, decadent.  Really, really wonderful, yet not over the top, so it felt not unreasonable to have with breakfast.

I needed to know what brand the yogurt was.  On my last day, I finally asked my server.  I thought she'd think it was a strange question, and likely wouldn't know the answer, but I really wanted to know, and figured it was at least worth a try.  She perked right up.  "Isn't it amazing??!!", she chirped.  "I can eat it every day, and never get sick of it.  It can even double as dessert, it is so creamy and delicious."  I instantly agreed, and leaned forward eagerly.  Maybe she did know!  Maybe I could get this at home!

And then, she revealed the magic ... it is made in-house, by the pastry kitchen.  They use Fage as a base, whip it, and infuse it with vanilla bean.   Doh.   I can't just go buy it somewhere.  The only place I can get it is Tres.  Guess I have to go back to LA?

Seriously, I'd return to the SLS, for this yogurt alone.  Totally worth the nightly rate.  Or, ok, fine, if I was ever back in the Los Angeles area, I supposed I could just go to Tres for breakfast, and splurge for the Breakfast Table for $28?  Or, I, could just get the yogurt a la carte for $12, which may seem like a lot of a little pot of yogurt, but, seriously, you don't understand how incredible this yogurt is!
Tres By José Andrés Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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