Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Aloft Hotel, Buffalo

On a recent trip, I wound up stranded in Buffalo, NY.

Why?  I was there for a co-worker's wedding on a Saturday night.  The wedding was lovely, and the wedding food, shockingly good.  As were the pastries at the brunch at the Hyatt Buffalo the next morning (although, the hotel itself kinda sucked).  I went to the airport Sunday morning, enjoyed lunch at Queen City Kitchen (also shockingly good), swung through the American Airline's Admiral's Club, and boarded my flight.  We left the gate.  We almost took off.  And then ... ORD, the airport I was headed to for my connection, issued a ground stop.  We waited for an hour on the runway.  Then we went back to the gate.  We waited an hour.  Two hours.  We were told it would be just an hour more.  It never was.  Eventually, the flight was cancelled.  And by then, it was too late to rebook on any other flights.  Of course, the cancellation was due to weather issues (hail in Chicago!), so American didn't need to do any customer care.  No vouchers for meals, no vouchers for hotel.  Oh, and the only American flight with availability was 5am the next morning.  I was not a happy girl.

We clearly needed to spend the night in Buffalo.  I had zero desire to go back to the lackluster Hyatt.  And, being a Starwood girl, I went for the only Starwood option in the area: Aloft Hotel.  I hadn't ever stayed at an Aloft before, but it seems like a lower-end Westin.  Hip, swanky, modern.  And the hotel was basically brand new.  A really nice property, and I'd gladly explore this brand more in the future.

But, obviously, you are here to read about the food, not about the excellent design of the hotel room.  During my time at the Aloft, I explored both the offerings at the bar that night, and the breakfast area in the morning.

The W XYZ Bar

When I checked in, the receptionist took pity on me and my cancelled flight ordeal, and gave me a voucher for a free drink at the bar, the W XYZ.  I gladly went to check it out.  And of course, I got tempted by the dessert menu too ...

The Space

The bar and lounge, like the rest of the hotel, was brand new, modern, and although obviously designed to be trendy, very functional.
Bar Seating.
There was a traditional bar, filled with really friendly patrons.  Everyone had a story of why they were there.  After all, who stays at the airport hotel?  Most of us had cancelled flights, missed flights, or were traveling for crazy reasons like renewing passports out of country.  No one was there because this was a destination they wanted to be at.  Yet ... everyone was so, so friendly, staff and patrons alike.  My mood really did improve once I started chatting with folks at the bar.
Lounge Space.
The other side of the space was a lounge, with full bar service.

I found a wonderful space to sit on a colorful couch, with foot stool and ample space to stick my drink, phone, laptop, etc.  It really was very comfortable, and as close to being at home as I could get.
More Lounge Space.
 Larger groups would have liked the couch area on the other side of the lounge.
Fireplace, Outside.
On a nice day, the space flows out onto a furnished patio too.  And for a bit of ambiance, a gas fireplace, perfect once the snowy Buffalo winters hit.

Overall, it was a really lovely space.
Pool Table.
Oh, and, on the far side, there was a pool table and other recreation activities.

Drinks


Cosmo-Not. $10. Wasabi peanuts. Water.
"Raspberry Jam, Lemon Juice, Beefeater Gin".

I redeemed my voucher for a drink from the cocktail menu, the "cosmo-not".  It was a lovely drink. Very strong on the gin, which made it not too sweet.  The raspberry "jam" was a raspberry puree, I think freshly muddled fruit.  Really a nicely balanced drink, and I quite enjoyed it.  My evening really was looking up!

The best part however was the bar snacks: wasabi peanuts!  These were addicting.  I devoured, literally, an entire bowl of them singlehandedly, in the first 10 minutes I was there.  They had a serious kick.  Eat more than 2 at a time and you had a hard time breathing for a second.  But that just made them more addicting.  No pain no gain?  I loved the crunch of the shell, the peanut inside, and wow, the wasabi.  They weren't messing around here.
Hess Pinot Noir.  $9.
For my next drink, I went simple, and just opted for a glass of pinot.  They had only one selection available, but, it was decent.  It went well with my dessert, which is why I ordered it, rather than another sweet cocktail, even though their cocktail menu had plenty of tempting options.

Dessert

Yeah, yeah, dessert girl here.  You know me, I can't resist dessert.  After my giant bowls of wasabi peas, I needed something less, uh, spicy.  (Side note: my nutrition this day was uh, leaving something to be desired.  Tons of addicting snack mix in the Admiral's Club.  Tons of excellent fresh chips at Queen City Kitchen.  An insane number of fantastic pastries at the Hyatt breakfast buffet.  Doh. 

But ... I wanted another treat.  Hey, I was stranded, I deserved nice things, right?

The dessert selections were a molten chocolate lava cake (sounded great, but, I didn't want caffeine), hot apple pie with whipped cream (ok, but, meh, my least favorite variety of pie), or, cheesecake.  I'd been craving cheesecake a lot, hence my ordering it at Romano's Macaroni Grill on my layover in Chicago a few days prior, and that one didn't exactly satisfy.
NY Style Cheesecake. $7.
"Served with seasonal berries".

So, cheesecake it was.  Plus, cheesecake has ... protein, right?  I was totally being responsible.  Same with those wasabi peanuts.  All about the protein.

The cheesecake wasn't quite what I expected.  First, it was round, an individual serving, not a slice.  Not that that really matters.

It was pretty good cheesecake.  Fluffy.  NY style, so not ricotta based Italian style.  Not super cream-cheesy, but really creamy enough.  I liked it.

The crust was super thin, and I still can't quite say what it was.  Not graham cracker, not cookie.  It wasn't crispy or sweet.  It was just there.  I really love a sweet, crispy base, and this was kinda lacking.

Drizzled on the plate was a sweet syrup that went great with the cheesecake.  And a single strawberry on the side, and a couple blueberries.  I guess that was my "seasonal berries"?  The fruit was good, really fresh, really ripe, really flavorful.

Overall, this was quite nice, far better than you'd expect from a hotel bar.  I'd like it even more with a touch of whipped cream on the side, which I'm sure I could have asked for.  The crust was really the only component that wasn't great.

The $7 price was about what I'd expect for a full, plated dessert.

re:fuel by Aloft

Our hotel package came with included breakfast.  You never know what exactly "breakfast" means when you book these things, but it is always a gamble I like to take.  Will it be a buffet?  Just continental?  Fresh made to order omelets?

At Aloft, it means $10 per person to spend at the re:fuel area.  Before I dive into describing breakfast, let me back up a bit, and describe re:fuel.

Snacks

Aloft doesn't have mini-bars in the room.  Or crappy, out of stock, vending machines in the hallways.  Instead, they have a rather amazing snack station down in the lobby.  What a great idea - far easier to restock, and they are able to provide a far more interesting set of items, including frozen products and other items to microwave, since they can offer up a single microwave for all guests too.

I somehow failed to get a photo of the main table, laid out with assorted goodies, ranging from packaged candy, to things like Aloft branded chocolate covered pretzels, gummy bears, and jelly beans.  There were also granola bars, gum, and other packaged snacky foods.

I also failed to get a picture of the main cooler space, with salads, sandwiches, fruit cups, and other grab and go snacks/meals.  Bad blogger I am.
Bottled Drinks.
Coolers on the side held assorted drinks, including Coke products, iced teas, sparkling water, and juices.  A second drink fridge had upgraded drink selections like Naked Juice.
Mac and Cheese, Chips.
A number of chip-like options were available, including pretzels and several types of popcorn (including microwaveable bags so you could pop your own fresh, in the provided microwave).

If you wanted a simple "meal", they also had ... Kraft Dinner!
Freezer Goods.
The final section had a freezer, stocked with assorted frozen dinners (Lean Cuisine, etc), frozen breakfast sandwiches (Jimmy Dean Biscuits, Uncrustables), and ice cream (Drumsticks, Ben & Jerry's Pints, Snicker's ice cream bars, etc).  I was VERY tempted by this area, but alas, never took advantage of it.

Breakfast

As I said, I was given $10 to spend on breakfast.

As you can imagine, options there were extensive as well.  The pantry/snack area had plenty of breakfast selections, but they also have a made-to-order station.

Oh, coffee and tea are complimentary for all guests, all day long, although you could upgrade to made to order espresso drinks with your dining credit if you wanted.
Menu Board.
The main breakfast attraction is the cooked to order items.  It is kinda cute, you fill out a paper form with your selections, and hand it to the breakfast chef, who whips it up to order.

Choices included breakfast burritos, omelets, waffles, or custom breakfast sandwiches.  The breakfast sandwiches were clearly the top seller, available as a bundle with a piece of fruit or breakfast tots, and a bottled juice for $10, exactly the price of the voucher, and what most people clearly opt for.

The Aloft Buffalo website says they also have pancakes.  And the person checking me in said they had pancakes.  And the person I asked the evening before about how breakfast works mentioned the pancakes.  And ... yet, no pancakes.  Not on the board menu, not on the paper menus (which interestingly didn't match the board), and when I asked the chef, he acted very annoyed with me.  Ok, no pancakes.  False advertising!
Cereal, Oatmeal.
For not made to order items, a large variety of cereal was available, including the expected sugary junk, but also Cheerios, Chex, granola, and a number of Kashi selections (Go Lean!, Go Lean Crunch!, Blueberry Clusters).
In addition to the classic cold cereals, there were some "fancy" Quaker hot cereal "Real Medleys" in bowls with mix-ins like berries, to which you just added hot water.
Yogurt, Fruit Cups, Parfaits, More Drinks.
The fridge also contained yogurts, fresh fruit cups, and granola / yogurt / fruit parfaits, along with Starbucks bottled drinks and chocolate bars (to prevent melting I'm guessing).
Baked Goods.
The pastry case had some sorta sad looking sliced croissants, english muffins, and apple turnovers drizzled with icing.

I *almost* opted for the turnover, but, they just really didn't look good, even to the baked good loving me.
Bagels, Toast.
The next bakery case had assorted bagels and toast, with butter or cream cheese, which you could toast in the provided toaster next to the microwave.
Condiments.
The condiment station was nicely stocked with assorted Smucker's jams, peanut butter, pancake syrup, ketchup, hotsauce, honey, etc.  Really convenient!
Custom Breakfast Sandwich.  $6.
I've kinda been on a breakfast sandwich kick lately, I'm not quite sure why, as they aren't things I typically like.  But, when I get on a roll, well, I get on a roll, and I've even liked ones from Starbucks.  So I opted for a breakfast sandwich.

And, designing my own sandwich, cooked to order, sounded like it had the most potential of everything on offer to be tasty (although ... the Jimmy Dean frozen sausage breakfast sandwich was also calling out, I've clearly seen way too many of their ads!)

To start, I had to pick my bread, given the options of a bagel, bread, croissant, or english muffin.  I normally would pick a croissant, but the croissants looked fairly sad, and, my breakfast sando kick as has been featuring english muffins lately, so, english muffin it was.

Next, the eggs.  Choice of fried, scrambled, or whites only.  I went classic, fried.

Next, cheese.  American, cheddar, swiss, provolone.  Swiss is my favorite cheese out of the bunch, but, given the context, I thought generic old melty American was the best bet.

And ... meat!  Sausage, bacon, turkey bacon, or turkey sausage.  I'd pick turkey bacon usually, but I was sharing with Ojan, and he really wanted regular bacon.  My second pick anyway, so, not awful.

The only final customization you could make were the addition of pesto or sundried tomato.  I would normally go for the pesto (although, with bacon? Hmm, maybe not the best pairing), but Ojan didn't want it.

So, fried egg, american cheese, bacon on an english muffin it was.  All sandwiches, regardless of customization, are $6.

I filled out my slip, handed it over, and a few minutes later I was rewarded with a hot bag.
Fried egg, american cheese, bacon on an english muffin.
I opened it up to see my creation.

The muffin wasn't toasted, but it was warm.  I'm not sure what technique they used to make the sandwiches, but it clearly didn't involve a toaster.  I would have liked it crispy on the outside.  Next time, I'd ask for it specifically that way, or I guess volunteer to toast it myself in the toaster first?  The muffin was just a generic english muffin.  It wasn't buttered.  Again, I guess I could have grabbed butter from the condiment station to add it later?

The fried egg was fine ... it was an egg, but it didn't have a runny center or anything.  I'm not convinced it was freshly fried, it might have been a reheated patty.  I'm starting to think that they "made to order" is really just microwaving pre-cooked components ...

The cheese was nicely melted, standard yellow American.

The bacon was a generous amount, but greasy.  Salty.

Overall, this was ... fine.  I actually think Starbucks does a better job, although their eggs are even more questionable, but their reheating process is better for creating a desirable crispy english muffin..  Panera's version was also better, but it is hard to compare those, since I customized that one so much.

Anyway, if you like a basic egg and cheese, then by all means, get one, but beware that it may not be quite as fresh to order as you are expecting (which, I suspect the same is true of the waffles).
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