Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rise: Element Boston Seaport

Another day, another hotel breakfast buffet.  That is what it feels like to me sometimes these days.  I've been doing a lot of travel.

My recent adventures took me back to the Boston area, which of course you have read about many times as my family lives in the northeast and I visit several times a year.  This time I was headed to New Hampshire, but not to see my family (well, not entirely).  I was headed to a recruiting event, and needed to get to New Hampshire, without my family coming to pick me up as usual.  The only real option (besides taking a really early flight, or driving late at night myself) was for me to fly into Boston, spend the night near the airport/bus station, and then take a bus up to New Hampshire the next day.  Not exactly ideal, but it gave me a chance to check out a new SPG hotel: The Element Boston Seaport.

This was my first time staying at an Element hotel, one of Starwood's more economical options (like Aloft, where I stayed in Buffalo once), intended for longer term stays (most rooms have kitchenettes at a minimum).  It is branded by Westin though, so it still has the Westin Heavenly bed and shower, just none of the extra frills.  The brand is also about being ecologically friendly, with recycled materials and energy savings built in.  They also have a happy hour most nights and all stays include breakfast (I'm pretty sure breakfast is not included at any other Starwood property?)

Since this is Julie's Dining Club, not Julie's Hotel Review Club, you can guess where this review is going: breakfast.
Rise: Breakfast Bar.
"Wake up to our complimentary signature healthy breakfast. Start the morning with hot sandwiches, refreshing smoothies, wholesome granola, fresh fruit, whole grain breads & cereals, and coffee service."
I didn't really know what to expect.  Sure, reviews I read of the breakfast are all enthusiastic, but, honestly, I assumed this is mostly because people are excited about *any* free breakfast buffet.  I didn't think it would compare to some of the ridiculous breakfast buffets I've had at other Starwood properties, where I've had it included as part of a package, or as a Platinum benefit, like my current top three: Le Potager, Le Meridien, MunichLe First, Westin, Paris, and Tres, SLS Hotel, Beverley Hills.

And, it didn't compare to those.  But, for an included, mostly continental breakfast buffet, it was far above average.

The area was self-serve, buffet style, return as many times as you want, seat yourself, and bus your own table.  It was quite busy, with a line forming for the espresso machine all morning.  The selection was good, and I do think that most people would be pretty satisfied with the offerings, even though there were no made-to-order items, no charcuterie or cheese, and very limited hot items.

Element's buffet is known for 3 signature things that do set it apart for standard continental buffets: a fresh daily smoothie, good gourmet coffee, and, breakfast sandwiches, all of which I had to try.


The first thing I wanted was coffee.  8am in Boston did indeed feel like 5am in my world, and I wanted, no, needed, caffeine, ASAP.  Plus, I had read reviews of how good the coffee was.
Espresso Machine.
The first thing I encountered was a robot espresso machine.  It had regular and decaf, which it would grind to order, plus regular milk to make a cappuccino.  There was also a mocha option with powered chocolate.  I was surprised there wasn't a big pot of brewed regular coffee available, but I didn't mind waiting a minute for some fresh ground and brewed espresso, in the form of an Americano.

There were no coffee mugs nearby, only takeaway cups, which I found surprising for somewhere that is so focused on conservation.  Multiple types of sweetener were available, along with several types of sugar, creamer packets, and milk (both regular and soy), which did double duty with the cereal.

The coffee was indeed decent.  I had a regular to start, and it was strong and exactly what I needed.  I stopped by later in the day and made a decaf, and it too was really quite good, not stale tasting, no decaf funk.  Neither were outstanding, but both very solid.  Fresh grinding does make a difference.
Self-Serve Coffee & Tea.
Only once I had gathered all my food did I see the self-serve coffee area over on the other side of the room.  This area had ceramic mugs, two large dispensers of regular coffee, one decaf coffee, hot water, and assorted tea bags (Bigalow brand, including herbal, mint, and several black teas), plus the same sweeteners as the espresso area, with the addition of honey.

Non-caffeinated beverage offerings included orange, apple, and cranberry juice, plus plain water and a bowl of ice.  There were strangely no glasses available when I visited, and I awkwardly looked around trying to figure out what to put my water in besides a paper coffee cup.  I asked a staff member if there were glasses, and he opened a cabinet and gave me one, but didn't put any others out.  A few hours later, when I walked back by, there were glasses laid out.  I wonder why they weren't there earlier?  Maybe there should have been coffee mugs near the robot machine too?

The final beverage was a smoothie, the other item I had read much about.  I'm not one for smoothies, but, if everyone raved about it, it was worth trying, right?  It was in a pitcher in the well with cold foods, so I was able to take just a tiny bit and not waste.  I didn't like it, but, well, it was a smoothie.  Thick, yogurty, meh.

Hot Foods

Element prides themselves on the fact that the breakfast offerings are not just continental.  They always feature breakfast sandwiches, which you can tell are crowd pleasers (likely more out of novelty than anything else?)  I can't tell you how many reviews that I saw mentioned the breakfast sandwiches.  These change regularly, and I believe always include one vegetarian option.

They also had two chafing dishes with hot foods that I failed to get a photo of.  One was scrambled eggs that looked very dried out, and the other was bacon (actually crispy looking).  I don't really like eggs so those were easy to skip, but I did almost take a slice of bacon.  I'm not sure if these items rotate with other things like sausage or pancakes, as I was only a guest for one night.

Beside the hot foods were condiments, adorable packages of ketchup (far bigger than standard McDonald's packets, so you might actually only need one!) and hot sauce, plus salt and pepper grinders.  These little touches do set the Element apart.
South Western Breakfast Sandwich: Onions, Peppers, Egg, & Cheese (Vegetarian).
I know I don't like eggs, and why would I want a pre-made breakfast sandwich that was just sitting on a hot plate?  Yeah, yeah, I should know better.  But, these sandwiches used biscuits as the base, and biscuits weren't available plain.  I figured that worst case I'd salvage the biscuit and spread it with butter (or honey + butter = honey butter), or perhaps some jam.

This was about as you'd expect, a pre-made, but well made, breakfast sandwich.  The cheese on top was congealed, but quite tasty, some kind of white cheese.  The egg patty was actually really fluffy and nicely done, and I liked the spicy peppers on top.  I didn't see any onions.

The biscuit itself was the weakest part though, just kinda soggy, no real crumble to it, no tang.  I didn't feel the urge to try to save it, and instead actually ate more of the filling.

Overall, not great, but, better than I'd expect.
Steak, Egg, & Cheese.
I didn't try the other option, steak, egg, and cheese on english muffin, but, the two people I saw take these didn't finish them, if that indicates anything.


The majority of the buffet is continental offerings.
Yogurts, Milk, Toast.
The continental section started with a cold well with hardboiled eggs and individual packages of Dannon Lite & Fit flavored yogurts, a small pitcher of soy milk, butter, and cream cheese (Philadelphia, vegetable only, no plain). Next was bread (white and wheat), english muffins, and bagels (plain), with a toaster on the side. Besides the cream cheese, there was also smooth peanut butter (Kraft?) and Smucker's brand jams (strawberry, orange marmalade, and grape).

I didn't try any of this, and thought the bread selection was fairly disappointing - no variety in bagels, no cinnamon raisin bread ...
Cereal & Milk (backside), Sugar and Sweetener (front).
Opposite that area was a cereal dispenser with 3 types of cereal: Honey Bunches of Oats, Honey Nut Cheerrios, and Fruit Loops, along with milk.  These weren't anything extraordinary, but, I found my bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with soy milk strangely satisfying, and of course finished off with a little Fruit Loops (mostly so I could make some tasty tasty cereal milk!)
Fruit, Granola, Nuts.
Finally, there was fruit (whole apples, orange, and bananas), a fruit salad, and dried raisins and cranberries, plus two types of granola.

I tried both granolas with soy milk, and enjoyed those too.  I'm not sure what brand or kind they were, as they were unlabelled.


Over on the other side of the area, next to the self-serve coffee, was a plastic case with baked goods.  It seemed far less popular than the other areas, and I'll admit, buffet pastries are rarely good.  Of course the yogurt, cereal, and bagels are safer choices.  Or more likely, people just didn't see it, as I only found it because I was seeking out baked goods.

They all missed out.  The baked goods were shockingly good, particularly for a buffet, and particularly for this level of buffet.
Danishes, Muffins.
The pastry case contained filled danishes of assorted varieties (custard, berry, apple, pecan), cinnamon rolls, and muffins.  Only the muffins had a label, and none looked that great, based on visuals alone.

Still, you know me, I love baked goods.  I obviously was going to try at least one.

I took a cinnamon roll, as it looked most promising.  It was soft, sweet, and had a great amount of cinnamon between the layers.  Only a little icing on top, but just the right amount to not make it too sweet.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and would gladly have another.
Cranberry Lemon Muffin.
"Our Lemon Cranberry muffin is made with lemon puree, real cranberries, buttermilk and eggs.  It's filled with a creamy lemon curd and topped with butter lemon streusel."

Next, I moved on to muffins.  The sign said that they had Chocolate, Apple Cinnamon, Green Tea, and Cranberry Lemon.

There were two chocolate muffins when I arrived, but, the person before me, somewhat apologetically, took both.  Clearly the appealing item, chocolate base with huge chocolate chunks.  I didn't see any that seemed like they could possibly be described as green tea.

I did my research, and learned that the muffins came from US Foods Chef's Line.

First, I went for the streusel topped muffin, which turned out to be cranberry with ... some kind of custard in the top center?  Certainly a strange combination, but I really quite enjoyed it.  

The muffin was moist, the cranberries provided a nice tang, and I did like the creamy custard, as strange as it was.  The crumbly streusel on top, which is what drew me in, was fine, but, the least exciting part of the muffin, as there just wasn't much of it.

Next to me, another women had an egg sandwich, and discarded it after a bite or two.  Then she had some scrambled eggs, and again, pushed them away.  She told her dining companion that nothing was good, but she was hungry.  He suggested a muffin, and she rather begrudgingly got one.  One bite in, she admitted that it was really good.  I wasn't the only muffin fan.

According to the sign, the one I took was Cranberry Lemon, or Lemon Cranberry per the manufacturer, but I dub it the "Cranberry Custard Streusel Muffin".
Apple Cinnamon Gourmet Muffin with Apple Filling.
"Our apple cinnamon muffin is filled with delicious Michigan Rome apples topped with a crumbly streusel."

After the success of the first muffin, I went for another, for the road (aka ... an hour later), totally unsure of what kind it was.  It had a few scattered oats on top, and a pocket of something that looked like it might be caramel (it wasn't).
Apple Cinnamon Gourmet Muffin with Apple Filling: Inside.
It turned out to be the apple cinnamon.

Inside the muffin was brown core, I guess "cinnamon", but not particularly cinnamon-y.  This part was a bit dry. 

Down the top center, much like the custard from the cranberry muffin, was a filling, this time, apple cinnamon.  It was half goo, half little chunks of apple.  The apple was nicely cooked, the spicing was good, but I don't really care for apple.

The rest of the muffin seemed to be the same base as the cranberry, moist, and pretty good.

The topping here was oats, just a tiny scattering, even fewer than the streusel from the previous muffin.

I didn't really like this one, but that is just due to the flavor.  It was still moist, and I still loved the top part that wasn't touching the apple filling.
Pecan Pie Danish.
And ... when I went back downstairs later, the pastries were still out even though breakfast had ended.  I couldn't stop myself, I helped myself to another.  It was the best of the bunch.

This turned out to be ... pecan pie-in-a-danish.  The filling was the sweet goo that makes pecan pie oh-so-delectable.  The pastry was flaky and crispy.  It was drizzled with sweet white icing and topped with little bits of pecan.  I loved it, and it reminded me of the one I had at the Hyatt Regency in Buffalo.  Very sweet though, but, really, if you love pecan pie like I do, and you love pastry, this is a thing of wonder.
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