Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bits and Morsels visits the Andaz 5th Avenue

The view from the Andaz 5th Avenue, directly across the street from The New York Public Library.

Last week
I read about the Art of Farming kick-off at the new Andaz 5th Avenue on one of NYSD's party pictures pages. I was sort of taken with the interior of the Andaz, and so I made a point of going there for dinner this past Thursday night. The space was designed by Tony Chi (who is pretty much a legend when it comes to creating restaurant and hotel interiors), and as you would expect, it is beautifully serene and even soulful, all the while brimming with an upbeat crowd. One particular bunch of friends was having such a good time that I snapped their picture to capture the mood.

The restaurant (known as the Shop at The Andaz) is in the heart of midtown, so naturally it gets a heavy fashion and business crowd. Yet, it’s an approachable and welcoming spot for almost anyone. The retail section of the restaurant sells food products and cookbooks (hence the 'Shop'). And as you will soon learn, not only does the Andaz swear by local ingredients from local farms, they'll even fetch you Russ & Daughters' lox for breakfast.
Lucy Knight, Khoa Nguyen, Anisha Lakhani, Emerson Barth, and David Lipke dining hamming it up at The Shop at Andaz.
Dinner at The Shop at Andaz (clockwise from top): Seared salmon with carrots and beets; Cod with roasted carrots; Lemon poppy cake; Plum tart; S&S Cheesecake; Spaghetti bolognese.
The prices are fair and there is an 80-seat bar with tall communal tables and lounge seating, so you can have a go of it alone and linger over a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee. During dinner I spotted the hotel General Manager Jonathan Frolich on the hotel grounds. Impressed by his hands-on (and forward thinking) style, I decided to interview him.

We met for a scrumptious breakfast in the Shop and then went for a walk through with the digital. Don’t you just want to check in?
General Manager of The Andaz 5th Avenue, Jonathan Frolich. Students from the High School of Art and Design painting custom art work on the Andaz corridors. The hotel is a blank canvas for them to showcase their art.
Do you live in the hotel?

I do right now, but I really don’t. I have an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, which is close.

What exactly is Andaz?

It’s Hindi and it means personal style. So, directly translated from Hindi the name of the hotel is 'personal style.' We want our guest to live the experience that they want to live. Hotels are quite often traditional in how they interact with guests and they kind of dictate the experience and the service that the guest will have.

A room at the Andaz.
There are always snacks around; cherries on the day I visited.
When you arrive at a traditional hotel you know you are going to be met by a doorperson who will take your bags, then maybe a bell attendant to take you to the front desk or you will have to find the way yourself and you are doing all the work. Then you get to the Front Desk and you are met by someone who is typing away at a keyboard. It’s all very administrative and you have met 3 to 4 people.

What we did with Andaz was created a hotel that is like someone’s apartment. In a home, you would have a host. If you are having an event or friend over for the weekend in your home, then you are the host. You take care of a lot of different things ... not just one thing. You make sure the bed is beautiful, that the fridge is full and you even help them in the house with their luggage.

We decided to deconstruct the whole thing. We said let’s change the model so it’s much more versatile. We combined the role of door person, concierge, front desk and bell attendant into one called host. All the people in the front will do everything for you. They will help with your bags and check you in on a tablet computer.

We are in a wireless environment with such great technology. If the Apple store can do it, we can do it. We engineered the experience so the host can check you in at your own pace and style. Instead of having to go to the front desk we can check you in while you are having coffee in the lounge. Being a host is all about being gracious. When you come in you can relax with a coffee or a glass of wine. It’s all complimentary because it’s from the heart. If you are in a hurry you can even check in yourself and go right to your room.
Jonathan showing me the self check-in feature, one of the many things that make the Andaz so user friendly. The library at the Andaz is being curated by The New York Public Library. The books are real dewey decimal library books with plastic-covers and that real people can check out. Of course, there is a ladder.
The Andaz event space. The open space allows you to interact with the people preparing your food. Andaz chefs preparing a sumptuous spread inspired by in-season produce.
At this point our Blue Bottle coffees arrive at the table and Jonathan snaps the picture himself.

Tell me more about the local concept behind the restaurant.

Our fundamental food and beverage program in the hotel has this deeply rooted philosophy of supporting local. A lot of hotels buy through major conglomerates and buy things like strawberries that have been flown in from Chile. Why buy a strawberry if it’s not in season?

You will not have anything here that is not in season. We follow the seasons and have relationships with local farms. For example, Ronnybrook Farms in upstate New York provides our entire dairy. We have been to the farm and I have toured the facility. We get our eggs from Feather Ridge Farms, so you are eating cage-free and free-range eggs.

Breakfast at The Shop at Andaz ...
Blue Bottle coffee made on a La Marzocco machine.
Avocado toast.
Meusli with fresh fruit.
Three-egg omelet with Hudson red cow's milk cheese, roasted tomatoes and greens.
Fruit plate -- they only use what's in season.
Dutch pancake with organic pears and Greek yogurt.
When you have friends over in New York you might tell them the best pastrami is at Katz’s and the best bread is from Sullivan Street Bakery. It’s all these local finds and treats that not everyone knows about but we have them on the menu. You can have a sandwich made with Katz’s pastrami here. We curate the best of New York on the menu.

How did you decide to serve Blue Bottle coffee?

Actually what it came down to was a tasting. We tasted so many coffees and we just found that Blue Bottle was the best tasting coffee for what we wanted to give our guests. Blue Bottle was a great company to work with. When you are dealing with all these little companies, a lot of them are mom and pop and not everyone wants to deal with a major hotel. They did and we have had a great partnership. They trained all of our people to maintain the integrity of the coffee.

I think you are ahead of the curve, but do you think there is a real market for this kind of local hotel?

Absolutely. What this brand gives is the trust of a major chain ... when you have Hyatt backing you up you know you are going to get consistency and a certain quality. On the flip side, we have been able to develop a brand that has its own identity. Each hotel has it’s own identity. Andaz is not cookie cutter. The Andaz on Wall Street is nothing like this hotel. Each hotel has it’s own energy. There are similarities in the experience such as no Front desk ... and the minibar is included.

The minibar is included?

When you stay at the hotel we include wireless. You don’t have to pay for wireless. We also include the minibar. All non-alcoholic beverages and snacks are complimentary and it’s refilled everyday.

How did you end up being the General Manager of this brand new hotel in the heart of Manhattan?

I was very lucky ... and I have been at Hyatt for 15 years ... and I have worked all over the world. Before this job I was in Chicago on a small team developing this brand. The brand came from the realization that Hyatt needed to enter this new sector.

How did you wind up working for Hyatt?

I’m from Australia. I started at the Hyatt Regency in Adelaide as a bell boy carrying bags. Then I got a degree in hotel management and worked in the Hyatt. I just worked in many different departments and the rose up with management positions.

Do you think the restaurant is going to become known in its own right and not just part of the hotel?

Our restaurants should always have the spirit of being free standing. We are always comparing ourselves to what is happening at the best freestanding restaurants and bars in town.

Who is the Andaz clientele?

Andaz isn’t for everyone. If you want a more traditional experience you may not like it. In this category when you try to be all things to all people, you fail. Our guest is corporate, leisure, young and old. Our guest isn’t a demographic. You can have a 70-year-old architect and a 30-year-old web designer with everyone in between.

The Andaz 5th Avenue
485 5th Avenue and 41st Street
Comments? Contact Jordana here
Follow NYSD Dining on Twitter.