Posted: Jun 18, 2009 11:20am ETFor those of you in the New York area, you probably never thought you’d see the phrase fine dining and White Plains in the same headline. For years, the small business satellite center about 25 miles north of New York had been just that: a business and retail center without much going for it in the way of great restaurants. But that all changed about five years ago when a locally-based developer began revitalizing the downtown, and today, it is unrecognizable from the White Plains of yesteryear. There are a number of fine restaurants, and a vibrant downtown built around some movie theaters and malls.
I sampled one of the restaurant offerings for an early Father’s Day celebration, arranged by my 19-year-old daughter who was headed off to a summer camp job, and wasn’t going to be around on the official Dad’s day. She said she had heard of “42,” a restaurant that sits on top of the new Ritz-Carlton Westchester, officially the tallest building in Westchester County. We’ve always been fond of dining on top of the world; our favorite special holiday dinner was always booked at Windows on the World before 9/11. So the thought of being high above our home county was appealing.
There’s something reassuring about pulling up to a Ritz-Carlton. That’s how we started the evening. The ride up the elevator was swift, and the doors opened onto a hallway, not betraying for a second what was waiting at the end of the corridor. As we were shown to our table, we turned into a high-ceilinged room with glass walls, and the bright orb of sun sinking toward the horizon to the west. To the south, you could see the tops of every big skyscraper in New York, to the east, the Long Island Sound and the island itself, and to the north and east, the rolling hills of Eastern New York State, and Connecticut stretched out as far as the eye could see. In a word: spectacular.
The food was good, and the menu catered to one of my daughter’s culinary passions; sautéed foie gras. Everyone’s dishes were well-prepared. Did it reach the level of the best New York restaurants? Not quite, but it was honest, good food that was worth the trip and one that we will repeat. On top of the food, you get the view.
Posted: Jun 15, 2009 2:04pm ETOut here on the East Coast, we are living through a mini-Monsoon season—rain, rain, rain, all the time. Unfortunately, the unusual period of rainforest-like precipitation coincided this past weekend with my club’s annual member-guest tournament, known as the Half Moon Invitational, a two day tournament with about 100 people playing five nine-hole matches divided up into a dozen flights or so created by the total combined handicaps of the two players. For the most part, the rain held off during the day, but each night, downpours turned the fairways to Velcro, and the greens to a slower than normal speed.
I played with a good and dear friend from the West Coast who had last been in the tournament three years ago. He’s been inundated with too much work and hadn’t played much recently, so his handicap index was at an all-time high of 3.7 (Yes, we really hate people like that, don’t we?) We managed to stay competitive, tied for the lead after three matches the first day, but everyone in the flight was within 2 1/2 points of each other. Our second day started with a loss on hole one, and we never really recovered, losing the match 5-4, but we were still within a point of the lead and a point ahead of our morning opponents. But then our morning match opponents, (a four handicap and a zero) turned up the heat in their second match, winning 6 1/2 to 2 1/2 points, and edging us out by 1/2 point after our five and four win. Our afternoon opponents had two putts of approximately 10 feet on the 8th and 9th hole, and sank both of them to halve each hole; otherwise, we would have won our flight. So, it was close, but no cigar.
One of the best moments of the weekend was a Friday night dinner/dance on the club’s west terrace, which has an unobstructed view of the Hudson River. Amazingly, the clouds broke late in the day, and the cocktail hour took place during a spectacular sunset that lasted well into dinner. After the meal, I handed two Padrón Millenniums to a friend of mine at my table (He’d asked me to bring a cigar for he and his guest). I lit up a Tatuaje Taino with a bit of age on it, and we retired to the outside of the dining tent to talk about cigars, Tequila, the golf course and the state of the economy. Another friend joined us with one of his Romeo y Julietas and we chatted away until I realized it was time to go home and get a good night’s rest for the next day’s matches.
Posted: Jun 10, 2009 9:30am ETThe evening was lovely, and the Harvard Class of 1974 reunion attendees were outside on a pleasant patio facing one of the Harvard Athletic buildings across the Charles River in Allston. Cars and buses roared up and down Western Avenue, but it was a nice enough space for a little Wiffle ball and a valiant but ultimately failed attempt at a wet t-shirt contest…and you thought Harvard graduates were all sticks in the mud. Fortunately, wisdom prevailed among the mid-50 somethings gathered there.
I had stopped at Leavitt & Pierce tobacconist in Harvard Square on my way to the picnic and barbecue, and picked up a couple of Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Presidentes for a buddy of mine and myself. It was going to be a perfect moment to share a smoke, after a hearty meal of barbecue, and plenty of wine or beer.
After my friend and I finished off our dinner, we lit up, chatted for a few minutes, and then separated, essentially to two different ends of the crowd. I had spied one of my classmates who hailed from North Florida, and we’ve remained friends through 35 years of post-college life. As I spoke with him and his wife off to one side of the group, I felt someone approaching. “Excuse me, but could you move. I can smell your cigar.”
Now, I never refuse a legitimate request if my cigar is bothering someone, so I said sure, no problem, and moved another 20 feet away into a corner of the patio area, and now, no one was within a good 30 or 40 feet. In fact, Western Avenue was closer to the complainer than my cigar, so I figured that should take care of it, the bus fumes being more noticeable than the smoke from a Don Carlos.
About 15 minutes later, he came up again, and said he could still smell it. Now, I had a choice. I could have gotten on my high horse and pointed out the buses to him, or I could have decided to be polite and move again. I moved again, not wanting to subject my friends to a rant between a cigar lover and an anti-tobacco fanatic, or cause a scene; there was still plenty of room to spare. I also realized at that point that he was not smelling my cigar, but my friend’s, who was downwind from him at the far end of the crowd. I knew no matter how far I moved away, he was still going to smell a cigar, and there would be justice because he had gone from being reasonable to out of line, and he still hadn’t avoided the aroma of the fine cigars.
Posted: Jun 8, 2009 11:15am ETI attended my 35th college reunion last week in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a small college known as Harvard, which celebrated its 358th graduation. I will spare you the pictures of me in a top hat, tails and a white tie, which I put on as part of my duties as a Commencement Day Class Marshal. My wife and I have attended four reunions now, and we always come away with a newfound appreciation for the diversity of our classmates' lives, and the pleasure we get from sitting down, however briefly, with old friends.
But I actually had to work last Thursday too. The marshals are assigned to the afternoon ceremony, when the keynote speaker gives his address (Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu) and the honorary degrees are handed out; this year’s honorees included jazz great Wynton Marsalis, film director Pedro Almodóvar and author Joan Didion. The marshals help guide the procession into Harvard’s Tercentenary Theater, a mammoth tree-filled quadrangle framed by Widener Library, Memorial Church, Harvard Hall and Sever Hall, a classroom building. In the morning, there were 35,000 people packed in there for the graduation exercises, and the area was largely filled in the afternoon too for the speakers.
My assignment was to help the 50th Reunion Class (1959) find their way to their gathering point for the procession into the ceremony. The 50th is one of the last “big” reunions for the college, and it was well-attended. I simply stood along a sidewalk in Harvard Yard and answered questions and got people to stand in line. One gentlemen—I’ll just call him Stu—was wondering how long they’d have to stand there, and I said, well, it could be up to an hour, and what we needed was a cigar.
He laughed and said he’d love one, and that began a conversation about my job as the executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, and my own love of cigars. But the talk of cigars triggered a memory for Stu; he recalled how he had been at Harvard when Fidel Castro visited the college in 1959, part of his post-revolutionary victory tour of the United States. Stu had been prompted by his professor at the time to ask a question about when would Castro consider holding democratic elections. Instead of a calm response to the question, he said Castro banged his fist on the podium and said the Cuban people had already voted with their blood during the revolution. Stu said it was an illuminating moment.
Posted: Jun 2, 2009 1:57pm ETIt’s been a rough few weeks. I came down with one of the worst head colds that I’ve had a long time, and then I gave it to my wife—oh, yeah, I wasn’t exactly the most favorite person in the house. It’s been more than three weeks now, and there’s been one round of antibiotics and more than few boxes of Kleenex consumed. The worst was over in about five days, but the aftereffects have lingered for more than two weeks, with the added complication of intense seasonal allergies. Gee, I sound like a basket case, don’t I? But why I am boring you with the current state of my sinuses?
It’s pretty simple. When you smoke for a living like we do here at the magazine, a head cold is more than just a nuisance, it is a serious impediment to getting your job done. I managed because, thanks to the good organization of the tasting coordinator, we were pretty far ahead in smokes for the magazine when I fell ill. And on the good days I was able to smoke a few cigars to keep up with my responsibilities for Cigar Insider. But you may have noticed I haven’t filed a lot of blogs in the last month—haven’t had a lot of material to work with.
In recent years, I’ve also come to love that one, sometimes, two cigars on the weekend. I may enjoy them on the golf course, or sometimes, on my back terrace. There’s no rush. There’s no tasting sheet or note taking. And, there’s often an adult beverage in my hand at the same time; despite rumors to the contrary, that’s not something we do during our normal tasting routines at Cigar Aficionado—I mean there are limits to how much fun we have here at work.
So on Sunday, as I was walking off the 5th tee with my good buddy Paul, a Cuban cigar lover, the aroma of his Churchill-size cigar wafted over the fairway, and I turned to him and said, “That smells magnificent.” “It’s a Romeo,” he said, “I got one for you if you want.” The words were like a dagger to my gut since Romeo y Julieta Churchills are one of my favorite Cuban brands. I paused, took a deep breath, and said through a still stuffed up nose, “No, I’m not smoking this weekend. Still got a cold.” Apparently he had noticed the weekend before when I also turned down a smoke, and he quickly added, ‘Yeah, you really had it bad didn’t you?” I could only nod.
Posted: May 4, 2009 9:40am ETThe hand signals across the crowded dining room were unmistakable. Two fingers held up to my friends’ lips—the gesture that clearly asked, “Are we going to have a smoke?” As I stood up and began working my way across the Grill Room at my country club, several more guys asked if I was headed to have a cigar. By the time I reached the doors to the patio, I knew I wasn’t going to be alone.
It was the Opening Day dinner for the 2009 golf season. I didn’t count, but there must have 60 or 70 people who joined the evening’s festivities that included a rundown of the upcoming season’s events, a report on the club’s operations and plenty of just good old camaraderie with people who in many cases have known each other, and played golf together, for years.
In year’s past, before New York State passed its own draconian anti-smoking legislation, the cigars could have and would have been lighted right at the tables. But those days are long gone, not only in New York but across the nation. While there may be more than a little nostalgia for the Good Old Days, most people are resigned to the current rules and laws and are more likely to get charged up by finding ways around the law to enjoy their cigars.
Fortunately, it was a beautiful night last Friday. The sun had come out late in the day, and the air temperature was still quite warm. The cigar smokers gathered around a large table on an outdoor patio and by the time we all lit up, there were at least 10 people there. We compared smokes. There were lots of stories about local school and club sporting events since several dinner attendees were headed off the next morning to watch their sons or daughters play in soccer, baseball or lacrosse games, and were not going to be able to attend the opening day tournament. And there was some good-natured ribbing about the competition the next day.
Best of all, there was just an atmosphere of shared pleasures: a cigar, a good libation and the friendship of everyone around the table. It never gets old.
Posted: Apr 20, 2009 9:54am ET
The first Big Smoke at MGM Grand at Foxwoods had ended last Saturday night, April 18th. More than 1,100 people had sampled nearly 30 great cigars, sipped everything from Glenlivet to Ron Zacapa and eaten from the hotel’s grand buffets. They had chatted with Rocky Patel, Manuel Quesada, Orlando Padrón, Carlos Fuente Jr., Carlos Toraño, Alan Rubin, Robert Levin, Litto Gomez, Sherwin Seltzer, Mike Giannini, Jose Oliva, Alejandro Turrent, Pepin Garcia, Tim Ozenger, Pete Johnson and baseball legend Luis Tiant. When it was over, the crowd drifted into the two hotels’ casinos, both at Foxwoods and the MGM Grand, and with their cigars in hand, kept on smoking into the wee hours of the morning.
Two young men sat at the casino floor bar in the MGM Grand. As I walked by, they stopped me. “Mr. Mott, we just want you to know what a great night we had. We love cigars. We may only be 21 years old, but we love everything about them. Thanks.” Young, but clearly in the know and about 20 years ahead of me in terms of really learning and understanding the joys of smoking premium handrolled cigars. I just smiled and said, “You guys have got a great start on life.”
Any new cigar event is worth a celebration today. With the wave of new and more restrictive smoking bans across the United States, it has gotten harder and harder to find places that allow smoking, especially the kind involved in a Big Smoke. More than a 1,000 or 2,000 people lighting up at the same kind can present serious challenges for any hotel or party space. So, when we find accommodating locations like the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, we can only be grateful, and with an eye toward next year, let everyone know what a great night we had there.
The ballroom is huge, not quite as big as the ones we use in Las Vegas, but with high ceilings and a great ventilation system. The hotel, although a little off the beaten track, is less than 90 minutes by car from Boston, and about two hours from New York City. There are two great golf courses on the property at the Lake of Isles club, two casinos and a number of outstanding restaurants. In other words, if you want to get away for the weekend from the big East Coast metroplex, take in some fresh country air, gamble the night away and eat great food, without going to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, it’s hard to beat Foxwoods.
Posted: Apr 15, 2009 12:34pm ETUsually by this time of year, I’ve got a few cigar-related tales from the golf course to share with you. Lighting up for the first time with the green grass under my feet is one of the noteworthy moments that I like to document every year. It’s kind of an unofficial declaration that winter is over, and spring is here.
Well, I’ve played golf five times in the last month. Twice in Florida, and now three times here in New York. In each round, the lightest steady wind was close to 20 miles an hour, and during two rounds the steady wind was 25 miles an hour plus with gusts of more than 35 mph. Now, you might guess (and you’d be right) that playing in conditions like that reveals the depths of my addiction. But I actually look at it as a sign that my addiction is moderating; the other three weekend days in New York when I could have played it was colder or rainier than the three weekend days I did play. As a result, I stayed inside those days that were the worst of the two, but I still had to get out to swing a club.
Ok, so I’ve played five times and no cigars? No, that’s not true either. I have smoked a cigar during every round, except one in Florida when I wasn’t quite feeling myself. But I haven’t really tasted them, or had a chance to savor the aroma, or for that matter, during one round, been even able to hold on to it because my hands were so cold—42 degrees with a 30-mile an hour gusts can do that, even if it is sunny. I’ve probably wasted a few good cigars too; a Tatuaje Taino, a God of Fire by Don Carlos, a La Aurora 100 Años. What was I thinking?
All I know is that spring is coming here in the Northeast, and the golf season won’t just be a promise, but it will be here, and I won’t have to choose between playing one day in 40 degrees and sunshine, or 48 degrees and rain. It will just be warm and hopefully without too much wind so I can savor a great cigar on the links.
Posted: Feb 25, 2009 9:36am ETI spent last week at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival in Miami. It’s a four-day extravaganza of wine, food and, whenever possible, cigars. This year, Jorge Padrón hosted a cigar lounge following a banquet for the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I. Accompanied by sherry, some Spanish Brandy, and the great outdoors at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, more than 150 people enjoyed his Padrón Serie 1926s. Next year, I hope we can do more events like that.
Why? It was a revelation to be in Florida in February, sitting on restaurant terraces watching people light up. Yeah, you Floridians have it really good. While your state has one of the most restrictive indoor smoking laws in the country, it’s still possible to light up outside, and restaurants that have outdoor spaces are more than happy to accommodate you. One restaurant owner in the Design District told me that he doesn’t mind having cigar smokers on his patio out back; he did say if people complain he will ask the smoker to let it go out until the diners are finished, but after late seatings in Miami, there’s usually no problem.
We’ve been stymied in recent years at SOBE’s wine and food gig because of a lack of terraces, or a worry that a rainstorm could wipe out any attempt to have a big outdoor smoking event. However, my realization this year is that same worry applies to every event that is held on the beach under the tents, or on hotel rooftops. So, we’re looking for an opportunity to take that chance, and with any luck, we’ll plan it so anyone can attend it as a stand-alone event, just another part of the overall festival.
Keep your fingers crossed, but I believe it’s time to show the world of wine and food that cigars are part of the good life, and part of the fine-dining experience.
Posted: Feb 12, 2009 2:55pm ETDave Savona and I hit the Davidoff Columbus Circle smoking lounge this week. It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon, and we were helping Jack Bettridge finish off an upcoming video for cigaraficionado.com. Like all big-time film talent, we showed up and were just sitting there, twiddling our thumbs in the Stone Rose bar, watching Jack learn the finer points of Martini preparation from Nicole, the sun-kissed bartender. We could tell it was going to be awhile before they were ready for our cameo, so instead of watching the traffic whirl around on Columbus Circle below the bar’s floor-to-ceiling windows, I said to Dave, 'let’s go hit the Davidoff store.'
We walked in, were greeted by David and Kevin, and we asked if we could smoke in the lounge. We both picked out a Don Pepin Garcia corona, (which happens to be one of David’s—not Savona, the other David—favorite smoke these days) and went into the lounge to find the Three Amigos sitting there with another shop employee, Ron Zeligzon. Some “hellos” and nods of the heads greeted us, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the boys in the room had known each other for awhile. Conversation jumped around from the public debacle of Chris Brown and Rihanna to A-Rod, to the current state of one guy’s dream of being a writer. Dave, in his innocence, asked the aspiring writer if he worked near the shop, before quickly realizing that at 2:30 on the Wednesday afternoon, there was a pretty good chance work wasn’t on his agenda. There was a pause, and then a quick, “I’m between jobs right now.” Oh well, nice try, Dave.
Dave and I started chatting about our video and, we were quickly asked what we did, and whether we worked around there, and we gave a quick reply about our roles in Jack’s video, and how our offices are downtown, so we don’t get up to Columbus Circle that often. That got the nod to Cigar Aficionado from the buddies gathered in the small living room-size lounge. The coronas were burning down, and it was time to get back to the shoot. It was all friendly and relaxed, We’d been welcomed for a few minutes into a little cigar clique, which apparently shows up most afternoons by their own admission. It was a pleasant break, and a great way to spend the time waiting to go on camera.