Puttin’ on the Ritz

The luxury Ritz-Carlton brand has long been associated with high style, so when The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester opened its doors back in 2007, it was a welcome addition to the city of White Plains, located just across from the fountain, off Main Street in Renaissance Square. The city had not enjoyed a luxury hotel presence since the late 1980s when La Reserve Hotel, an all-suite plush property with a chic restaurant, Corniche, and its celebrity clientele enjoyed its heyday. 

Tall, handsome and modern, the Westchester location is a formidable presence in the skyline of downtown with its two gleaming towers — one housing luxury residences, the other elegant guest rooms and suites — upscale dining choices, meeting and banquet spaces, a destination spa and an indoor swimming pool. 

The Ritz, then, is a popular destination not only for accommodations, but for quality dining experiences. BLT Steak does a bustling business off the lobby, while the rooftop space with its views to Manhattan has been rebranded as Konapi, catering to private events only. Both of these operations are outside the realm of The Ritz-Carlton’s food and beverage operations, allowing management to focus all its attention on the elegant Lobby Lounge, banquets — mostly occurring on the second-floor event space — and in-room dining. 

What makes The Lobby Lounge so appealing and popular with hotel guests, the neighboring residences and Westchester locals is the flexibility it affords with its all-day dining concept, serving from early morning until 11 p.m. Its cozy and comfortable dining area features soft seating, low and traditional tables and the warm glow of a glass-walled fireplace, its centerpiece installation. Equally comfortable for dining alone throughout the day or gathering with colleagues at the newly installed bar, it’s easily accessible right off the lobby and its graceful service staff, true to its brand, is made up of kind, attentive and polished professionals. 

Future plans could bring further enhancements to the dining space but for now, everything runs just as it should under the leadership of executive chef James Dangler, sous chef Lia Buffa and food and beverage manager Manu Manikandan. A leisurely Sunday evening dining experience was full-stop wonderful and showcased the quality of ingredients and high degree of execution by this talented team. 

The meal began, as it should, with a specialty seasonal cocktail, an updated take on the classic melon ball with fresh juices and just the right amount of sweetness. There was also a Pimm’s Cup classic — the interior of the glass wrapped with thinly sliced cucumber and elegantly garnished. A fine beverage program pays attention to these details, serving up not only visually appealing but tasteful cocktails in addition to fine choices for wines, craft beers and a full line of spirits and cordials. 

Because of its easy format and flexible hours, The Lobby Lounge affords its clientele many options, from nibbles and smaller plates to more substantial dishes. As for our “tasting menu,” the kitchen did not disappoint with its artfully crafted and well-executed takes on lobster rolls, glazed chicken wings, roasted lamb and a vegetarian dish of cauliflower steak with roasted summer vegetables and capers — my personal favorite. For dessert and throughout the meal, great care was taken by the kitchen to accommodate specialty dietary requests of our twosome — OK, me — so I was able to enjoy a delightful, chocolate olive oil cake with dairy-free, vanilla bean ice cream. 

I spoke recently with chef Dangler, who was part of the opening team for the hotel 10 years ago and has been back on-property for about a year now, rebuilding his team and breathing new life into the menus, vibe and experience at this downtown hub. He refers to the “scenography” that is part of every Ritz-Carlton, playing off of regional cuisines and influences. As the staff prepares to transition to a fall/winter menu just after this year’s autumnal equinox on Sept. 22, diners can expect to see modern and innovative takes on fall classics with some international influences. In fact, Dangler has just returned from a Barcelona opening, I learn, so we can only hope for some influences to appear on the menu from that food-happy region. 

“We take the approach every day that people may have been here once or twice,” Dangler tells me, “and we have repositioned not only the menus but the timeliness of service, which is so key in that area. As a result, we’re seeing positive scores for food and beverage at the property, so guests are acknowledging it.” 

Clearly, The Ritz is upping its game and adding to the vibrancy that always existed in the space, but just needed a bit of reinvention. 

Fall will also showcase the return of live music in the form of local musicians who bring their jazzy sounds to the space every Thursday evening. As the leaves start to change in the Westchester hills, reflecting off these chic towers, now permanent fixtures on the scene, we have ample reason to revisit this local gem and enjoy its fine food and drinks and that lively lobby scene. 

For more, visit ritzcarlton.com.

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