Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Buffet Without Jimmy

As any traveler knows, buffets are big business in most hotels-- even though it seems wasteful (what do they do with all that extra food?) it must also be profitable. We enjoyed several fantastic buffets at he InterConti Asiana in Saigon and then began to make the rounds again today here in Hanoi.

We ate the breakfast buffet in the Club Lounge then hit the streets for some retail adventures. I have only a few $1 bills left, so I am not seriously shopping (although that goes pretty far in VN) but I was curious to see the difference in merchandise from Saigon to Hanoi and to understand why it is that I like Hanoi so much more than Saigon. Saigon ain't bad, but she's not home. Or something.

Frankly, the goods simply seem more sophisticated here. That's all. The streets are funkier and the merchandise is fancier. Go figure. Song is similar in both Hanoi and Saigon, truly one of the best stores in the world, but many of the stores here-- without counter-parts in Saigon-- sell much more elaborate and high end merchandise-- velvet beaded eyeglass cases ($4) at May, placemats with raffia fringe and pearls ($32)at Mosaique and even more magnificent horn salad servers for less money ($14 here). I bought a few gifts and avoided my regular tailor so as not to be tempted. Oh yeah, I bought a copy of This Is It for $1, which is about what it seems worth...as I had the store play a few bars so I could check on the quality.

For lunch, we did the buffet at Spice Gardens, the newly renovated but same old yummy Thai/VN restaurant in the Opera Tower of the Metropole. This has been my favorite restaurant in town ever since I started visiting Hanoi, about ten years ago. There are fresh salads as well as clay pot cooked meals. Everything is locally grown.There are a variety of different stations, so you make the rounds and keep loading up plates. This is not a cafeteria style buffet but a nosh-o-rye kind of buffet. The majority of the diners at the restaurant are locals, showing you just how good the cooking is. The flat price of $22 USD covers everything but drinks.

Then after all that food, I needed a little exercise, bien sur, so I did a stroll around the hotel and checked out the area immediatley surrounding the front and back of the hotel. Since the Metropole has the original part of the hotel from 1901 and the Opera Tower, a much newer addition located behind the historic part, alongside a designer shopping arcade and just behind the swimming pool and spa, the property takes up one entire city block with excellent stores all around. This is not only the premier hotel in VN as well as Hanoi, but also one of the best locations vis a vis the action and where you want to be.

It was shocking to discover that in the course of the one year since I was here last, almost everything I know and love about this particular block in Hanoi has been torn down. Au Lac, a great cafe, is gone; the Chi Vang Emroidery store has moved to 63 Hang Gai and the magnificent colonial house where they did business is now gutted...probably to become another art gallery. In fact, the area has more and more art galleries by the minute.

By 3PM it was time for the Metropole's Chocolate Buffet. This event is held daily from 3-6pm on an all you can eat basis and costs $15 per person-- who said there aren't any bargains left in the world?

Try this on for size: home made chocolate ice cream, macaroons, tarts, panna cotta, choux (small sized eclairs in rounded shape), four kinds of brownies as well as chocolate banana brioche bread pudding... and that's just a portion of one tabletop. There's a bar filled with trays of bonbons and truffles as well as more chocolate concoctions...even chocolate eggrolls. The usual chocolate fountain was flowing, and there was a white clad chef to custom blend your own hot chocolate from a choice of six different kinds of chocolate, white, milk or dark, Valrhona or not.(Pictured)

And I already know that the scale in the room lies so we're not even going to talk about that.

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