Written By Linda Mensinga
The Ivy Hotel is hot, hot, hot with 2 clubs—Envy and Eden—attracting the see and be-seen crowd. The food at Quarter Kitchen is heating up the dining scene with exotic flavors and luxury ingredients from around the world.
“When I teach them to make sauce I tell them to treat it the same way they touch their girlfriend or boyfriend,” says Executive Chef Damon Gordon of the Quarter Kitchen at the Ivy Hotel in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. “I tell everyone sauce work is time and patience. You get out what you put in.”
Gordon teaches his kitchen staff in a hotel designed to be a luxury “adult playground.”
Seeking to rival similar properties in Las Vegas or Miami, CEO Michael Kelly of Kelly Capital spent $90 million on the boutique hotel’s 159 rooms and suites. An Orange County native, Kelly, 41, made his money with parking, real estate and investments. He wanted something a little voyeuristic, a little seductive, but tasteful.
Chef Damon Gordon (Photo/Property)
Room rates start at $400 and feature 42-inch plasma HDTV, wireless Internet access, 4 different kinds of pillows and a glass-walled bath exposed to the entire room. The 1275-foot Star Suite, ($4,000 per night), features king-size bunk beds, open shower and fireman’s pole–the mirror already scratched by high-heeled guests who allowed “inhibitions to drop to the floor.”
All rooms include complimentary butler service. Guests are greeted with champagne or a cocktail and fruit.
“We come to the room and offer to unpack bags, go over all the amenities, ask if they need something steamed or pressed,” explained Andrea Encinas, head butler. “We point out the bath menu.”
A card entitled “Molton Brown Luxury Bathing Butler Menu” lists Heavenly Gingerlily Bath, Relaxing Yuan Zhi Bath, or Seamoss Stress Relieving Hydrosoak. Included are candles and bottled water. The 10 butlers on staff were trained by a professional butler from England.
“They taught us to fold clothes, unpack, shine shoes, iron clothing, pour wine and set a table. Anything a guest requests, we do,” Encinas said.
“We get a lot of guests from local areas. They enjoy the pool and the club. They’re pleasantly surprised (by the service). Some are too busy but others indulge and get into the experience,” Ms. Encinas shared.
One especially nice room feature is the Keurig coffee service in the room. Individual coffee portions brew hot and fresh with flavor and strength options. The hotel’s details are designed to promote an aesthetic experience, along with practical functionality.
The lobby’s colorful mural by Walter T. Berner reads, “I can’t stand the thought of living a day without you.”
Dayna Lee of Powerstrip Studios has art-directed film and collaborated with the owners to create spaces that are sultry and luxurious.
Textures such as leather-wrapped columns, translucent curtains, satin pillows and couches offer sensuous touches.
Hipsters gather at Envy, the street-level nightclub on two levels with red glowing curtains and music.
Eden on the Rooftop of the Ivy Hotel (Photo/Property)
Or the rooftop lounge, Eden, is another popular place to party. The pool, cabanas, and bar are a comfortable place to bask in the always-perfect weather.
Guests can enjoy views of the city skyline, baseball stadium and Coronado Bridge gracefully arching over San Diego Bay.
Downstairs at Quarter Kitchen guests can sit at the bar of the exhibition kitchen and watch dinner being prepared.
Stacked boxes of zebrawood divide the two-story space while playful mobiles of delicate glass weave and dance suspended from the ceiling.
Polish artist Anna Skibska is known for her technique of using a torch to stretch and bend glass into spaghetti-like strands which are then fused into curving sculptures.
Floor to ceiling glass walls open to the street allow natural light to illumine the room.
Quarter Kitchen (Photo/Linda Mensinga)
Bringing hospitality to the setting is the designer-clad staff, universally young and good-looking. Uniforms, mostly black, were fashioned by Tadashi Shoji to be hip, “seductively elegant” and comfortable.
Tadashi, a veteran designer, has dressed celebrities Celine Dion, Queen Latifah and Minnie Driver. Black pantsuits for the bartenders, mini-dresses for the cocktail servers, black suits for butlers and beautiful black evening gowns for dinner hostesses were done in jerseys, laces and wools.
Equally attractive in the open kitchen are the cooks, attired in traditional white jackets and toques.
“Food runs this hotel. Food drives the hotel. We’re a restaurant with rooms,” Chef Damon Gordon said about the food and beverage operation he leads which includes Quarter Kitchen, banquets, room service, Envy and Eden.
“We’re the driving force in revenue with the nightclub and rooftop. Every Sunday we have brunch on the roof for $45.00,” he added.
The executive chef describes his menu as, “simple food cooked perfectly.”
Caviar tacos, kobe beef and blackened hamachi sell well as do the lobster pot pie. Gordon’s personal favorites include Kobe Tataki with Ginger Bud Ponzu & Mountain Plums; Hawaiian Baked Alaska with Coconut Cake, Coconut Meringue, Mango Ice Cream & Malibu Mango Sauce.
Aside from daily specials, Chef Gordon modifies the menu with the seasons. He likes to try out items before adding them to the menu. “I have some friends who are guinea pigs when I change the menu. And I run any changes by the owner,” he said. Even with expensive items, Gordon runs a tight ship with a food cost of 33%.
He’s working long hours, typically 8:30 AM to 10:30 PM or until midnight on weekends. Fortunately, he enjoys his work. “It’s the instant gratification,” he said about the good response he gets from happy diners, many of whom are local regulars.
Looking back, the 36-year-old would not change a thing. From just outside London, he gained experience working with culinary stars Marco Pierre White, Claude Troisgros, Alaine Ducasse and Michel Roux, of Michelin 3-star Waterside Inn in Bray, England.
Caviar Tacos at Quarter Kitchen (Photo/Linda Mensinga)
“I wanted to be a soccer player. But I watched my mom cook and loved helping out. I went straight to culinary school from high school,” he said. “I liked culinary school, but when I first went into the trade it was a shock. The demand they put on your mentally, personally and physically makes you really question yourself, ‘Do I want to do this?’”
The next choice was whether to simply find a job or, “Work with top guys and give up everything else,” Gordon said.
Choosing the latter he found a love and respect for food. “One of my first chefs, from France, had so much knowledge and energy. Not a day went by that we didn’t learn something.”
Gordon also appreciated his time with Marco Pierre White.
“You only got shouted at if you did your job wrong. And you were given tools to do your job right. What he did for cuisine in England was great. He made being a chef a profession to choose, not one you fell into.”
Chef Ducasse brought him to New York to open Mix. Before moving to the Ivy, he worked at the Delano in Miami and ONO at the Hotel Gansevoort in New York.
Always looking for new opportunities and new challenges, Chef Gordon did an interview on CNN radio. Apparently a natural, they’ve asked him to do a segment two times a month. And, “I can talk about whatever I want.”
600 F Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Linda Mensing is editor emeritus for Culinary Trends Magazine. We are delighted to welcome Linda as a contributing editor to Donne Tempo Magazine and contribute to Donne Travels!