Gingerbread at the Fairmont

Fairmont Entrance

Never before have I stepped inside a house comprised mostly of gingerbread – yes,  gingerbread.  Every year, the legendary Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco transforms its lobby into a holiday paradise.  This includes the annual construction of a grand Victorian manor of gingerbread, icing, and other materials (some edible, some not).  I had the fortune to visit the Fairmont for the Official Opening of the Gingerbread House on November 30th.

Gingerbread House

Standing twenty-two feet high and twenty-three feet long, the Mansard style home almost touches the lobby ceiling.  Feeling very much like Hansel from the famed Grimm’s tale, I walked through the doorway of the impressively festive abode.

Gingerbread House Tree

Through the front windows of the house, one can see a room in Santa’s Workshop, everything the right size for elves.  A small lighted tree illuminates the front, with a four-car train traveling the surrounding track.

Gingerbread House Second Story

The second floor of the home boasts a larger tree, elaborate lights, and a roof with a widow’s walk.  Is that Santa I see upon the chimney?

Gingerbread House Detail

I love the attention to detail the home was given.  Thick icing in shades of green, red and white frame the windows.  Unlike most gingerbread houses, there was a surplus of edible building materials for the guests at the event.  One could eat the cake, and have it too, so-to-speak.   I was able to sample some and it was sheer holiday perfection.  It went amazing well with the hot chocolate that was also being passed out.  Notice another view of the elfin workshop through the window.

Gingerbread House Back Entrance

The back entrance to the house opens onto the Fairmont’s Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar.  They are hosting a Gingerbread Tea Service on the weekends through December 15th, and then every day between December 16th through December 29th.  For more information regarding the Gingerbread Tea, please visit the Fairmont website:  http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/promotions/gingerbread-house/

Gingerbread House Nutcracker

A life-size tall Nutcracker has his own room in the tower of the home.  I estimate him to be about five feet tall.

Ice Nutcracker

A Nutcracker carved of ice was on display for the opening.   Beautiful and exquisite.

Nutcracker Collection

On loan from the San Francisco Ballet is the Molinari Family Nutcracker Collection, on display throughout the holidays.  Which nutcracker is your favorite?

In fact, there is even a friendly competition between The Fairmont and the Westin St. Francis, as to who has the better gingerbread creation.  I haven’t seen the other house, but it is much smaller in size and more castle-like.  As for feng shui purposes, The Fairmont’s Gingerbread House creates a full-fledged environment.  How, exactly, is this specific gingerbread house good feng shui?  Well, unlike most gingerbread constructions, one can actually walk through this one (they are typically much smaller).  The house is also structurally sound.  Following building codes, a wood frame acts as skeletal support, with the gingerbread and other materials then applied.  And then there is the smell.  The aroma of gingerbread fills the lobby’s environment.  This fosters a sense of festive holiday cheer.  And the closer one is to the house, the stronger the fragrance.

Fairmont Tree and Santa

The new addition this year to the house was the Gingerbread Doghouse.  Located over in the kid’s section of the event, I was unable to get a good photo of it due to the crowd.  This area was ideal for kids to make their own fanciful buildings and drop off letters to Santa Claus in his designated mailbox.  However, he was there in person if one’s Christmas List needed immediate attention.   A beautiful tree takes center stage in front of the main entrance.  Decorated in golds, silvers and cobalt, it harmonized perfectly with the gilded resplendence of the lobby.

Fairmont Mirror Bird

I loved the carvings on the mirrors and walls of the entry hall.  Above is a close-up of the birds attached to the golden mirrors that hang throughout.  Simply stunning.

Fairmont Reindeer

Topiary sculptures covered in lights adorn the roof the lobby’s front desk.  The Gingerbread House will be on display through January 1st.

The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco

950 Mason Street (Nob Hill), San Francisco, California 94108  

415 772 5000

http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/promotions/gingerbread-house/

Fairmont Carollers

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Raphael: An Artist Studio

The color yellow in feng shui is an alluring example of the earth element, introducing a vibrant cheerfulness to any environment.  Some color researchers feel that this shade can  strengthen one’s immune system, confidence, and well-being.     For feng shui guidelines, it is best used in living rooms, kitchens, dining areas, and entry halls.   Yellow can work for other areas, too, but it depends on which pigment is selected for which location.  A primary yellow, for instance, would be much too yang in its energies for a bedroom; the occupant would have trouble sleeping and could become agitated.  But a pale yellow would work well for rest and rejuvenation.  Yellow can also bring a glowing fire element into a space, depending on the hue.  The luminosity of the various yellows in the painting above adds depth and sensuality to the piece without the effort of  reds or purples.   It also brings a brightness to the restaurant hallway in which it resides.   Be it citrine, amber, or goldenrod, the color yellow makes a valuable  impact to one’s surroundings.

Nestled amidst the bustle of Ventura Boulevard lies an artistic oasis of the cultivated kind known as Raphael.   I came here the other day with my friend Hanh, and was highly impressed.  All of the elements here are beautifully displayed, and the use of color is that of a painter’s palette.   The main dining area of the restaurant is tastefully decorated.  Intriguing art, comfortable seating, and unique light fixtures are some of the striking features here.  One of my favorites was the lavish yellow wall panels.  These golden room dividers help to add a sense of warmth and luxury to the dining experience.   Another item that captivated my attention was a handmade glass light fixture.  With its fiery tints and triangular shapes,  it can act as one’s own personal sun if they sit at this specific table (pictured above).

The outside of Raphael is a stoic stone edifice that masks the style and grandeur that awaits inside – until you see the succulents.  A massive wall of living plants encloses the outdoor terrace dining, adding a rich and lively wood element to the earthen structure.

In contrast to the robust yellows of the dining area, the lounge is hued in shades of blue and green, with wood-paneled walls and squared lighting.  I love the use of  rectangles and squares here, providing a stability while dining.   A medium-sized bar lies directly across.  One aspect here I did not care for – feng shui wise – was the mirrored ceiling, which can be glimpsed in the top left corner of the photo.  Reflective ceilings are considered very high energy, and will cause difficulty in one being able to rest.  However, being that this is a place of business and not a residence, I found this to be a rare exception to the rule.  But no one should hang a mirror over their bed on the ceiling – ever.  In addition to the tawdry tackiness of how it looks,  the occupant of the bed will suffer a variety of problems.  Don’t do it.

And now on to the food!  Raphael is experimenting with their Happy Hour at present, but we sampled their selection of three small plates for $12.00.  The selection of the three items changes daily upon the discretion of the artist, chef Adam Horton.  He combines various Asian cooking elements into his nouveau cuisine.  The three masterpieces above were sublime in both taste and presentation.

  • On the left we have Amberjack lounging about in a pool of delicious curry sauce, with baby carrots.  A coconut puree acted as garnish.  Incredible.
  • In the middle we have tomatoes, burrata cheese and kimchi, served warm under glass.  When I lifted the glass up, smoke billowed out.  Dinner and a show – I love it.  Tasty and tantalizing.
  • On the right we have Wagyu beef accompanied by bacon-onion jam.  The little half egg roll garnish is filled with a mellow bleu cheese.  Mouthwatering.

And below are the other things I sampled:

Savory Martini – A gin based martini with celery bitters, dry vermouth, Parmesan stuffed olives, and a solitary cocktail onion.  I love martinis – especially a Gibson – and this one combined my love for cheese into the concoction.  Also available with vodka.  Decadent and classy.

Roseberry – An ideal summer beverage!  Fresh pressed raspberries, lemon, and gin pool their talents together wonderfully.  Garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary.  A prime example of yin and yang, with the savoriness of the gin and rosemary, and the sweetness of the fruit.  I love the ruby color of the drink as well.  Addictive.

Ginger Shandy – Ginger beer, vodka, Corona, and liquid ginger perform exquisitely in this lush summer cocktail.   I especially liked the use of yuzu foam across the top, giving it a nice froth.  These are dangerous – I could drink them all day.

Macaroni and Cheese – A small crock of steaming macaroni and cheese.  Comfort food at its finest.   Unlike other versions of this classic, Raphael uses jalapeno juice in the compound, adding a spicy yang element to the entrée.  Hanh and I were only going to share one order, but it was so good we couldn’t resist and enjoyed a second round.  Piping hot and satisfying.

Habanero Tincture
Photo courtesy of H. Nguyen

All of our beverages were created by our bartender, Chris Parke.  A true mixologist, Chris educated us on the ingredients on each drink, as Adam had on the food.  One interesting bit of knowledge I learned was what a tincture is.  In the world of mixology and bartending, a tincture is an essence of something to its most potent form.  Used in some of the libations at Raphael is their own homemade Habanero Tincture.  I sampled only a few drops, and it packed a powerful punch.  I quickly followed it with some water.   I can see how it would be amazing in a food or beverage, though, once it was diluted.  Hanh and Chris were much more courageous than I; they each took a whole shot of the tincture (pictured above).   It gives whole new meaning to the term fire-eater.   On my next visit, I plan on savoring some wine from their choice selection, and perhaps take in the best of all artistic creations:  Dessert.

Raphael, A Dining Experience

11616 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, CA 91604
818 505-3337

Hours:  Lunch:  Monday – Friday 11:30 – 2:00,  Dinner:  Sunday – Thursday 5:30 – 9:00,  Friday – Saturday 5:30 – 10:00,  Happy Hour:  Tuesday – Friday 5:00 – 7:00

http://raphaelonventura.com/

Note:  Closed Mondays for Dinner, and weekends for Lunch.