09 June 2010

The (Louisville) Art of Hospitality

Enjoyable entertaining is as much about the style of the host or hostess as it is about the food and beverage or the décor.  Hospitality ~ the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly generous way ~ is key.

We’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some of the most wonderful hospitality over the years – friends, family and business colleagues have graciously provided for excellent dining experiences, facilitated memorable events, and opened their homes to entertain us as their guests.

What defines great hospitality in the context of entertaining? “Triple A” service –
  • Exceptional hosts and hostesses are ATTENTIVE as much to the guests during the event as to the party details.
  • Exceptional hosts and hostesses ANTICIPATE what a guest may need or want throughout the event or gathering.
  • Exceptional hosts and hostesses ACKNOWLEDGE each and every guest with individual attention, engaging them in the gathering, communicating how welcome and appreciated they are.

It is the “little things” that very often do make the difference. A recent business trip through Louisville, Kentucky, provided an unexpected refresher course in how enjoyable fine hospitality can truly be.

When we put out the word in Twitterland that we were looking for restaurant and other recommendations in Louisville, Leigh Erickson was quick to reply on behalf of her home town and business locale.  She not only provided recommendations, but was most gracious in facilitating contact with the suggestions that matched our interests.  She anticipated what might be enjoyable, and she was attentive to our interests in her hometown.  Like any great hostess, she managed to make us feel welcome (even via Twitter!!) – informative, kind, and charming. This was a perfect representation of what we would experience in Louisville.

Monica, at the 21st Century Museum Hotel, reached out immediately to help us with reservations and plans for our short stay.  The entire staff – valet, bellman, front desk – acted appropriately as our host, conversing politely about our visit, and providing information in anticipation of what our needs may be as guests of the hotel.  The attentiveness to details was truly exceptional – from the creative, contemporary (and whimsical!) 21st Century Museum art, to the luxury bed and bath linens, to the servicing of the amenities specific to our stay.  For example, the staff were pleased to share the context for the Penguins - posters, images, and actual large statues - that appeared randomly throughout the property which made us feel "in the know" on the story and the fun. A fantastic property worthy of the highest recommendation (which the New York Times, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler have already extended!!), and to which we will return.

Ben Smith, the sommelier at adjacent restaurant, Proof on Main, along with our server, Erich, escorted us through the culinary part of our stay.  Greeting us warmly, thanks to the introduction provided by Leigh Erickson, we received an overview of the restaurant, it’s unique affiliation with the hotel, along with a mouth-watering discussion of Chef Michael Paley’s menu.  We were attended to – perhaps no differently than any other dinner guest that evening – by such engaging and informed hosts, that we consider the meal to be one of the most exceptional we’ve ever experienced.

Truth be told, the fact that the food was inventive and extraordinarily flavorful didn’t hurt our impression of the evening.  We enjoyed Bison Nduja sourced from an affiliated local bison farm, Flatbread with Guanciale (see photo courtesy of Blog Proof), assorted housemade Pates (see photo courtesy of Blog Proof), Pan Roasted Octopus, and braised Walleye with artichokes…and ended the evening with a delicious Salted Caramel Gelato which will be the subject of many experiments to try to recreate at home.  (Like these special dishes? Stay in touch with this culinary creative through Chef Michael Paley's Tumbler blog, Blog Proof).

All in all, as strangers in a new town, while we were incredibly impressed with the culture, the culinary talent, and the luxury accommodations, what made our Louisville stay most memorable was the exceptional hospitality we experienced.  We thank Leigh, Monica, Ben, Erich and all the others that contributed to this fun, albeit short, visit.  Now back home, we’re polishing up our hosting skills to shine as golden as those of the lovely locals of Louisville!

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