The former W. Hotel located at 333 Poydras Street took on a new name and face just in time for the Essence Festival. The same luxury and attention to detail remains, but after a $29 million renovation, Le Méridien has an identity all its own. The hotel brand’s French roots provided for a seamless transition into the New Orleans Creole architecture, but the décor also brings dash of modern appeal.
We were greeted in our room true NOLA style, with a tray of Moet champagne, shots, signature pastries and bottled water. Surely a sign of a memorable weekend ahead! Although they have only been open for about seven months, Le Méridien has properties all around the world. The New Orleans site features a rooftop pool, 24-hour fitness center and Longitude 90 bar in the Hub (a re-interpretation of the traditional hotel lobby) where guests can get fresh coffee brewed by their Master Barista or the hotel’s signature cocktail, the Sparkling Sazerac, named after the official cocktail of New Orleans. Cultural concierge/ambassador, Danny Alford, has a keen insight into local cuisine, directing us to Cochon Butcher for their bacon pralines and securing brunch reservations in the coveted garden room at Commander’s Palace.
Attached to the bar, the hotel’s new restaurant, LMNO, is headed by Executive Chef Mauricio Gutierrez. We sat down with Chef Mauricio to discuss his global perspective on local cuisine found in his standard menu, and also sample the customized menu he created just for Essence Festival guests.
Due to the high traffic during the Fest, his special menu supplemented multiple-course fine dining options like duck confit and short ribs for preparations tailored towards guests on the go such as gourmet burgers and blue crab spinach dip with corn tortilla chips. Chef Gutierrez told how his passion for cooking was honed at a young age from helping a neighbor prepare meals in his hometown of Cali, Colombia. As an adult he became a commercial pilot but longed for the creativity of his culinary side. He switched careers, working his way up from the bottom of the kitchen food chain to executive chef and hasn’t looked back since.
Stand out menu items were the sous vide char siu pork belly, bourbon pecan pie, and blackened ahi tuna tartare sitting atop a chilled Himalayan pink salt platform that emitted a blue glow. He elevates food to the level of art, and the plate is his canvas. Le Méridien elevates hotels to the level of art also. Le Méridien connects guests to cultural centers around the world with the Unlock Art™ pass that provides access to the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans and other cultural landmarks and museums. The hotel itself is a collection of curated installations, such as artwork, projections, unique soundscapes and several beautiful areas throughout to escape and relax. Much of it was created by members of the LM100™, Le Méridien’s group of international cultural innovators chosen from the fields of art, architecture, cuisine, design and fashion. Even each room keycard is a work of art created exclusively by LM100™ members.
Although the Superdome and Convention Center were the central hubs of activity for Essence Fest, with stars like gospel singer Kim Burrell, Cosby Show alum Keisha Knight Pulliam and super producer Bryan Michael Cox floating amongst the lobby and second floor packed with partygoers, Le Méridien was definitely the unofficial hot spot. It’s clear that the hotel brand is aimed at targeting chic, cultural connoisseurs with taste, style and substance; they seem to be on their way to hitting the mark. Thanks for a wonderful stay Le Méridien!
*Photos courtesy of Starwood Hotels*