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Friday, December 17, 2010

Westin St. Francis SF Imperial Floor Unveiling

Attending the reception on the Imperial Floor (32 floors up) at the Westin St Francis in Union Square in downtown San Francisco was an evening of elegance and inspiration. There was a time when I would always attend events like this with a friend. Along the way I realized that going alone helps me to meet more new people than simply hanging out with someone I already know well. The night had so many highlights: The speakers, guests, food, decor, and the flawless hospitality of the staff... It was a perfect evening.
Click on Any Image to Enlarge

Union Square is so beautiful at night. Add holiday lights and an 80 foot, Shasta White Fir Christmas Tree (Sponsored by Macy's) and it's pretty over the top! That's the Westin St. Francis right behind the tree... And how quintessential that a trolley just happened to roll up Powell Street just as I was photographing the front of the hotel!

As I entered the hotel lobby the first thing I saw was the enchanting and enormous 12 foot high "Sugar Castle" created (bigger and better) each year by Executive Pastry Chef Jean-François Houdré. The "Sugar Castle" puts average gingerbread houses to shame. It's sheer size elicited an "Oooooooooooh" from me. The castle sits atop a rotating platform so you can see every inch of it while standing in one place and there's a miniature train that circles its base. It's truly fantastic and must be magical through the eyes of a child. This extraordinary creation consists of:

70 pounds of gingerbread
130 pounds of pastillage (powdered sugar, egg whites, and gelatin dough)
40 pounds of pulled and bubble sugar
Royal Icing made of 300 pounds of sugar and egg whites
40 pounds of molasses
60 pounds of flour
100 pounds of assorted Christmas candy
...and 360 hours of hard work!

The reception began at Victor's (aka Victor's Palace). This is an elegant room where the entire west facing wall is comprised of 14 feet high, French paned windows that look out onto Union Square and the city skyline. Victor's has both a lounge and dining room and is a lovely space for a wedding ceremony and cocktail hour. All of the linens were by Napa Valley Linens and complemented the decor perfectly.

To me, the glass and fabric chandeliers look like a cluster of jellyfish, gently floating above the room. The new carpeting was custom designed to complement the Russian inspired decor.

Above are the new hardwood floors in Alexandra's Foyer. At Alexandra's there is also new custom designed carpeting and a new bar crafted in a fusion of deco and Eastern European style by a Peruvian artisan. Other updates include new carpet in Victor's Palace, a more expansive lobby, a newly painted back drop and custom designed sconces with dropped crystal pendents.

The view from Victor's. That's the 80 foot Christmas tree down in Union Square and just behind it the yellow and orange square is the ice rink where I could watch the skaters moving about in circular patterns. It looked so neat, like tiny little ants swirling around on the ice.

Jubilee Lau, David Beahm and I
by Gabriela Reid at Colorful Events

One of the many highlights of the reception was a presentation by nationally renowned Event Designer David Beahm. David is an absolute pleasure to be around and is a favorite designer of celebrities, socialites and discerning brides. I had the good fortune of hearing him speak once before at the Wedding 360 Event for Planners and Designers. He is genuine, modest and funny! If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, do not pass it up!

After mingling and saying hello to friends and meeting many new professionals, we moved over to the presentation area. This is such a gorgeous room! You are surrounded by the city with the 14 feet high windows on three sides. We took our seats and were welcomed and introduced to the Catering and Events team by Mr. Jon Kimball, General Manager of the hotel and Mr. Bill Hedgepeth, Director of Catering and Convention Services.

And then David Beahm took the floor. There are few moments in life when you listen to someone speak and everything they say is exactly how you feel. I sit there thinking "wow this blows my mind" or "my people." I cannot say enough about how wonderful it was to listen to someone talk about being positive even when times, situations or the people around you are challenging to deal with. Some of the very good advice David shared with us that really resonated was "How you do anything is how you do everything," addiction to negative drama and the importance of customer satisfaction. He also encouraged the audience to embrace these positive concepts:
  • Change is a constant - Change is good
  • Ignorance is Bliss
  • Live Life Outside Your Comfort Zone
  • Enjoy the Control You Have
  • Revel in the Lack of Control You Don't Have
  • Think Outside the Box
  • Live Never Complacent
  • View Even Challenging Times with Gratitude and Learning
I was disappointed he didn't speak longer but I thank him for his inspiring words. All too soon David wrapped up his presentation and directed us on to Alexandra's for the rest of the party...
As we entered Alexandra's on the other side of the Imperial Floor we immediately enjoyed these table top displays by Blue Print Studios who provided many of the furnishing and decor pieces that evening. The room definitely has an art deco style to it with hand painted walls, floor to ceiling windows and ceiling details that include small clusters of dimensional gilded waves that come straight out of the ceiling.

Left: "Savory Mary" of Vodka, Pepper, Vegetable Juice, Lemon and a Lime Twist. Right: "Zviolet" of Cointreau, Lychee Juice, Violet Syrup, Lemon Juice and a Lemon Twist.

I counted at least 3 different types of cocktails set out in martini glasses near the food stations... Along with the bar there were plenty of libations. I had my usual glass of water. It drives my friends who enjoy alcohol a bit crazy that I attend so many events with complimentary beverages and I don't partake in them. LOL I take these pictures mainly because they're pretty and partly because I think it's funny to hear them lament about what a wasted opportunity it is to send me to these events :)

This picture of the Boneless Braised Short Ribs on Purple Potato Coins with a Wine Reduction Drizzle. The micro greens were so pretty! You can even see the purple potato coin beneath the meat if you look closely. This is a house specialty. The server told me they are famous for it so if you ever cater an event at the Westin St Francis be sure to add them to your menu.

And all I could say was "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" when I saw Ranjan Dey from New Delhi Restaurant was there. I was so happy to see him and his wonderful Indian food. In keeping with tradition when I sample his food, I discovered that I like curry. For two decades I thought I didn't like curry. Turns out I just didn't like the curry I tried two decades ago. LOL. On my plate was a seasonal fruits and vegetable (vegetarian) curry, saffron infused basmati rice and a mini quiche with mango chutney. I enjoyed every morsel. There was also a Chicken Tikka Masala meat option for meat eaters :)

The catering department offered a nice range of food choices that evening including the Seared Ahi with Citrus Fennel Dressing above with julienned vegetables.

Miso & Sake Marinated Black Cod  with Roasted Cauliflower Puree served with Brussels Sprouts

I did locate two additional small plate vegetarian options:

• Winter Mushroom Salad tossed with Mushroom Ragout & Truffle Oil Dressing

• And Roasted Baby Beet Salad tossed with Herbed Lemon Oil Dressing

I would have tried them but by then I had eaten my sampler plate from New Delhi Restaurant and because everyone else had moved on to the dessert buffet I felt sorry for these little Mango Chutney Mini Quiches sitting out all alone kind of being ignored. So I ate four or five more... I'm not sure how many. I was too embarrassed to count after I passed three. I could put that mango sauce on almost everything I eat! It was soooooooooooooo good! Oh yeah, and I'd also had a pear tart. So by the time I'd located the other vegetarian options, I was too full to try them. LOL

And remember how I mentioned two weeks ago that "peacocks" were a hot trend for 2011 Indian American weddings? This table is a beautiful example of how the theme can be brought to life. I loved everything about this table top from the peacock napkin ring holders with real peacock feather tails to the bright color palette. Kudos to Blueprint Studios for this gorgeous display.

The table cloth was provided by Napa Valley Linens. Talk about eye candy! The open filigree of turquoise sequined, gold embroidered lace became an overlay on top of a beautiful orange cloth. It was so stunning. I had never seen anything quite like it before, and I've seen a lot of tablecloths and fabrics over the years... 

More table top displays by Blueprint Studios and Napa Valley Linens

And from the Westin St Francis website, a photo of what Alexandra's looks like set up for a wedding reception. Those large floor to ceiling windows that surrounded the room create a breath taking view of the city from the 32nd floor of the Tower Building. Between Alexandra's and Victor's guests can enjoy a sweeping vista that encompasses the entire city from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge. One of my favorite details of Alexandra's are those gold mini lights that run across the ceiling from one end of the room to the other.

Nutty Apple Cocktail: Apple Brandy, Chartreuse and Benedictine Liqueurs, Angostura Bitters and a slice of Green Apple.

The space is expansive with 2 alcoves (one near the entry and the other tucked into the far corner) and another area where the bar was set up separated by a divided area of interior floor to ceiling paned windows.

The tented, canopy, dessert buffet, with silver chandelier, set up in the center of the room was a show stopper!

So many goodies to choose from! I hurried over not to eat them, but to photograph them before guests could take them. Dessert buffet pictures always look best before it looks like a pack of wolves (aka the guests) have devoured (aka enjoyed) them :D

Executive Pastry Chef Jean-François Houdré and his team never disappoint. I had the good fortune of enjoying his beautiful and refined desserts when I attended the Martel Cognac tasting two years ago.

I sampled the pear tart on the left. Yummy :P

A multitude of mini parfaits, confections, emulsions & hand made truffles.

The desserts seemed endless...

A small confession. I forgot to take exterior pictures of the hotel when I arrived and was in my car and a few blocks away heading home when I realized it. So I turned around, drove back, found street parking and got the shots of the Macy's Christmas tree and facade of the hotel with the trolley car. I think you can almost see how clean and crisp the air felt as I wandered about Union Square. It was so enjoyable it was worth the extra effort. If you celebrate Christmas this pictures kind of screams Merry Christmas! If you celebrate Hannukah, Kwanza or any other holiday, I wish you and your loved ones the happiest of holidays.

My thanks to Mr. Jon Kimball, General Manager of the hotel, Mr. Bill Hedgepeth, Director of Catering and Convention Services, Executive Chef Bernd Liebergsell, Executive Pastry Chef Jean-François Houdré and all of their respective teams for creating this event. I greatly appreciated the invitation.

Along with the Imperial Floor there are additional event spaces that include the 10,700 square foot Grand Ballroom and the smaller Colonial Room complete with gold-leaf ceiling and an ornate balcony overlooking the room. CLICK HERE to contact the hotel with any questions you may have about hosting a wedding or grand event at the iconic Westin St Francis located in the heart of Union Square.

If you're looking for dessert buffet ideas you'll probably like these posts too:
• Promises and Pearls Bridal Soiree • SF 2009
Martell Cognac & Dessert Buffet at the Westin St Francis

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